For many the prospect of starting university is daunting enough prospect without the additional pressure of attending England’s oldest university. This article is not at all exhaustive when it comes to advice I would give Freshers, but a summary of some things that would have been helpful to know before I started.
1) Freshers Week is not the be all or end all
Freshers Week (or few days in Oxford’s case) is thoroughly intense, not just in the sense that you are faced with many new people but also with the fact you are bombarded with so many different things at once. The prospect of calling a new place home, leaving your family and friends behind and starting a new academic challenge can be exciting but also overwhelming. The pressure to make friends instantly is high and you can often feel as though you are not doing enough to fit in. The reality is, a few days are not going to define the friendships you make in the three, four or more years that it takes to graduate. Yes, making friends is a great way of feeling more at home, but the friends you make in Freshers won’t necessarily be the friends you celebrate graduating with. I would take every day of university as an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, colleges, courses and universities don’t have to be the limit of the friendships you make— there are thousands of people around you.
2) Imposter Syndrome is common
Unfortunately, many students don’t think they are worthy enough to be at Oxford and feel like an imposter— hence, imposter syndrome. The reality of this situation is that everyone has had to work hard to be here and you are no different. Interviews and exams are no easy feat and the tutors have chosen you as their pupils, that in itself should tell you that they want you to study here and believe you have the capacity to succeed. The majority of students do struggle with work sometimes and that’s normal. It’s also a sign that you are being challenged; rise to it because you are capable.
3) First set of work
For many students, tutors will set work and reading lists after summer. Do as much as you can! If you can’t do something, let your tutors know what you couldn’t finish and ask for help with it. You might be set an essay or problem sheet due for the week after Freshers which could be very daunting. It’s important that you try and complete it, but it by no means has to be the best piece of work you will produce during term. First pieces of work are usually a good opportunity to learn the do’s and don’ts so try your best, but don’t agonise over it. You usually have weekly deadlines so you have plenty of time to produce better work.
4) Buying resources
There is absolutely no need to purchase lots of books – most college libraries stock multiple copies of common books. Also, a copy of every book on your reading list is usually found at the Bodleian Library, so even though it may seem intimidating, make the most of this space! If there is a book that you want and think will be beneficial for your college, suggest it to the college librarian and they may be able to order it in for you. Speak to your tutors about the ones you will need consistently throughout the year and buy those if you can. Certain colleges have book grants or money set aside for students who need financial support.
5) Self-care is necessary
Make sure that you have switched your GP to and Oxford doctor in case you have any medical problems during term. Check with your home GP if you have not got the recommended vaccinations before university. Also, familiarise yourself with where to access mental health advice if you need it; most people need someone to talk to at some point, within or outside of college. Plan your work and leave time in everyday to do something for yourself. You cannot work tirelessly the whole term – you will burn yourself out and be less productive. Some great places to go if you need a break from work and want to be out of colleges are: Oxford University Parks (lots of green space to walk around or go for a jog), Port Meadow (especially in summer, some people swim in the lake), an array of theatres showing student plays and an Oxford favourite— G&Ds (three great ice cream shops in Oxford).
6) The Oxford Jargon
When you arrive there will be a lot of Oxford- specific jargon, here is a list you may need in Freshers:
- Battles: your termly bill from college
- Pidge: a slot with your name on it where all your mail gets delivered to. Tutors also have them which you can submit your work to, usually via the lodge— you can have essays pidged to other colleges!
- Sub-Fusc: Oxford academic dress, you will have to buy a gown after Freshers
- Matriculation: official initiation into the University of Oxford where you become a student. You wear sub-fusc for this occasion.
- BOP: Big Organised Party, these are usually college organised parties which surround a theme
- Crew Dates: usually centred around drinking involving members of different societies coming together to learn more about each other. The game ‘sconces’ is sometimes played which is the Oxford version of ‘Never Have I Ever’.
7) Things that make your uni experience different
Formal hall: Each college has the option of sit-down formal dinner where you are served three courses and have the opportunity to dress up.
Balls: Oxford balls are very extravagant and momentous occasions – you usually have to save-up to go to them but they are the envy of many students from other universities. Some balls have access funds to help anyone struggling with ticket purchase.
Matriculation: This initiation ceremony is a very quick process that can feel very tense.You are walked from college to the Sheldonian Theatre where the Chancellor of the university speaks in Latin, formally initiating you into the university. You can usually find many students celebrating after by chilling in uni parks still in their sub-fusc.
8) Don’t feel pigeon-holed as a minority
Being a minority is difficult, whether you identify as Queer, BAME or have a disability. It’s really important that you don’t feel defined by your difference. Just because you are an ethnic minority doesn’t mean that you have to become the authority on all matters to do with ethnic diversity. It is not your job to constantly educate others if you don’t want to. It doesn’t mean that you have to run for BAME Rep on your college JCR Committee just because you are one of the few who can apply. It is daunting trying to break into spaces that do not visibly represent you, but have pride in your skill set and be brave.
9) Managing your Finances
It’s crazy seeing 000s in your bank account, but be very cautious how you spend your money. Some colleges set an early deadline for payments of battles so make sure these are paid on time. Food can be expensive so try not to eat out too much, and if you have a first year kitchen— make use of it! Apps such as Monzo have great instant notifications for spending and predict when you will run out of money. They don’t offer a free overdraft so it would be good idea to use a student account bank account to get your funds transferred into and use Monzo for you weekly/monthly budget so you consistently keep track of your money. You could also withdraw in cash your weekly budget and physically keep track of your spending. If you feel like just using your student account, try and get online or mobile banking so you can check your balance and transactions regularly. Make sure to ask you college for financial help if you need it: your education is a priority and you shouldn’t feel unable to do your academic work due to financial pressures. It’s also a great idea to access travel grants to fund trips, which saves you a lot of money. If you are struggling to pay for a laptop or tablet to help with your work, speak to your college’s academic office as they often have funds to help students with this.
University could be the first time you are exposed to many things e.g. alcohol. Many activities during Freshers seem to be focussed around drinking and it can be hard to see the others in between. If you want to drink, that’s entirely your choice and there are lots of options. If you don’t, many societies run events during Freshers and first week and many colleges provide a night-in as well. It’s common to hear that university is going to be the best years of your life, but they can only be so if you spend that time pursuing the things which you are genuinely interested in and if that means breaking away from the crowd— to it.