Debunking Oxford myths


There are lots of myths about Oxford, which may make you worried about applying to study here. Below, you can hear from our own students about the myths that concerned them and the realities they found when applying, living and studying at Oxford.

Oxford is all work and no play

Although there is more work at Oxford than other universities due to the shorter terms, there is plenty of time to socialise and get involved in a variety of extracurricular activities on a college or university level. Whilst work should be a priority, students don’t miss out on a typical university experience by being at Oxford – there are so many things to get involved in! Once you’re at Oxford, you learn how to work efficiently and how to manage your time well so there’s plenty of opportunities to get involved in whatever you’re interested in, whilst still going out and having a good time with your friends.

Reality is TOTALLY different to how I imagined Oxford life would be. People do work hard but we also know how to have fun. If you manage your work well, there’s plenty of time for socialising and getting involved in whatever floats your boat. Exeter College is a great size as you get to know everyone and so there’s always people around to talk to.
Ashleigh Morgan, Biochemistry, Year 1

The people here are so lovely and it’s so much fun spending time with them. There’s also a lot more to Oxford life than just work.
Tess Hovil, English and French, Year 1

Whilst Oxford is hard work, the social life here is really good. The nightlife is decent and there’s always people about. There’s a huge number of clubs, sports, and societies for people at every level so there’s something for everyone.
Matt Willoughby, Engineering, Year 1

I’ll struggle to keep up with the work and will be behind academically

It’s important to emphasise that your tutors are not expecting the finished product when you arrive in Freshers’ week. The tutors gave you an offer because they see potential and want to teach you. They are also acutely aware that everyone has had different educational backgrounds and your tutors will help you improve significantly and give you individual advice based on the work you hand in. You’ll be surprised at just how much progress you make in just a term here and how managing your workload and handing in work to a good standard soon becomes second nature. If you really are struggling, however, plenty of help is available to support you in any aspect of your life at Oxford – whether that is academically or otherwise.

I quickly found out that everyone is in the same boat when they arrive; after the first term any head start that other students had is pretty much nullified, and once you learn the shortcuts your workload becomes much more manageable
Matt Holyoak, History, Year 3

There’s no diversity at Oxford

Whilst it’s unfortunately true that Oxford is not as diverse as we would like it to be, the university as a whole is working extremely hard to improve this important issue. However, it is important to emphasise that this should not prevent anyone from applying – in fact applicants from any background or identity are encouraged to apply! Here at Exeter, we work hard to ensure that applicants from any background feel part of the community. The JCR (our student council) has executive officer positions for Equalities, International Students, BME, Class, Women, LGBTQ+, Disabilities, and Access. You can meet our JCR Officers (student representatives) here. This ensures that people of all identities and backgrounds are never put at a disadvantage or made to feel unwelcome: everyone is part of and forms our community.

Oxford is an environment where, despite being an ethnic minority, I feel welcome and comfortable in all social and academic situations
George Oyebode, Classics, Year 2

Whilst Oxford unfortunately still has a way to go on diversity, the student body already has an incredible range of voices, and the uni is working hard to increase that
Ellie Milne-Brown, English, Year 2

Oxford tutors are old-fashioned and formal

Oxford tutors are anything but old-fashioned and formal! The majority of tutors are working on some of the most advanced work in their field and in cutting edge fields of research. You’ll find that although there are some traditions that take place, you’ll actually want to take part in them. The relationship between tutors and students is very different to that of the relationship you had with your teachers at A-level. You’ll be undertaking lots of independent research and then presenting and discussing this research with your tutors. Your tutors want to teach you and you’ll engage in far more discussion as opposed to rote learning. You’ll also build up a great relationship with your tutors outside of classes and tutorials – you’ll be surprised by how modern and informal your tutors will be.

I assumed that the tutors would be very strict, but they’re generally relaxed, and very understanding if you have any difficulty with the work or deadlines.
Tess Eastgate, French and Spanish, Year 1

I ended up having a great relationship with many of my tutors. It’s very different from school and A-levels – the tutors have mutual respect for you and treat you like an adult. They’re nothing like how I imagined Oxford tutors to be!
Anna Marar, English, Year 1

Oxford is full of people who are ‘posh’ and privately educated – I won’t fit in

There is no typical Oxford student. Oxford students make up a large body of undergraduates and postgraduates that come from a range of different backgrounds. Whilst it’s true that some students at Oxford are from private education, our students come from a whole range of educational and financial backgrounds. You also quickly realise that it is easy to make friends with people no matter what background you have, and no one judges or excludes you based on your education! Exeter College is particularly friendly, and it is exceptionally easy to make friends and find people with similar interests to you – you get to know the whole college! There are opportunities on a university wide level as well: the Oxford Student Union campaign ‘Class Act’ works hard to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged due to their background and is a great way to make friends from other colleges as well!

