When I went to uni I was seventeen, ready to leave home and ready to learn. I got to uni and realised the first term and most of the first year was going to be a doss. I could do it in my sleep. The main focus was on living away from your parents. My mother died when I was thirteen and while my Dad came and looked after us, we all learnt pretty quickly to be independent. Our Dad was our safety net and he sometimes did our laundry and cooked out food, but we were self sufficient long before I got to uni.
I wanted to focus on learning, on reading and essays and discussions. That was available, but it wasn’t easy to be that person. I think Oxbridge is better in terms of that, but the stress on the students is huge and unwieldy. So many undergrads here in Oxford struggle with it. Not just being away from home and the usual anxiety that comes from studying.
Oxford is so deeply historic, there’s so much imbedded in the city walls, all the stories and people telling them. And then there’s the anxiety of being at one of the top universities in the world, of being picked as one of the elite. Is everyone else more intelligent than you? Do you deserve to be here? Any student who’s going to come out the other side of an Oxford degree with any sort of personality or humility or real learning experience has these doubts. They have to. Here it’s sink or swim, and for the most part your tutors and lecturers and friends won’t care which it is you do.
People drown at Oxford. There’s no other word that quite describes the experience of an undergrad who finds it’s too much. There’s nothing more crushing than to reach the dream of Oxford, city of spires, only to find you’ve made a mistake and you should have applied to study somewhere else. No one gives you the information you need. There’s no one at A-level institutions who says “yeah, Oxbridge is okay. It’s top for some subjects. But the system is different, you might hate it.” There’s no one to explain that failing at Oxbridge doesn’t decrease your intelligence or make you a lesser person. There’s no one who really believes that a degree from Brooks is as prestigious, if not more so in certain fields, than a degree from the University of Oxford. And there should be!
Don’t get me wrong; Oxford is an incredible experience. I’ve lived here long enough and have known enough students to be able to tell you- you will have never experienced anything like Oxford undergrad life. There’s so much richness, so much to learn and see and do. No other university is like Oxford. People lump Oxford and Cambridge together and they run on the same system and are the same thing; Cambridge was founded by Oxford students running away from the war here, between town and gown. It is similar. But they’re not the same university or experience. Oxford is unique and wonderful and very much worth it.
Featured image from Llee Wu