I have just completed my first year studying music at Oxford University, so I thought it would be good to tell you what it is actually like. Quick disclaimer: this is all taken from the point of view of a music student, so I can’t really comment on other subjects.
There are no two ways of saying this: the workload at Oxford is large. There is a reason that a lot of the libraries are open after the bars and clubs close! Students at Oxford have to do in 8 weeks what most other university students do in 10-12. For music, this means anything between an essay a fortnight to two essays every week. On top of that, I had harmony and counterpoint exercises as well as trying to fit in oboe practice. My advice for dealing with the work is to find a schedule that fits with how you study and not to get too stressed. However, another piece of advice I would give is learn to like coffee. It will be your best friend during the inevitable essay crisis you will have.
2. Contact Hours
Contact hours with tutors also vary from subject to subject. The scientists will nearly always have far more contact hours than the humanities students, and they get very tired when music students whinge about a 9am start when they have one every day. Due to the number of modules we have, music students have more lectures and tutorials than other humanities students (so we can complain slightly more when we have a 9am).
3. Social Life
With all that work, you would expect that people at Oxford would not be able to have a social life. But just like with work, organisation is key. Oxford University has hundreds of societies and almost certainly there will be one that suits you. I am a member of the wind orchestra and other university ensembles as well as my college’s choir. I am a music student after all. There are loads of sports teams that range from football and rugby to quidditch and ultimate Frisbee. There really is something for everyone, and I recommend trying things that you have never done before. It may surprise you.
There are also loads of concerts, events and gigs on nearly every night during term time, so there is always something to do that will be to your liking. One of my personal favourites is going to see Dot’s Funk Odyssey (DFO), the university’s funk band. They are a lot of fun and always put on a good show.
4 . Weird Oxford Traditions
As you probably know, Oxford has some weird and somewhat ridiculous traditions. I’m now going to attempt to explain some of them.
Bops – Bop is an acronym for “Big Old Party”, which is what these are. These are parties at your college and often they have a theme. Last year, some of the themes we had were Circus, Disney, Heaven and Hell and Rubik’s Cube. These are a great way to socialise in college, as loads of people are in silly costumes and having a really great time.
Subfusc – This is the academic dress that you have to wear for exams and other official university events. For boys, this is a dark suit, white shirt, black shoes, an academic gown and either a white bowtie, a black bowtie, or a black necktie. For girls, it is an academic gown, white blouse, dark skirt with black tights or black trousers and a black ribbon. In addition to this, everyone needs either a mortar board or a soft cap. You can’t wear the hat until you graduate, which makes it a bit of a pain to carry around all the time.
Matriculation – This is the ceremony where you officially become part of the university and takes place at the start of your first year. You have to wear full academic dress and often have a large photo with the rest of your year before going for a giant ceremony with the rest of the new freshers in the Sheldonian Theatre. Afterwards, people generally go to the pub to begin the “Matricu-lash”. I don’t think I need to explain that.
Exams – At Oxford, you must wear full academic dress to all your exams. This is a bit of a pain but most people take off gowns, suit jackets and bowties once inside the exam. The best part about finishing your exams is something called trashing. This is when your friends come and greet you after your last exam and generally throw confetti, glitter and shaving foam at you. It is great to have people cheering you on after a very stressful exam.
I hope that has given you an insight into life at Oxford University. One final thing to say is that while studying at Oxford can be very stressful, it can also be a lot of fun.