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Meet our Students

Meet our Students

What is it like to go to Oxford University from the South West of England? Our students are here to tell you about their experiences.

Ryan - Computer Science | Olivia - Classical Archaeology and Ancient History | Ella - Maths | Olivia - History    

Hi! I’m Ryan and I am in my second year of studying Computer Science at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. I am from Kingswood, which is on the eastern edge of Bristol. I went to Hanham Woods Academy for secondary school and then St Brendan’s Sixth Form College after that.

What advice would you give to anyone from the South West considering applying to Oxford?

If you are considering applying for Oxford then go for it! You have nothing to lose by applying. I remember when I was applying for Oxford I thought I had no chance of getting in and clearly that wasn’t true. A surprising amount of people have the talent to get in and would be very well suited for Oxford but don’t apply.

When you apply to Oxford you can choose a specific college to apply for if you want. If you want to choose a college but don’t know where to start I would recommend first making a list of the colleges which offer the subject you are thinking of applying for. Then research those and choose a few favourites. After that I would recommend going to an Open Day and visiting these to see which one you like best. Try not to get too stressed about choosing a college, they all have far more similarities than differences. Please go to an Open Day if you are able to, I found the one I went to so helpful!

How did you find moving away from Home?

In the days leading up to leaving home I was quite worried, I didn't know anyone who had ever studied at Oxford so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have never been much of a chef (I had to phone my mum to ask her how to cook pasta in my first term), but luckily the hall food at my college is really nice and reasonably cheap, so my lack of culinary skills was less of an issue than I thought it would be. I felt much more optimistic about moving away when I was given such a warm welcome by the students on the fresher’s stalls.

At times I did feel slightly homesick, but Oxford is only a train or two away from the south west, so I could go home for a weekend when I wanted to. The terms are 8 weeks, so even if you don’t go home during term you still spend a good amount of time at home. I found that everyone I met was very friendly, and made some great friends in the first week of moving in.

What is your favourite thing about Oxford?

My favourite thing about Oxford is the city’s unique vibe, there's always so much going on. On the city’s streets you can see people wearing anything from a suit and gown to a banana costume. In one day you can go to lectures in beautiful historic buildings, see a celebrity speak at an event, go on a walk/run past famous landmarks (the city is quite flat, which is a welcome change for me after living in a very hilly area), play almost any sport you want to and so much more. At Oxford there are so many opportunities to do a variety of things.

Ryan E LMH

Hiya! I'm Olivia, a second year studying Classical Archaeology and Ancient History (CAAH) at Merton! I come from a small town called South Molton in North Devon, and went to Chulmleigh Community College and Petroc College in Barnstaple for my A Levels. I think CAAH is such a great mix of ancient history and the sources behind this - the balance between archaeology and history is so unusual and what makes the course so fascinating to me! 

What advice would you give to anyone from the South West considering applying to Oxford? 

If you really think that Oxford could be an option that would make you happy and are even considering that you would want to go, it is worth applying! Some of the advice that I got from family and teachers that really stuck with me was: “if you will regret not applying and will always wonder what the outcome would have been, apply!”. Also, I think because so few people from this area go to Oxford, Cambridge, or even University, it can seem quite fascinating to people and you can get a lot of questions which can make nerves and stress even worse. Just remember that you do not actually have to tell people or give a Q and A on it!

 How did you find moving away from Home? 

Honestly, this was the part I dreaded about Oxford, and University, in general. My second choice was Exeter University, which meant that if I had not been offered by Oxford I would have been an hour from home and close to everyone. However, my fears about being too far away were unnecessary - firstly it is not actually that far from home, and I found everyone to be so friendly and welcoming, it felt like a second home very quickly! Furthermore, the first couple of weeks are so busy that I did not really have the time to think about missing home until I’d already settled in! Also, whenever you are missing people you can remember that FaceTime is a great option (as we have all learned this year!), and terms are pretty short so it’s never more than a few weeks until going-home time.

What is your favourite thing about Oxford? 

My favourite thing about Oxford has to be how much there is going on. Obviously there is a lot of work to do, but apart from that there is always time to explore the city, go for a walk in the Parks or Port Meadow, attend a lecture or talk on a subject you’re interested in, or one of the other numerous events happening constantly! Also, I know it’s cliché, but the city (and Merton college!) is just so beautiful and I love finding new details and exploring different areas and colleges. 

Olivia J

My name is Ella, I am a second year Mathematics student at Merton College and I have lived in Somerset since the age of 3. I attended a mainstream state school for my GCSEs and remained there for my A-Levels.

An extra challenge for me applying to Oxford - and university in general - is that I am blind, always having been visually impaired and losing the rest of my sight aged 15. The application, interview and general preparation process took perhaps a little extra thought for me, needing to consider how I would be supported, both academically and in day to day living, but Merton and the Maths department have done a very good job - maybe not immediately, but working together and discussing issues, we have been able to find solutions so that I am able to live and work relatively independently.

Outside of Maths I enjoy church bell ringing, going for dog walks with my guide dog and friends and drinking too much hot chocolate at various cafes around Oxford!

What advice would you give to anyone from the South West considering applying to Oxford?

