Posts tagged University Profiles
Oxford University Profile

Life at Oxford University: quirky traditions and facts you didn’t know

University of Oxford is the oldest English-speaking University in the world and has been in existence for over 800 years. And they haven’t been wasting their time: over the course of the last nine centuries, the University of Oxford has built a reputation for achievement and excellence It has become a global brand that people respect, admire and immediately recognise. Oxford is ranked amongst the very best establishments of higher education for the quality of the teaching, and for the numerous discoveries, breakthroughs and research projects that change the world we live in. Check out some of the frontier work done by academics and students at Oxford here.

In this entry, we’ll cover everything from the teaching (what some people are there for, you know), the collegiate system that structures your daily life at Oxford, some quirky Oxford traditions, and, importantly, all the opportunities you have to enjoy yourself beyond academics.

Teaching at Oxford

One of the things that makes the education special at Oxford is the tutorial system (they have a similar system in Cambridge called ‘supervisions’, so not that special, but still). A tutor is Oxford’s name for a member of academic staff, who are all experts in their field, and a tutorial is a chance to get individualised teaching from them. At least once a week in each subject studied, groups of two or three students will spend an hour with their tutor, discussing a topic in depth. This personalised attention means that you will face rigorous academic challenges on a weekly basis, encouraging and facilitating your learning in a way that just isn’t possible in a lecture (which you will of course also have at Oxford). It also means that tutors are immediately aware if you need any extra support with any aspect of your course, so they can help you right away. It’s your job to research and prepare for them – often the discussion will revolve around an essay or a problem set that you’ve completed in advance and explore related ideas.

This may seem daunting, but you really don’t need to be experienced in debating. You just need to be ready to present and substantiate your opinions, accept constructive criticism and learn from your tutor and tutorial partner. You’ll quickly find that it’s both a pleasant experience and a truly uniquely effective way of grasping hard material.

Studying at Oxford – the Collegiate system

Another thing that makes studying at Oxford a special experience is its collegiate system. Oxford consists of 38 Colleges and six private halls. Most colleges have between 300 and 500 students at a time, usually at both undergraduate and graduate level, studying a broad range of subjects. Depending on the size, there could be as few as one or as many as ten students studying the same subject in each year group. Students usually live in college in their first year, and may have the option to do so in later years as well. However, it’s also common to spend at least one year ‘living out’ – renting a property privately with friends.
Your college will shape much of your experience: it is within college walls that you will sleep, eat and have most of your tutorials. Colleges provide a ready-made community, making it easier for new students to settle in and meet those studying other subjects. Lots of social events are based in and around college communities – and intercollegiate rivalry plays a big role in Oxford sports, especially rowing!

The colleges vary in terms of size, age, distance from the city centre, endowment and atmosphere. It can be hard to pick a favourite college when there are so many to choose from – but fear not, a general fact is that most people end up preferring the college they end up at, so the choice is not all that important.
You can find more information on each of the colleges here or rank all colleges according to your preferences here.

Living at Oxford- the city

However, there’s more to life in Oxford than teaching and colleges. The quaint atmosphere of the city comes from its dozens of historic and iconic buildings, including the Bodleian Libraries, Ashmolean Museum, Sheldonian Theatre, the cathedral and the colleges. In the city centre you will find lots of shops, cafés, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, pubs and clubs. There are plenty of green spaces too: riverside walks, England’s oldest botanic garden, the University Parks and college gardens. Despite the building and traditions being so old, Oxford has one of the youngest populations of any city in England with its 40,000 university students from Oxford University and Oxford Brookes. If you ever do get bored, however, London is only 90 minutes away by bus which runs 24 hours a day.
Here are a few links if you want to explore more about accommodation in Oxford or opportunities for student sportdrama and music, and all the other clubs and societies. If you want to go to Oxford to see for yourself, read more here about open days.

Being an international student at Oxford

Many of our readers will be international students – and it’s a lovely place to be just that. I could tell you about my personal experiences, but I’ll spare you. Instead, you can hear dozens of international students tell about their experiences on Oxford’s Wall of Faces.


Formal Hall

Formal hall is essentially a three-course dinner that takes place in the Hogwarts-like college Dining Halls (Christ Church dining hall, as seen above, is in factalso Hogwarts dining hall). Students sit at the long tables, and the college’s fellows preside grandly over the occasion at “High Table”. Some colleges hold Formal Hall almost every night, others only a few times per term – either way they make a great excuse to invite yourself to other colleges until you’ve seen them all. All colleges require that students and fellows wear gowns, and on Sundays the college choir sings grace.


