Oxford – the city of dreaming spires

15 November 2016

Almost everybody has heard about Oxford University. It is one of the oldest universities in the world, that among its graduates it has 46 Nobel Prize laureates and 25 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. The university campus consists of buildings that are centuries old, just like some traditions. What does studying look like in such an exceptional place?

What is specific for Oxford is the college system, adopted from the University of Paris. It means that each student is allocated to exactly one college (among 38 of them), and every college provides them with accommodation, meals, and usually also with tutors teaching specific courses. The oldest is the University College, established in 1247.
The colleges are divided into undergraduate colleges (most colleges), providing education at a bachelor’s and master’s level, as well as doctoral studies, and postgraduate colleges (some colleges, e.g. Nuffield), teaching only at a master’s and doctoral level. The exception is the All Souls College, meant only for fellows, that is for university professors. Being a member of this college is considered to be the most prestigious in the British academic world.
One of the members of All Souls College was a Pole, Prof Leszek Kołakowski.

One day in a student’s life

As a student of mathematics, I attend two types of courses: lectures (which are common for students of all colleges) and tutorials (which are always organised within the college for groups of 2-3 students and conducted by one of the academic staff members). Oxford University is known for placing huge emphasis on individual study. The university has numerous libraries, including the Queens College spacious library: with the whole upper floor filled with vintage books available only upon special permission and with 18th-century furniture. The reading room was included in numerous ratings of the most beautiful reading rooms in the world.

More than just science

At Oxford there are over 400 student societies, focusing on specific areas of study or sports, as well as on other interests. There are also national societies for students from different countries. Physical activity plays a very important role, with many sports leagues existing in various disciplines, and teams from the highest leagues representing Oxford at “varsity matches” with Cambridge. The most important of those matches, of course, is the annual rowing race.

Oxford University Polish Society (PolSoc)

One of the multiple Oxford student societies, whose mission is to integrate the Poles studying at Oxford.
The organisation is working very actively, each year organising a couple of prestigious conferences and lectures by famous guests, among them Prof Leszek Balcerowicz, Jerzy Buzek, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Czesław Miłosz, Jan Maria Rokita, Radosław Sikorski, Prof Danuta Hübner and Jerzy Stuhr. It also organises a lot of social and cultural events, such as film nights, skating or the famous ‘Vodka Parties’. PolSoc also has its own football team. It festively celebrates Polish national holidays and fosters Polish traditions, including St. Andrew’s Day. In December, an exceptional ball will take place to mark the 60th anniversary of the society.

How to get into Oxford?

Already in the second year of high school, you have to select the course that you wish to apply for. Then you have to choose an Oxford college to send your application to. It will be responsible for your recruitment process and may then accept you as an Oxford student.

Then, until 15 October, you have to register in the UCAS system and fill in the application form, whose most important part is a personal statement, which is a one-page essay. In this essay you explain why you would like to study the chosen subject and show off your extracurricular activities (e.g. competitions) related to it. You also need to attach a letter of reference from your teacher.
Then you await the invitation for interview. The to-be students come to Oxford in December for a couple of days to have interviews with tutors (the details of the meetings depend on the chosen degree). Within a month, a long awaited “offer” is sent to you. This is a letter from your college offering you a place provided that you pass your high school finals and language exams with the expected results. From now on you only need to study for the exams and once you receive your results a place at Oxford is yours!

For some degrees, additional exams may be required. In my case, applying for mathematics, I had to pass the MAT exam in November. Therefore, it is worth consulting the description of the enrolment procedure and any additional requirements for the degree of your dreams. You will also find some useful information at: https://adamedsmartup.pl/studia-za-granica/uk.
Dominika Bakalarz, 1st-year student of mathematics at Queen’s College, University of Oxford, laureate of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists 2015 and finalist of the International Science and Engineering Fair 2016, ambassador of ADAMED SmartUP programme.

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