An Alternative View of Oxford

 

Gaining a place at both Oxford and Cambridge University is recognised as a top-class achievement. We consistently urge our students to push themselves and apply for these universities if it is the right choice for them. Furthermore, so many of our fantastic tutors have earned places and completed degrees at these institutes which brings such value to our workforce as well as our learning and teaching styles. We encourage all students to ensure both the university and its location is right for them before committing to them, neither Oxford nor Cambridge is for everyone, this piece delivers an alternative view from a University of Oxford graduate.‘Oxford University’. The lofty, seemingly unattainable goal for sixth form students, the piece de resistance of any aspiring graduate’s CV, and a trigger to set prospective employers salivating. Two words that represent intelligence, prestige, sublime education and the best teaching that money can buy. From where I studied my secondary education, it was almost expected that you would apply there, achieve a place, and continue your studies with the best of the best. Students often ask me, as someone with first-hand experience, whether they should send off their application to this apex of teaching or settle instead for somewhere different. My invariable response is no, find somewhere else at all costs, but not for the reasons you might think.

Oxford is a unique place, that much is correct. You have some of the brightest minds in the country both studying and working there. However, as is sadly often the case with the most intelligent, certain other skills are sorely lacking. Experiences will vary from student to student but personally, I found the student welfare and help provided to those struggling with the workload or stress of such an academic pressure cooker to be abysmally poor. Admissions of depression and burnout are met with derisory ‘Well just work harder then!’ from both other students and, more shockingly, from tutors and lecturers alike. The university-run counselling service is equally awful, with their ‘help’ consisting of advice to sleep more and keep working. During my time working for the student-run helpline (staffed entirely by volunteering students, and the only source of non-judgemental listening available for those who were struggling) I heard countless stories of students who were suffering substantial distress due to bereavements, emotional meltdowns or similar who had quite literally been told ‘Just deal with it, I’m very disappointed that you haven’t completed the required work’. The lack of simple empathy and humane understanding was staggering.

Oxford can be an extremely isolating place, with impostor syndrome and feelings of isolation silently running rampant amongst its members. There are those who will thrive in this environment, people with strong emotional resilience and a great support network of friends and family to help get them through, and these people may well truthfully claim to have had an excellent experience during their time there. For people like that, I agree that Oxford is where they belong and can blossom. For many others, especially those who have been led to believe by commonly held opinion that Oxford is some infallible pinnacle of education that makes all other universities into inferior second choices, Oxford is not the place they should go, and there is absolutely no shame in that. For the typical student considering Oxbridge, I would recommend about 90% of them to reconsider their options, and to find another place that will nurture not just their knowledge, but their mental wellbeing as well. Oxford is not a place for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with that.