Pennying is a rather bizarre drinking game. It was invented by dons and students at Oxford University during the 14th century. The basic goal of the game is to slip a penny into someone’s drink without them noticing – if you succeed, the person has been ‘pennied’ and has to down their drink in one go. On top of this, there is a maze of rules. For instance, once one has been ‘pennied’, the pennier is asked what the date on the coin was. If they can’t answer correctly, they too have to down their drink. If you penny a drink that has already been pennied, you have to down the drink you pennied.This also works as a sneaky way of getting a free drink! Pennying is often played at another British tradition called crew dates. Check out all the full rules of pennying here.

Sub Fusc

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Oxbridge students swooping around wearing long gowns like Snipe and pressed white shirts, you’ve seen sub fusc. Sub fusc is compulsory dress at certain events in both Oxford and Cambridge. Each person’s sub fusc reveals what degree level they are studying at and whether or not they have a scholarship.
The essentials are black suit, white shirt and white bowtie for men, and women must wear black skirt, black tie and white shirt. Although as of 2012 at Oxford, men and women can wear either gender’s sub fusc. Gowns are differing lengths with differing silk trims according to their status. ‘Commoners’ for instance, ie. basically everyone without a scholarship, wear a shorter gown, DPhil graduates wear a scarlet robe.

Sub fusc is compulsory for matriculation ceremonies, sitting exams, collections (beginning of term tests) and formal hall. During exams, students at Oxford wear a white carnation in their lapel on the first day, then pink, then red on the final day of exams. Cambridge has abolished the requirement to wear gowns during exams.

Life after Oxford

Whatever your degree subject, there’s a huge range of potential employment opportunities after Oxford. Leading employers recruit across our range of subjects, and we’re one of the top five universities targeted by leading graduate recruiters. For example, students from across our range of subjects go on to work in sectors including law, finance, government, media and arts, winning places using the transferable skills from any Oxford degree.
You can expect a well-paid job after graduation: 27% of Oxford’s students take home over £30,000 in the first year after graduation.

Interested in reading more? Make sure to check out:

– Alternative Prospectus [a detailed insider’s description of life at Oxford written by Oxford students]

– Explore the undergraduate courses available at Oxford

– Explore the post-graduate opportunities at Oxford

– What people do after Oxford

Rune Kvist, 18 May 2016

Cambridge University Profile


The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, making it one of the world’s oldest universities. Although age does not necessarily imply quality, Cambridge has aged like a fine wine, and is to this day still among the absolute best institutions of education in the world. The university is world renowned for its state-of-the art research and teaching, as well as for its beautiful architecture and mythic traditions. When people think of Cambridge University, they often associate it with rigorous academics – and not without reason! The institution is among the world’s absolute best within many fields, and throughout history, 91 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the university – a European record! Check out the impressive list here.

In this article, we’ll give you an insight into the teaching at Cambridge, but also into the many marvellous opportunities that the university supplies beyond just academics.

Academics- the supervision system

As a student at Cambridge, one of the greatest educational perks is the supervision system. Supervisions are weekly sessions of personalised teaching. At a supervision, you sit down with a supervisor to discuss your essays and topics within your course. Sometimes you’ll be joined by one or two other students, but other times it will just be you and a world expert within your field, discussing your favourite subjects in depth! This style of teaching is an amazing opportunity to grasp foreign concepts, but it also sets certain requirements for you as a student: It’s kind of hard to hide in the back the class playing Tetris, when you are the class. If you want to get an impression of what supervisions are like, take a look at this video by the vlogger Jake Wright, a previous Cambridge student. Although Computer Science might be a foreign language to some, it does give an insight into the value and quality of supervisions as a way of educating. The supervisions are not just generic revisions of subject material, they’re actually focused on your personal work as well. Before supervisions, you will be assigned to write essays, which will be the basis of your discussion with the supervisor, your fellow students and you. If you’re curious as to what kind of super-genius you can become through a Cambridge education, check out this University Challenge match between Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Besides all this, there are two very important elements of the Cambridge educational system that characterises studying there: The first is the length of the terms. Terms are 8 weeks, which is much shorter than at most other universities. These short terms mean that there are very frequent and very long breaks, but they also heavily increase the workload during term. Fiercely studying your dream subject will hopefully be very enjoyable, but it is worth noting that Cambridge terms can be truly intense. Secondly, your efforts are only assessed by handwritten examinations by the end of each year. For this reason, it’s a pretty good idea to buy yourself a comfortable pen!

Living at Cambridge – the collegiate system:

When you’re a student at Cambridge, you’re not just part of the university, you’re also part of a college. Colleges are the places you live and spend most of your time, but they’re more than just accommodation. Think of them like the houses at Hogwarts, only there’s 31 instead of 4. Don’t worry about ending up at Slytherin, since everyone ends up being really happy about their specific college. The colleges have their own rules, traditions and societies, and they develop a great sense of community in their students. You will still study and hang out with people from all the other colleges, but your college is a great place to find a family away from home. Cambridge even has a “college-marriage” system, where students are “married”, and take care of two freshers together – their “children”. Since the colleges are fairly autonomous with regards to many logistical arrangements, the styles of accommodation vary greatly between the various colleges. Some places might have you live with a roommate, while other colleges generally arrange for solo accommodation.
When choosing a college, you have to decide: Do I want to live at a place that looks like it’s Hogwarts, or do I want heated floors and modern facilities?