I never thought I would meet so many like-minded, kind people and find so many unexpected opportunities.
Josh Clarke, Engineer, Year 1

I wasn’t sure what to expect coming to Oxford, but what I’ve found is an incredibly welcoming and stimulating environment where you’re free to be yourself and take advantage of loads of new opportunities. Exeter is a very friendly college and I’ve made some friends for life here from a variety of different backgrounds.
Yasmine Copley, Chemistry, Year 1

Mental health at Oxford is poor

University can be an intense environment, and sometimes students put themselves under a lot of pressure. However, there is a huge amount of support available, and strategies you can use to keep on top of your workload and manage stress. There are lots of social and extracurricular activities you can get involved with, to enable you to keep a healthy work-life balance. Your workload should be no more than a full-time job, so is entirely manageable. If you have any concerns about your mental health, your tutors will be very understanding and there’s a lot of support available on both a college and university level. At Exeter, we have a fantastic team of Peer supporters, Welfare Officers and Junior Deans who you can talk to at any time. We also have a lovely nurse who’s available for drop-in sessions and you can book a GP appointment at any time. The university also has both a counselling service and a nightline. Essentially, you don’t have to feel worried as there’s a huge support network available as well as your family and friends!

Oxford is very supportive – there are various welfare activities, and lots of peer support available if you want to talk about any worries.
Jennifer Knight, Medicine, Year 1

When I arrived, it became clear that the workload is definitely manageable; if you do feel like you have too much to do, you can always talk to your tutor and ask for help – they want to help you perform well academically, but they also recognise that well-being is more important.
Tess Eastgate, French and Spanish, Year 1

There is so much help for all sorts of issues, from funding to mental and physical health, and so any problems you may encounter throughout your time can be sorted quickly and effectively.
Joss Barker, Earth Sciences, Year 1

The tutors at Oxford will purposely try to trip me up in interview

The purpose of the interview is not at all to trip you up, but to see how you’d cope in an Oxford education and to get a better grasp of you as a candidate. While the process can be a bit daunting, we advise you try and enjoy it – you have a unique opportunity to talk to leading experts in a subject that you love! The interviews will be challenging, but you’ll find that you’ll enjoy the interviews themselves. Try and enjoy the free time you have while you’re staying here. There’ll be current students who can advise you on things to do and they’ll organise social things for you to do in the evening. We’ll be doing everything we can to make the process as stress free and enjoyable as possible. Don’t listen to interview horror stories and try not to dissect the interviews after you’ve had them – our best advice is to try and put it out of your mind, there’s no point trying to second guess! You may be asked to interview at other colleges; again, try not to overthink the reason for doing this. This is a normal part of the process in lots of subjects and just means we get a helpful range of assessments of a candidate.

I did a third interview at a different college. I spent far too much time worrying and stressing about what it could mean, especially since I got into Exeter anyway. Don’t read in to the process, there’s nothing you can tell about the success of your application from the interview process.
Edward Robertson, English, Year 1

It’s a challenging process but even if unsuccessful, the interview itself is great practice for the future, and can actually be fun! The interviews aren’t designed to catch you out but to see how you’d cope in an Oxford-style education. The few days spent in Oxford as part of the process can be stressful, but you have plenty of time to look around the city and find fun things to do, since the interviews themselves can be very short.
Alice Wilson, Classics, Year 1

The admissions tests are designed to catch you out

Again, the admissions tests are just another part of the process that allows the tutors to make a more informed decision about your application. The tests provide an opportunity for your tutors to see how you cope in exam conditions and are another way of assessing your suitability for Oxford. Many subjects will require an admissions test, but some won’t. You can find out more information and help about specific tests here. The tests allow you to be creative and assess your aptitude for your subject – there’s a limit to how much preparation you can really do for them. Furthermore, the same admission tests, unlike your exams in school, are taken by every candidate which allows your tutors to make fair comparisons across candidates. In all subjects, the tutors aren’t looking for perfect scores but are looking at your initial interpretation of the information presented to you.

