NI outreach
NI outreach

Meet our students

What is it like to go to Oxford University from Northern Ireland? Our students are here to tell you about their experiences.

Thomas | Jane | Bethany | Shannon 

Thomas, from a rural village near Lurgan, studying French and German at St Catherine's College, Oxford

My main motivation for applying to Oxford was just a real love for my subject – I’m studying French and German and have been hooked on all of the aspects of language-learning right from the first day of secondary school aged 12. I hadn’t necessarily been dreaming of Oxford from a young age, but I was aware of the quality of teaching and the unique opportunity a University like this presents, so when the time came to apply I thought it was worth having a go.

Naturally, there is a period of adjustment when you first arrive – NI students are in a slightly strange limbo as we’re not quite international students, but we also don’t really have the option to go home for the weekend if we miss our family (which I certainly did at the beginning)! However, I very quickly found my feet just like all of the other NI students I know here – and I’ve never encountered any prejudice or felt marginalised because of where I come from. The people at Oxford are nowhere near as intimidating as you might think, and I was made to feel very welcome.

I know that plenty of NI applicants are the first person from their school or the only person in their year group to try for Oxford, and I can say from experience that you absolutely shouldn’t worry if you don’t know anyone who’s been to Oxford or don’t have teachers in your school whose role is to prepare students for the application process. We’re quite a self-deprecating bunch here in NI, but trust me when I say that even if you don’t feel familiar with the Oxford lingo or if you don’t have someone coaching you through every step, you’ll find yourself just as capable as any other student from anywhere else – and the tutors who review your application and (fingers crossed) your interview will take your background into account. If you’re on the fence about applying, my advice would certainly be to go for it – you have nothing to lose!

I'm very keen on encouraging more Northern Irish students to apply to Oxford, so if you have any questions please contact me via the Northern Ireland Outreach mailbox.


Jane from Portadown, studying  Biochemistry at St Hilda's college, Oxford. 

I applied to Oxford after attending the UNIQ summer school. Before UNIQ, I had never really heard of Oxford and didn't know anyone who had been. On UNIQ, I met many current students who were very friendly and approachable. They were very much like students in NI and had similar interests to me. I also had the opportunity to attend some informal tutorials and really liked the teaching style, especially how personalized it was. I was apprehensive about applying but decided to give it a go and see what would happen. UNIQ offered me loads of advice about applying and the application process was surprisingly quite enjoyable. 

Initially I was convinced Oxford was not for people like me due to common misconceptions. This couldn't be further from the truth. All my Northern Irish friends agree with me in the fact that we wouldn’t want to study anywhere else. A big worry of mine was the lack of social life and leaving all my friends behind who stayed in Northern Ireland. This again was completely wrong as there are always so many events to go to and socialising is a huge part of life at Oxford. The countless societies at Oxford mean you are never at a loose end. Most people do also love a trip to the pub! The college system means it’s so easy to make friends with people across all years and subjects. Colleges also offer so much support in terms of welfare and grants/bursaries. There is a strong community of Northern Irish people in Oxford if you do ever need to hear a familiar voice, and family are only ever a FaceTime or very quick flight away! 

I would say to NI students thinking of applying to Oxford, just go for it and apply. Oxford is an amazing place to be a student and I am yet to meet anyone who regrets coming to Oxford to study. The teaching here is incredible and the tutors really do care about you. More importantly, I have met such a variety of people from so many backgrounds that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to know at home. I think a lot of the time, Northern Irish students are quite self-deprecating but it’s important to believe in yourself and your ability. I have had an unbelievable three years and I wish I could do it all over again. Oxford has been my best decision and I would recommend it to everyone. So definitely give it a go and see what happens!


Bethany, from Belfast,  studying Philosophy and French at Worcester college, Oxford.

I applied to Oxford partially on a whim - although certainly a whim that required a lot of work (!), despite not having what we may consider as 'desirable' grades for Oxford. A month into the application process, however, my father - and sole carer - passed away, leaving myself and my sister to look after ourselves both financially and physically. This is when I really knuckled down; Oxford offers funding for those students who are from lower income families, and I realised that, if I were to excel in my degree, I would have the opportunity to have my voice heard, using that voice to help others in the future. So, in short, it was largely about the financial aid available - but also, in the longer term, the impact of an Oxford degree when it comes to global activism and credibility.

 Oxford can be a strange place for Northern Irish students - I remember being asked to repeat myself incessantly as I asked 'how are you?'. But the community of Irish and Northern Irish students is genuinely wonderful: the Irish Society, of which I was Secretary in my second year, is a great place for getting together and practicing Irish language, finally sharing our vernacular (what's the craic?!) with people who understand it, and reminiscing on our wee hometowns. Other students are also really interested to learn about Northern Ireland's history, culture, and society, as it's not often spoken about in the mainland, so it's a great opportunity to share your experiences of being from the North.

I would really really encourage students to apply - there are a number of reasons why we don't have enough Northern Irish students here in Oxford, but the most prevalent is that there just aren't enough applications! I know it seems like a million miles away, and there's certainly a financial fear involved in it, but if you look into the various finance schemes (Crankstart Scholars being the most prominent), you may even find that Oxford is the most financially viable of mainland universities! Furthermore, I would encourage potential applicants to reach out to their teachers and express that they're both interested and motivated to apply to Oxford - make use of the resources you have, and, of course, get in touch with Oxford Academic and Access staff, who will be able to direct you to some useful resources in applications. Good luck!


Shannon, from Antrim, studying Earth Science at St Hugh’s College, Oxford 

I’m from near Antrim and I went to school in Ballyclare. I applied to Oxford because I loved the course, small subject size, and the field trips sounded amazing. I really loved learning about subjects that I’m really interested in and the idea of studying a subject I loved with other students who were equally excited about it as I was sounded so great! I also loved the collegiate system as the idea of going to a massive university freaked me out a little and I thought having a smaller college within that would help it feel more like home (and it really does). Now that I’m here though the fact that Oxford has such a large number of students gives us lots of opportunities and facilities, as well as more clubs and societies to get involved with, than a smaller university may have.

For a Northern Irish student, Oxford isn’t much different than going to any other university in England - it’s farther from home than most of your friends will have to go to university; the accents are a little startling at first but you get used to them and everyone thinks you have a weird but amusing accent; and if you try to use cash to pay for anything they don’t recognise our local money. However, Oxford does have a huge proportion of international students - one third of my course is from outside the UK.
To Northern Irish students thinking of applying to Oxford, I would say to just try! Try not to be put off if you feel like you won’t belong or aren’t smart enough, everyone feels that way, and there’s so many people at Oxford who are all so different, there’s a place for everyone! If you really want to learn at a high level about the subject you love then it may be a perfect place for you. I would also recommend - if you can - visiting one of the Open days, they’re really great, full of practical information and you can get a feel for the city, university and colleges.