Life beyond academics:

Cambridge is obviously a great place to study, but any student will tell you that you’re doing it wrong if that’s all you came to do. The university holds countless activities and a seriously impressive selection of student societies – in fact there are more than 700 of them! One of them is the Cambridge Union, a 200 year old debating society, where speakers like the Dalai Lama, president Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill have spoken. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that there’s a society at Cambridge for every imaginable activity, but in the unlikely case that you find that a society is missing, the resources and enthusiastic students are yours to seize!

Sports at Cambridge:

Among all the bookworms and geniuses at Cambridge, there are of course plenty of people who enjoy sports and athletics. At the university, it’s possible to do all sorts of sports, and at various levels of skill. You can of course play casually with friends, but there’s also the option to compete with the other colleges. Once a year, however, the entire university comes together for the most intense sports events at Cambridge: The varsity matches against Oxford. The stakes are high, and the Oxbridge rivalry is at its very best during these matches. Check out these two videos if you want to learn more about sports at Cambridge University.


– Formals: Formal halls or formal meals are dinner that take place in the college’s gorgeous dining halls. Each college have their own traditions and norms related to the formals, including various dress codes and frequencies. While some colleges may have dinners much more frequently than others, they in turn have “Superhalls”, which are occasional excuses to dress up in black tie and enjoy a delightful meal with fellow members of college. Under different circumstances, it is allowed to invite friends from other colleges to join your college’s formal, and it is a widely held goal to attend a formal at least once at each possible college, although not everyone get to cross of every college from the list. For the pre-arranged meals, the colleges do of course consider various dietary requirements such as vegetarianism or food allergies.

– Relations to Oxford (aka “The other place”): Cambridge University was originally founded by a group of scholars who were seeking refuge from hostile townsmen in Oxford. Ever since, there has been an ongoing rivalry between England’s two most famous universities, although there is also a sense of mutual respect between the two institutions – most of the time! Many Cambridge students insist to refer to Oxford as “The Other Place”, kind of like in Harry Potter, where it is forbidden to mention Voldemo… I mean, “You-know-who” by his name. Many of the university’s traditions, norms and internal jokes refer to this age-old British rivalry.

– May balls: A highlight at the Cambridge colleges are the May Balls. (Ball as in a fancy dance party, not a round object used for play) Ironically held in the month of June, the May Balls are extravagant parties with strict dress codes and fabulous entertainment. While the parties vary a great deal from college to college, they’re all known to be incredible fun.

More links:

– – Insiders’ view at life at Cambridge, written by students.. Prospectus’ for specific colleges can also be found online.
– – Undergraduate courses
– – Graduate courses
– – a more informal source of impressions of Cambridge
– Jake Wright youtube channel – Vlogs of the life as a Cambridge student. (British Computer Science student)

Joshua Teperowski Monrad, 18 May 2016

University College London Profile

Life at UCL – vibrant, international community

UCL, otherwise known as University College London, was founded in 1826 as a secular institution to accept students regardless of class, race, religion and gender. Traditionally, prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge accepted students based on wealth and religion.

The founders, particularly Henry Brougham and James Mill, were strongly inspired by the Utilitarian ideas of philosopher and jurist, Jeremy Bentham. Although Jeremy Bentham was not directly involved in its establishment, he is widely regarded as the “spiritual father” of UCL due to the influence of his reformist ideas.

In his will, Bentham asked for his body to be dissected, and then preserved as an “auto-icon” for public display. This display can be found in the Main Wilkins Building at UCL, and to this day, creates much fascination. It can also be viewed virtually here.

London’s “global” university

UCL’s status of having a global outlook definitely lives up to its claim. With approximately 41% of the student community being international, there are many opportunities to work with people from many countries. From establishing a campus in Qatar as well as the prospective development of an Olympic Park Campus, the lists of opportunities are endless. UCL’s annual “Global Citizenship Scheme”, a summer school designed to equip students with entrepreneurial thinking, global outlooks, team building and problem solving have proved a success in providing a foundation for UCL students as active global citizens. From role-playing development projects in Dar es Salaam to understanding the urbanisation of East London, there are projects to take part in for everyone. Not surprisingly, many universities look to UCL for inspiration when developing programmes that exhibit these values.