I think it’s important to emphasise how the admissions tests function to create a level playing field. As the admissions tests are largely unseen, there’s little preparation you can do for the test and so all the candidates, including the international candidates, sit the test under the same circumstances.
Antonio Perricone, English, Year 1

The admissions tests are designed to give your prospective tutors an idea of what your ideas look like on paper. In the same way as interviews try and get at how you might perform in tutorials, the admissions papers try and sample what your written work might look like. Your college will know that you might not be fully used to this type of written work just as you might not be used to a tutorial style of teaching; they’re more interested in your potential ability than the ‘perfect’ paper.

The tests are intended to provide a level playing field where grade boundaries don’t matter and the focus is on your interpretation of and engagement with the material you’re given. Not every subject sits an admissions test, but for those that do the uni makes as much of the information about them available as possible, including the past papers which you can get online. It’s probably a good idea to do a practice or two at some point, but otherwise the best way to prepare for an admissions test is to know your stuff generally, enjoy your subject, and be ready to show your potential tutors some of your ideas and styles of thinking in a format that gives you a bit more freedom than exam board papers.
Saul Lowndes-Britton, English, Year 2

It costs more to study at Oxford than it does at other universities

Tuition fees are the same as they would be elsewhere, and living costs are similar to, if not cheaper than other universities. Students at Oxford usually only pay to live here during term time (about half the year), which keeps costs as low as possible. There is also a lot of financial support available at both college and university level, including bursaries and scholarships. While at Exeter, we have a great Academic Office that is very understanding if you can’t pay your battels (bills) on time due to Student loans arriving late etc. and there are generous grants available for travel, internships, and hardship. The university ensures that no-one would consider not being able to study here for financial reasons.

Whilst living at university is expensive, Oxford is no more expensive than other universities. In fact, due to the short terms, I spend a lot less on accommodation when compared to my contemporaries at other universities. At both university and college level there’s financial support available so you’ll never be disadvantaged or put off from taking up an opportunity for financial reasons.
Rachel Tudor, English, Year 1

I won’t get in so I shouldn’t bother applying

Oxford is one of the world’s leading academic institutions. While at Oxford, you will be subjected to academic teaching from the best researchers and tutors. The academic opportunities Oxford provides are unparalleled and well worth giving a fifth of your UCAS spaces too. Many students think they would not receive an offer but end up not being able to imagine their university career at any other institution. The application process itself can be really rewarding, so it’s definitely worth giving it a go – there’s also no shame in being rejected. Often, places on a course are limited due to physical constraints (i.e. accommodation) so many worthy candidates are unfortunately rejected. It would be a massive shame to miss out on a potential opportunity due to self-doubt – candidates are actively encouraged to apply!

If someone really wants to do a particular subject at university, then Oxford has the best resources to let you do that. The application process is simply there to find out from the uni’s end if you’d enjoy and excel at studying here, so there’s no shame in being rejected.
Matt Holyoak, History, Year 3

It’s always worth a shot. Even if you’re worried about applying, the worst that can happen is you don’t get in, and the best thing is that you get to go to an incredible university. For me, the chance was always worth taking. 
Cameron Kanda, Economics and Management, Year 1

It matters what college I apply for

There are systems in place in the admissions process to ensure that college choice does not affect your chances of getting in. You can choose a college preference on your application or make an open application – It really doesn’t matter which course you decide to take. Colleges may differ in size, location, age, facilities etc., but are very similar and choosing should just be fun.

One myth is true: any college you end up, you tend to love (especially at Exeter!). Exeter has a fantastic reputation for being friendly and welcoming. We also have a great location, are known for being sociable, and are great all-rounders. We’d love you to come to Exeter and join the brilliant, thriving community at the heart of Oxford’s city centre and history. We’re also not too touristy, whilst having beautiful architecture and great surroundings – the best of both worlds!

Come to an open day or drop in any time to have a look around our facilities and see for yourself how great Exeter is!

For me, Exeter seemed from the offset like a friendly, welcoming and very accepting environment. The brilliant location and facilities within the college also appealed to me. I also had met one of the tutors on a subject-specific open day, and his specialised field of study really interested me.
Joss Barker, Earth Sciences, Year 1

I didn’t initially apply to Exeter, but I love it here! It doesn’t really matter what college you’re at – it just depends on individual preferences. Some applicants get reallocated to other colleges so don’t read too much into choosing a preference or making an open application – most people love whichever college they end up at! Now I’m here, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but Exeter.
Yasmine Copley, Chemistry, Year 1