Studying at Oxford as an estranged student | University of Oxford
Image of a girl by a rock pool
Image of a girl by a rock pool

Studying at Oxford as an estranged student

For Sarah James-Short, commencing her studies at Oxford University as an estranged student was daunting, and initially she struggled to find her feet. However, with support from her college and the friends she made, Sarah found a warm welcome and great fulfilment studying her favourite subject as a valued History undergraduate.

Estranged students are young people studying without the support of a family network. Some young people in this position have no contact at all with their family and have removed themselves from a dysfunctional situation. Sarah shares the support networks she developed at university.

How does the real Oxford compare with the impression you had of it in your head?

I didn’t know much about Oxford before I applied. I had never considered it as a real option because I had thought of it as a place I wouldn’t fit or get into. I thought it would be the antithesis of the place I grew up in. In many ways, it is. But it’s also full of normal people from all kinds of backgrounds that make it a much more welcoming place than what I had thought it would be. I think Oxford still has a lot of progress to make, as the events of the last few months has made clear, but the student body is doing a great job at making that progress happen. 

I had the goal of attending university throughout school as a way of restarting my life on my own terms. 

How has being an estranged student impacted your university experience compared to others?

Being estranged has both highlighted the importance and value of my degree and also made it much harder. I had the goal of attending university throughout school as a way of restarting my life on my own terms. It has been a chance to move to a new place studying my favourite subject (History) and essentially has provided an escape for me, so I’m extremely grateful for the chance to study this degree. But it’s also meant I haven’t been able to share the highs and lows of Oxford with a family. I haven’t had a stable place to return to in the vacations. I don’t know who I’ll invite to my graduation. The need to have a plan, and a back-up plan, for my life immediately after Finals weighs heavily on my mind, because I don’t have a safety net or parents to rely on if something goes wrong.

How did you go about finding your feet at University?

In all honesty I really struggled to find my feet at first! But I think being open and honest about my struggle with my College is what helped me the most. There was always someone to listen and reassure me and offer me help if I needed it. I had some great friends who made sure I got involved in things and also made me realise that a lot of people struggle to find their feet too. If you’re honest about it, you can all help each other through.

The need to have a plan, and a back-up plan, for my life immediately after Finals weighs heavily on my mind, because I don’t have a safety net or parents to rely on if something goes wrong.

What are your favourite things to do within the University and surrounding city, and which memories will you treasure most?

I do love University Parks — they’re right behind St. Anne’s and my favourite escape when I need a break from my desk. I like to pop into the Ashmolean too. As a history student, I spend a lot of time just reading so it is nice to be able to go and see something real and tangible that relates to what I’m doing. But most of all I think some of my best memories from my time here will always be the little coffee shop lunches I’ve had with friends across the city, they are invaluable in a busy term and I find they can make everything feel so much more manageable.

One positive thing that you would like everyone to know about Oxford?

That there are many people here, both staff and students alike, that are listening and wanting to make a change.

Find out more about support available to estranged students on this dedicated webpage.