What is Oxbridge?
Oxbridge is a portmanteau (blend word) of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The term is used to refer to them collectively in contrast to other British universities and more broadly to describe characteristics reminiscent of them, often with implications of superior social or intellectual status.
The word Oxbridge may also be used pejoratively: as a descriptor of social class (referring to the professional classes who dominated the intake of both universities at the beginning of the twentieth century),as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment" and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism, or to describe a "pressure-cooker" culture that attracts and then fails to support overachievers "who are vulnerable to a kind of self-inflicted stress that can all too often become unbearable and high-flying state school students who find "coping with the workload very difficult in terms of balancing work and life" and "feel socially out of depth.
The first key ‘Oxbridge’ element is the college system. Oxford and Cambridge are each made up of colleges – more than 40 at Oxford, more than 30 at Cambridge – and prospective students usually choose a particular college to apply to.
What is an Oxbridge college? It’s basically a collection of buildings, often historic and attractive, which form a small self-enclosed community. Within each college complex, you’ll find student accommodation, common rooms, cafes and bars, library and computer facilities (often open 24/7), and offices for staff members.
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.
Most lectures, labs and larger classes are held in the faculty buildings, which is where you’ll meet students from other colleges studying the same subject as you. And there are plenty of university-wide clubs and societies open to students from all colleges.
2. Tutorials/ supervisions
The second element that sets Oxford and Cambridge apart is their focus on teaching in very small groups, and even one-on-one. Usually lasting an hour at a time (though some go on much longer), these small-group teaching sessions are known as tutorials in Oxford and supervisions in Cambridge.
Quite simply, few universities can afford this level of contact time, and the regular individual attention means all students should be fully challenged and supported in their academic development.
As you might expect, this also means a particularly intense workload. Depending on the subject, you can expect to have one or two tutorials each week – each requiring a significant amount of preparation. This means that the workload is generally much heavier than at most universities.
For this reason, it’s relatively uncommon to find Oxbridge students with part-time jobs during term-time – there simply isn’t enough time. However, terms are also shorter compared to other UK universities! Each academic year is split into three terms, known as Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity, of about eight or nine weeks each.
This means nice long holidays in between, which many students use to find temporary work, as well as catching up with studies and taking a well-earned break!
Finally, we come to the famous Oxbridge traditions. While most universities have their own sets of traditions, Oxford and Cambridge nonetheless stand out for having held on to so many historic – and to the outside observer, often rather bizarre – elements.
One of these is the use of Latin at special ceremonies, such as matriculation (when you officially join the university), graduation, and formal dinners.
These occasions are also characterized by another very distinctive element – the wearing of gowns. Once worn pretty much all the time by members of the university, these are now reserved just for special occasions, requiring students to wear black trousers or skirt, white shirt, and a white bowtie or black ribbon.
Oxford students dress in sub fusc for exams, when you’ll also often see them with a flower pinned to their gowns – a white carnation for the first exam, red for the last, and pink for those in between.
There are lots more Oxbridge traditions – some serious, many silly, and almost all accompanied by special words you won’t hear anywhere else!
Other words and related terms
Other words have been derived from the term Oxbridge. One example is Doxbridge, an annual inter-collegiate sports tournament between some of the colleges of Durham, Oxford, York and Cambridge, while Woxbridge is seen in the name of the annual Woxbridge conference between the business schools of Warwick, Oxford and Cambridge. The term Loxbridge (referring to London, Oxford, and Cambridge) is sometimes seen, and was also adopted as the name of the Ancient History conference now known as AMPAH. However, such terms are only employed for specific groups, and none has achieved widespread recognition.
Points to note when applying for Oxbridge
· Decide if Oxbridge is right for you. Oxford and Cambridge are great places to study and look very good on a CV. One in five member of the Parliament actually went to Oxbridge! In a few cases, you may wish to consider top universities overseas, or another university for a specialist degree (e.g. Mechanical Engineering). You might also want to study in another European country to enjoy other cultures or learn a language.
· Make sure to visit Oxford and Cambridge. You can access the colleges and talk to the students. You can also contact the universities and colleges through their webpages or by phone. Don't send emails to the lecturers and professors. They don't deal with general queries and are already busy enough.
· Consider rounding out your application with extracurricular activities. Many applicants will have perfect grades at GCSE and A-Levels. When all else is equal, depending on what program you're in, Oxbridge may look at your life and at who you are to decide who has done the extra mile.
· Gain leadership experience. Having responsibilities and the ability to lead a team is always a way to shine. Try to become the captain of your sport team or the president of your debating club.
· Volunteer with charitable organizations. Helping others and showing that you care about your surrounding will make you look like a valuable addition to a community.
· Engage with cultural activities. Oxbridge is based on traditions and history. Even if you want to study science, show that you care about the past and the culture.
· Ultimately though, extra-curricular activities are not the be-all and end-all. The people reviewing your application will be academics, so it is much more important to show a genuine passion for your subject and to back up your claims with evidence. This can include listing relevant books you have read, films or documentaries you have watched, or events you have attended.
· Choose between Cambridge and Oxford. It might be obvious but you need to know where you want to study when you apply. There is a strong rivalry between the two universities and you probably already have a preference. The most rational way to pick the right institution for you is by picking the strongest in your field. Oxford performs far worst in engineering and technology than Cambridge but is better for life sciences, medicine and humanities. It is slightly easier to reach Cambridge from London.
· Think about the financial implication. The tuition fees are currently £9,000 per year and you should allow an additional £8,300 per year to live in Cambridge. Oxford is slightly more expensive in terms of living costs.
· Write an excellent personal statement and UCAS application. Oxbridge will only look at your personal statement for a few minutes. It has to be perfect. Ask several teachers to look over it and even get your friends to double-check. Make sure to take the advice of experienced teachers. There are many ways to approach a personal statement but make sure to mention the following in your letter:
Introduction about the subject, why you want to do it, etc. (show some knowledge of the course)
1. Academic achievement
2. Non academic achievement
3. Extra-curricular activities and hobbies
4. Conclusion (include what you want to do after university).
· Shine at the interview. If you are called for an interview, you will need to prepare. They will ask you difficult questions and try to test you. You must prove your knowledge and your desire to learn in that particular university. They will also ask you about your hobbies. Remember that they are looking for human beings who can contribute to the life of the college.
· Secure your place. Oxbridge will typically notify you of their decisions six months before your final A-Levels. If you get accepted, you will still have to perform well at your A-Levels as the offer will be conditional on you receiving certain grades. The typical Oxford offer is AAA at A-level, but Cambridge offers usually asks for the new A* grade.