About Oxford and Cambridge
Oxford and Cambridge are renowned the world over as two of the most prestigious institutions for academic excellence. Regularly ranking top of the table in the UK and globally, these educational powerhouses represent the pinnacle of academic attainment, and admit only the cream of the crop to study there.
A Brief History…
Whilst the exact date of foundation remains unknown, there is evidence of teaching at The University of Oxford as early as 1096, making it the second oldest university in the world. After a local dispute, some academics fled Oxford to the Northeast city of Cambridge, founding the second of the two ancient universities in 1209, and the third oldest in the world. In the following centuries, Oxford and Cambridge would go on to establish their status as global centres of learning. Initially focussing primarily on the teaching of Divinity, Oxford and Cambridge have gradually embraced a myriad of new disciplines and subject areas. Today, students can be seen reading books on topics as varied as Chinese architecture to organic chemistry.
The College System
Both Oxford and Cambridge are comprised of a collection of colleges, each a self-governing institution, complete with endowments, property and resources. All students and nearly all academics are affiliated to a college, which provides welfare, teaching, accommodation and social benefits, among other things. Oxford is home to 38 colleges, whilst Cambridge has 31. Three of Cambridge’s colleges (Murray Edwards, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish) admit women only, whilst all other Oxbridge colleges are mixed sex. Colleges are not required to admit students for every subject, and indeed there are certain subjects that not all colleges will offer.
One of the major benefits of the college system is that it is a microcosm of the university as a whole, complete with its own amenities, extracurricular societies and accommodation. To be a part of a college is to be a part of a community of peers, and when compared to the rather anonymous halls of residences found at most other universities, this sense of shared adventure and academic purpose really marks out the Oxbridge experience.
In addition to colleges, both universities arae made up of several faculties, who coordinate the syllabus and teaching for each course. The structure of learning means that students will receive lectures, seminars and (for science students) labs run by their faculty. During these sessions they will sit in a university lecture theatres and seminar rooms, alongside students from other colleges. They will then receive tutorials/supervisions within their college.
Tutorials (Oxford) and Supervisions (Cambridge) are what make Oxbridge so sought after. They consist of small group discussion (sometimes this can be one-to-one), with a college academic. In the first year of undergraduate study, these sessions generally take place several times a week with academics of students home colleges. However, in second and third year, as the course of study becomes more specialised, these sessions may take place at other colleges. What makes tutorials and supervisions so special is the level of personal, bespoke attention you receive from a highly qualified, world-leading expert in your chosen field. At no other university do you have such ready access to the world’s finest minds, and this is largely why the Oxbridge application process is so competitive.
Besides the unrivalled teaching system, Oxford and Cambridge also offer an excellent range of extra-curricular societies and activities.
The two universities pride themselves on their sporting prowess, and this has become a modern manifestation of the great and historical rivalry between them. Nearly every college has its own boat club, and offers novices to try their hand at rowing, whilst the Oxford v Cambridge boat race remains one of the biggest fixtures on the sporting calendar. Rugby too is fiercely competitive, with several alumni going on to represent the home nations at international level. If rowing and rugby are not your thing, there is a team for just about every sport out there, from American Football to Ultimate Frisbee, and at every level, from casual beginner to elite athlete.
For any aspiring thespians out there, there are few places better than Oxford and Cambridge. Cambridge boasts a rich pool of talent and a fantastic array of shows across the ADC, the Footlights and the various colleges, whilst Oxford can offer the OUDS and the Oxford Revue, all dramatic societies with strong traditions and a raft of famous names. Oxbridge shows can be found in abundance every year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Fiercely informed and politically active arenas, whatever your ideological inclinations, there will be a society at Oxbridge for you. You’ll get to discuss the world’s most important topics with the world’s brightest young people, and both the Oxford and Cambridge debating societies still have the clout to attract big figures to deliver speeches. In recent years, students have been lucky enough to hear talks from Julian Assange, Colonel Gaddafi, and Desmond Tutu.
And Oxford and Cambridge even cater to the most obscure interests. Love dressing up as a pirate? Well there’s the pirate society! Want to jump out of a plane at 30,000 feet? Well there’s the skydiving society! Or do you love nothing more than sitting down by the fire and playing tiddlywinks? Yes, you guessed it, there is a Tiddlywinks society too! Whatever your interest, no matter how weird and wonderful, there will be like-minded students at Oxbridge to share it with.
A Day in the Life
8.30am: Get up, have a cup of coffee and a banana, shower and head off to first lecture of the day.
9.00am: First lecture of the day!
10.00am: Dash between lecture theatres to grab a much-needed second coffee of the day, and return for the second lecture of the day
11.00am: Go for breakfast with friends from my course, discuss the themes of the lectures, and write up notes
12.00pm: Final lecture of the day!
1.00pm: Go back to my college and have lunch in the canteen
2.00pm: Read over an essay I’d finished the previous day, and make some notes ahead of a supervision on the topic
3.00pm: Supervision with my director of studies, receive a grilling on my essay…
4.00pm: Have a coffee in the college cafe and catch up with friends
5.00pm: Finish writing up my notes for my supervision in 2 days time, and start writing the essay
6.00pm: Get suited and booted, put my gown on and go and have dinner in formal hall at college
7.30pm: Post-dinner drinks in the bar
9.00pm: Retire to my room to continue working on my essay
10.00pm: Catch up on last night’s TV on iplayer
11.00pm: Time for bed!