UCL’s campus is located in the historic heart of London in Bloomsbury, around Gower Street. Much of UCL’s departments are based here; such as the Medical School, Engineering, Geography, History, Chemistry and Mathematics Departments, as well as many others. The Bloomsbury campus is a short walking distance from many notable institutions such as the British Library, the British Museum, the British Medical Association, RADA and London Business School. University of London’s Birkbeck, SOAS, LSE and Kings are only a few moments away. Its proximity to both London Euston Station and Kings Cross St Pancras means other cities in the UK and Europe are accessible.

Student life: Non-academic

Social life: With over 30,000 students, UCL has an extremely vibrant social life and hosts the largest number of international students in the UK. Founded in 1893, UCL Union is one of the oldest students’ unions in England. The diversity of students is reflected in the 230+ clubs and societies available; from the Baltic Society to the Bhangra Society, Harry Potter Society to the Horse Riding Society; there is definitely something to fit everyone’s interests. Societies are a great source of cultural enrichment, entertainment, socialising and gaining professional experience.

Entertainment: The Bloomsbury Theatre, owned by UCL, is a quality West End theatre with bargain tickets. Typical West End theatres in Leicester Square can be rather expensive, and so The Bloomsbury Theatre is a great on-campus alternative. From Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to stand-up comedy by the likes of Omid Djalili; there is a lot on offer.

Another (more obvious) form of entertainment is just BEING in London. This bustling metropolis attracts people from all over the world for its rich cultural heritage and things to do. From free museums in South Kensington to beautiful parks, historical attractions to mega sporting events; London has a lot on offer for just about anyone. There are always new people to meet and new things to experience!

Clubbing: UCLU have 4 café’s and 3 bars on campus with great student deals throughout the year, however exclusive club events at premium London venues such as Ministry of Sound and Koko prove extremely popular. Whether on or off campus, Christmas & Easter balls organised by societies are also premium events that sell out fast at 5-star hotels such as the Dorchester. The UCL Summer Ball held in the UCL Quad (in the Bloomsbury Campus) is also a great post-exam event.

Networking: Being surrounded by numerous other universities such as LSE, Kings and Imperial provides plentiful opportunities. Building large networks with other students enables collaboration, friendships, and can act as an aid in the future. With Cambridge and Oxford University students regularly engaging with London universities, the opportunities to engage with like-minded people are endless. There is no other city in the UK which enables such a teeming network of students.


Student life: Academic

Career opportunities: Living in London and studying at a powerhouse such as UCL means career opportunities are endless. There are lots of networking events hosted throughout the year by various societies, as well as multiple careers fairs for recruiters to visit campus. Aside from the standard careers fairs, brand ambassadors make regular trips to the UCL Campus to actively reach out to students and potential employees. UCL Careers organise sector themed ‘weeks’ such as Government and Policy Week, Media Week and Museums and Cultural Heritage Week (as well as a host of others). Typical events can include one-to-one CV sessions and coaching with industry professionals, as well as wider networking. The Banking & Finance and Consulting Fairs prove to be particularly popular amongst UCL students.

Aside from the keen recruiters, UCL Careers have well-equipped Consultants and Application Advisers to give CV guidance, practice interviews, and can give important advice for your future after graduation.

Multi-disciplinary approach: As UCL is an incredibly large university, teaching style’s vary from department to department. From individual experience, social science based courses are, as expected, taught with fewer contact hours and more reading time. Tutorial sessions are common and students are encouraged to engage in discussion and take a collaborative approach in their learning. This is largely shaped by the ‘global’ and ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach undertaken by the University.

Furthermore, tutors are assigned to small groups of students to mentor them throughout their time at UCL. This can range from personal, academic and professional mentoring and general advice.


For first years, UCL offers accommodation ranging from Halls of Residence (catered, close to Bloomsbury campus) to Student Houses (self catered, a shorter distance away e.g. in Camden or Kings Cross) to Intercollegiate Halls (available to all students in London). There is a lot on offer to suit everyone’s preference, such as en-suite rooms or catered.

After first year, students tend to rent flats in groups, as rent in London is not cheap!  Most students relocate to nearby locations such as Camden and Kings Cross. Private accommodation providers are also widely available and come with their own amenities. Popular choices include UNITE (St Pancras Way) and Nido.


Rivalry with Kings: Traditionally, UCL has always had a strong, albeit friendly, rivalry with Kings College London; running over two centuries. The London Varsity Series is an annual sporting event where KCL’s sports teams (hockey, tennis, rugby, netball etc) take on UCL’s teams. Scores are often very close, making for tense and nail-biting matches!

Did you know?

UCL has been a popular location for many film directors due to its beautiful architecture. The scenes depicting the British Museum in the The Mummy 2 (2001) were, in fact, shot in UCL’s Quad, whilst the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre was used as a backdrop in the hit film Inception (2010).

Sarah Marghoob, 24 Jul 2016