What is the University of Oxford REALLY like?

What's the University of Oxford REALLY like?

This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 23 September 2021

Thinking of applying to the University of Oxford as an international student? Then read our guide to get our insights into what the uni and city are really like.  

GB Mag Survival Service creative - 2021

What are the best things about studying in Oxford? 

It’s common knowledge that Oxford is absolutely stunning. From the spires of Christ Church college to the glorious Bodleian Library, it’s pretty hard to find a more picturesque city. And if you love Harry Potter then look no further, as many of the film locations are in Oxford.  

Oxford also has a fairly mild climate, given its location in the southeast of England, meaning that it tends to be warmer and drier than other parts of the UK. And on a sunny day, there are lots of parks to enjoy, such as Christ Church Meadow, Oxford University Parks and Port Meadow. The city is also well located to get to places like London – with the journey taking less than an hour by coach and there are direct train links to Birmingham and Reading.  

And if you’re looking to try watersports, then Oxford might just be for you. Two rivers flow through Oxford – the Thames and Cherwell – meaning that it has a strong rowing culture with an annual Boat Race against Cambridge University  – their fierce rivals. You can also try punting in Oxford – a small flat boat which you push along the riverbed with a pole. 


What is the University of Oxford REALLY like?

And the not-so-great things?

It’s fair to say that Oxford is a pretty quiet city. There are only a couple of venues in the city centre dedicated to live music, so unless you’re interested in classical concerts, you’ll probably have to travel elsewhere for a gig. Although it’s not quite as bad as Cambridge, the clubbing scene is incomparable to clubs in big cities like Manchester or London – most venues in Oxford are pretty small and tend to play cheesy pop music on repeat. Instead, the social calendar at Oxford focuses on “formal hall” – three-course dinners which students attend in formal gown.  

Oxford is also pretty expensive which is to be expected given its location in the southeast of England which tends to be pricier than the north. Although not quite as bad as London – a recent study revealed Oxford to be the third most expensive city to live in the UK.  

Is Oxford multicultural?

Yes, the city is multicultural – Oxford City Council reported that 22% of residents were from a black or minority ethnic group in comparison to 13% in England. This is largely due to a sizable international student population, which makes up 45% of the total student body. There are several international supermarkets in Oxford which are mostly concentrated on Cowley Road and there’s an annual Cowley Road Carnival too. 

There are also numerous places to worship in the city centre, including several mosques, churches, a Buddhist temple and a gurdwara.  

But the University of Oxford still has some way to go in terms of student diversity – in 2017, the University of Oxford received negative attention in the press when it was revealed that only 1.9% of students admitted that year were black.  

What’s Oxford famous for? 

Let’s be honest, Oxford is famous for its university – which regularly tops the QS World University Rankings for the best university in the world. The University of Oxford was founded in 1096, making it the oldest university in England and is affiliated with over 72 Nobel Prize winners including Malala Yousafzai, T.S. Eliot and V.S. Naipul.  

Oxford’s world-renowned beauty has also made it the ideal film location too. Chances are that you’ll probably recognise parts of Oxford if you’ve ever seen movies such as Harry Potter, Brideshead Revisited, X-Men: First Class or The History Boys.

Where does the University of Oxford rank?

In the 2022 QS World University Rankings, the University of Oxford came first in the UK and second in the world. The University of Oxford is prized for its tutorial system – one-on-one weekly meetings where students can discuss essays with their personal tutor. And it’s particularly renowned for Classical Studies, English Language and Literature, History, and Modern Languages.  

What is the University of Oxford REALLY like?

How much does it cost to study at the University of Oxford? 

Tuition fees start at £27,840 per annum for humanities degrees and can go up to £39,010 for degrees such as medicine. 

You’ll also need to factor in living expenses as living in Oxford can be pretty expensive. The University of Oxford estimates that students may spend anywhere from £14,100 to £20,520 a year to live in Oxford for the full twelve months (inclusive of rent).  

Does it offer funding or scholarships to international students? 

Yes – the University of Oxford offers a range of scholarships for incoming students. Students from low-income countries are eligible for a Reach Oxford scholarship and students from Eastern Europe are eligible for a Palgrave Brown scholarship. There are also a number of external scholarships for international students.  

What’s the campus like? 

The University of Oxford does not have a campus! Instead, it’s made up of academic buildings, 39 colleges and halls which are all spread around the city. It’s rare that you’ll have to flit from one building to another as you’ll have your tutorials in your college. But on the off chance that you need to reach a faculty building quickly, it’s pretty easy to do so – Oxford is small so pretty much everything is within walking distance.  

What’s the student accommodation like? 

Undergraduates live in their college accommodation for their first and usually last year – but you can live in college accommodation for the whole of your course. Accommodation can vary as some colleges are more modern than others. If you’d like to live in an antiquated building, then apply for Christ Church or New College (where Hogwarts was filmed) or if you’d prefer something a little bit more modern, then check out St Catherines (or Catz as it’s affectionally known).  

All colleges at Oxford offer self-catering facilities as well as a subsidised dining hall which serve daily meals. Colleges also have “formal hall” –  three-course dinners with a formal dress code, which can be run weekly or even daily, depending on your college.  

One of the perks of living in college accommodation is that you’ll have access to porters, who are the first point of contact for student welfare, meaning that you can always come to them for any help that you need. 

What is the University of Oxford REALLY like?

Does Oxford have good nightlife?

The nightlife in Oxford arguably compares better than the nightlife in Cambridge as there’s more choice in venues, but the clubbing scene is still small compared to bigger cities such as Manchester, Bristol or London. If you’re looking for alternative or underground music nights, then you’ll probably not find it here – with the exception of indie gigs at The Bullingdon. Nor are there any LGBTQ+ clubs in Oxford since the closure of Plush.

Nevertheless, Oxford does have a good selection of bars and pubs. Students tend to frequent The Cricketers Arms on Temple Road, Turf Tavern on Holywell street and The Four Candles on George street – a JD Wetherspoons pub for very cheap drinks. 

Will I be able to find a part-time job in Oxford? 

Yes – Oxford is crammed with cafes, specialist bookshops and museums, given it is a tourist attraction. As well as several shopping centres including Westgate, Templars Square and the Clarendon Centre, so there are plenty of opportunities to get part time work.

What is the transport like?

Oxford is particularly well connected to London. The “Oxford Tube” coach runs every ten minutes and will take you to London in less than an hour. There’s also an airport nearby, Oxford International Airport, although most visitors will fly in via London Heathrow or Luton Airport. The rail station has direct links to London, Birmingham and Reading, but not to the North of England, where you’ll have to take a connecting train elsewhere.  

There are buses around the city which you can take from the railway station to your college accommodation, but due to its small size, Oxford is pretty easy to walk. Cycling is also very popular with students and there are hundreds of bike racks dotted around the city.  

You may also want to read

Guide to Oxford

What is the University of Cambridge REALLY like? 

What is the University of Edinburgh REALLY like?