Not to be a cliche, but just go for it! If you’ve got reasonable grades, or the determination to work for them, and more importantly enthusiasm for the subject you want to study, then don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

I was in the lucky position that my school had some experience in supporting Oxford and Cambridge applicants, but even so I found Google and YouTube an excellent source of advice and information, from examples of personal statements, mock interview videos to accounts of current and former students’ experiences, and since starting at Merton I have seen the amazing work that the Access Reps and Outreach Officers do to pass on as much information as possible through social media - see pages like the Humans of Merton page - and visits and workshops with schools.

Also, if you’re looking for a bit of advice, or just information, or affirmation, then don’t be afraid to get in touch, whether it be with current students, admissions officers or subject tutors, someone should be able to answer your questions so that you can make the best decision and make the best application possible!

How did you find moving away from home?

I was extremely nervous and intimidated by the prospect of moving away from home, probably increased because of the extra challenges I face as a result of being blind. In the summer before starting, Merton allowed me to come and stay in college for a few days to begin learning routes around the college site and Oxford with an instructor from Guide Dogs (I have a guide dog called Rio), so that I would be able to get to key places - like the dining hall, tutors’ offices and the Maths department.

I was anxious that I wouldn’t make friends and become isolated, which is an all too real possibility for people with visual impairments, but Merton assigned me a buddy who made sure that I wasn’t left out of anything that I wanted to do. Even without my buddy, I’m sure that I’d have been taken under the wing of any number of second years or fellow freshers. Everyone is pretty much in the same boat and wanting to make friends. You’ll find friends soon enough, whether they be from your subject, your accommodation staircase or societies you join.

Also, Somerset isn’t too far away, from home to college it takes about 2 hours in the car - less on a good traffic day - so it’s fairly easy for family to come and visit for a day trip or a weekend.

What is your favourite thing about Oxford?

On the academic side, my favourite aspect of Oxford is the tutorials. I don’t learn particularly well from lectures but the opportunity to do a problem sheet and then spend an hour or more discussing solutions with an expert tutor and other students is ideal for me. You are able to focus on what you are really struggling with or stretch your abilities if you think you can go further. whilst being guided and supported by someone who knows exactly what they’re talking about.

My favourite thing about the city is Christchurch Meadows, a lovely area of green space right next door to Merton; it’s easily accessible and a great place to give my dog a run whilst walking with friends, before going to one of the many local cafes for a well-deserved hot chocolate!

Overall, the thing I miss most about Oxford when I’m not there is all the people I’ve met. I’ve made some really excellent friends who can be relied on for maths help, dog walking companions or someone just to talk with. The tutors and academic staff at Merton have been really supportive with my studies, making sure that I can access resources and willing to give extra tutorials and have meetings at short notice if something is not going well. Additionally, everyone from the porters, hall staff, cleaners and gardeners make college feel like a home from home, keeping us safe, well fed and living and working in a beautiful, peaceful location, always with a cheery ‘hello’ and a helping hand if you need one!

Ella C

Hey! I’m Liv and I am a finalist studying History at Lady Margaret Hall. I was born in Cumbria but moved down to Cornwall at a really young age and have been here ever since. I went to Helston Community College and then Truro College for my A Levels.

What advice would you give to anyone from the South West considering applying to Oxford?

My advice for people thinking about applying to Oxford is to just give it a shot, and to see the application process as a wonderful experience in itself. Personally, I didn’t have much self-confidence and didn’t believe I had a chance of getting in - I saw interviews as a time to experience a beautiful city, hold a conversation with experts in my subject, and meet new people.

For those who are worried about applications, my best advice would be to let your interest for your subject take centre stage. Having experienced being at Oxford and studying alongside those who attended private schools, I definitely felt an unfair disadvantage in terms of the content I knew. However, your intention behind studying your subject and the interest you show are both things that Oxford cares a lot about, and things that you can have regardless of where you are from.

How did you find moving away from Home?

I was lucky enough to attend UNIQ summer school the year before I applied to Oxford, and had been part of a foreign exchange for a few years in secondary school, so I was used to being away from my parents for a week or so at a time. Being away for my first Oxford term was a little harder, especially when you live so far away and don’t get the luxury of just nipping home for a weekend. However, it isn’t long before you get distracted with life at Oxford, and the short terms start to fly by the end of your first year.

LMH felt like home so quickly, the greenery was so comforting and there were so many opportunities to make friends from all across the college. I would recommend doing a little research (youtube helped me) about the different colleges, but don’t get bogged down in it - colleges have many similarities, but small differences may help you to settle in faster. The large size of the LMH grounds, as well as it’s distance away from the busy centre reminded me of home. Alternatively, you may look for a college that pushes you into a city life that you haven’t experienced yet.

What is your favourite thing about Oxford?

By far my favourite thing about Oxford is how it feels like a fountain of knowledge, with its wide range of course options, taught by experts in their field, and the mountain of books in the Bodleian libraries. Each essay gives you a chance to read books you never thought you would read, and when you get the chance to specialise in your own interests, you have any book you could imagine, right at your fingertips. 

Having got more into student activism in my final two years, I would say another of my favourite things about Oxford is how many connections you can make with people from other years and colleges over common interests and desire for change. 

Olivia D