For me, going to Oxford wasn’t a long-held ambition or something I had ever seriously considered until Year 12. Growing up in North Shields, a seaside town not far from Newcastle, I’d never met anyone who'd studied at Oxford. Neither of my parents had even gone to uni. It was a world that felt so far removed from my own as a state-school student; a world of trust funds, private school cliques and political networking.
Yet, having now completed my first year there studying English Lang & Lit, I’ve found that many of my initial assumptions about the uni have been proven wrong. It’s time to unpick the worries that I had about going to Oxford as a state-school student from the North East, and bust some myths about student life for those thinking about applying.
Myth 1: ‘The majority of those who study at Oxford have been privately educated and/or grown up in an affluent London suburb’
This will vary depending on colleges. For me, studying at Mansfield College means the opposite of this statement is true. I chose to apply to Mansfield mainly because it had the highest state school intake; 93.2% of those admitted to the college were from state schools between 2020-2022, compared to a far lower intake of 55.4% at New College during the same period. Plus, there’s a little piece of home there - the statue in the middle of their quad is by the same artist who designed the Angel of the North! I was initially quite worried about not fitting in at formal dinners, but during Freshers Week, one of my tutors explained everything to us (including which cutlery to use and when) as soon as we sat down, which really put me at ease. Overall, I’ve felt very welcome at Mansfield and at Oxford more broadly - the fact is, the majority of people here are friendly, whether they are from private schools or not.
Myth 2: ‘I will be judged because of my regional accent both during my interview, and as a student’
I was pretty worried leading up to the interview that I would feel self-conscious about my accent or be judged unfairly because of it, but I ended up finding my interview enjoyable. The online format felt a little daunting, but I actually feel this works out well for Northern students; I was far more at ease being at home in a familiar environment. As a result, my interview ended up feeling like an interesting conversation about literature, not an interrogation! The tutors interviewing you want to give you the best possible opportunity to work at your best, so my advice would be to approach the interview as an opportunity to express your passion, learn more about your subject and most importantly, be yourself.
As a student, I personally haven't experienced any comments on my accent (other than my friends jokingly pointing out the way I say ‘book’). At the end of the day, if anyone does assume you are less intelligent or less worthy of being at Oxford because of your accent, that says far more about them than it does about you.
Myth 3: ‘There isn’t a community of Northerners in Oxford and I'll feel homesick’
Fear not, there is a Northerner Society at Oxford. They run social events such as college bar crawls (which, of course, often end in Wetherspoons), karaoke nights & pub quizzes which offer a great opportunity to meet students from the North across the uni. To meet people specifically from the North East, you can also join the Oxford North East Alumni Network. Right before I started my first year, I went to an alumni event in Newcastle which made me feel so welcome and represented. It gave me the opportunity to speak not only to current students, but also the Northern alumni who had studied there in the 80s! Getting involved in outreach and access is also a great way to meet other students from the North. In particular, I've found working as a student ambassador with the outreach programme Aim for Oxford North East incredibly rewarding.
And perhaps most importantly: there is a Greggs in Oxford! Although the Pret:Greggs ratio is not ideal, you can still grab a vegan sausage roll to get a taste of home.
Myth 4: ‘It is too expensive to go to Oxford and too far away to pay for travel’
This one also worried me, but Oxford actually offer a lot of financial support. At a uni-wide level, the Crankstart Scholarship is available for students from low-income backgrounds, providing a non-repayable bursary to go towards study and living costs. Oxford also offers an annual non-repayable travel supplement for those who live over 80 miles from the university. If you live between 80 and 150 miles from Oxford, you receive £200, and those who live more than 150 miles from Oxford receive £500 (as of 2023-24). Different colleges often have their own financial support available. For more information and to check your eligibility, you can find an overview of the financial support available here: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/fees-and-funding/oxford-support
Myth 5: ‘I’m not smart enough to get into Oxford - and the work will be too difficult’
If you feel that you would enjoy the course, the university in general and living in Oxford - please please apply! Having grown up in the North East and with the assumption that people like me didn’t get into Oxford, I had to work through self limiting beliefs before having the confidence to apply. But if you have a passion for your subject, you have just as much a reason to apply as anyone else does. Imposter syndrome can set in when you first arrive, but the majority of students will struggle at some point with the workload and you are there to learn. So don't worry about making mistakes or not knowing everything at first - there would be no point doing your degree if you already knew as much as the tutors. Though there is still much more that needs to be done to fully tackle the North-South education and attainment divide, I’m so happy that I applied to Oxford and can be part of changing the culture.