When anyone applies to a historic university like Oxford, imposter syndrome and concerns about fitting in are at the forefront of your mind. Even with all the excitement about meeting new people and being able to focus on my passions (particularly post-pandemic), anxieties about fitting in clouded my mind - as both a state-educated pupil, and as someone who wasn’t the most socially outgoing in school.
But now, post-graduation, I’m thrilled to say that I had an incredible three years. I learned a lot and I made so many close friends from a range of backgrounds. I would be lying to say I was never aware of my background - but I still managed to find my people and rarely did I feel defined by my previous education or my personal journey to Oxford.
Without further ado: my tips on how to find your circle:
Don't Panic: It's All Natural
Anyone coming to a new place (no matter their background) will have some anxiety about fitting in, and everyone also wants to find the people they get on with best. So know you aren’t alone – this is an incredibly common experience.
Get In the Group Chats
Before coming to Oxford, there are usually WhatsApp groups or Discords you can join. If you feel comfortable, this is a great way to start to getting to know the people on your course and at your college – I found my college chat to be more sociable than the subject group chat, and sometimes there are also group chats for interests like debating.
My cohort had regular online calls, which meant that when I did turn up at Magdalen College I already knew quite a few of my year! So, if you fancy making some friends before uni even starts (I’d managed to plan meet-ups with a few before I had arrived), jump on a chat and introduce yourself.
There is also an Oxford Freshers Instagram account made every year which people can add to introduce themselves, which is a good opportunity to get to know people outside of your college. The main social media that Oxford students seem to use is Facebook; if Facebook is down it feels like Oxford has stopped!
Put Yourself Out There
During your first week there will be events organised for you to meet your cohort and give you important information. Make sure to attend as many as you can (only if you have the energy - no point burning out before term has started) so you can start to see more of your year.
The same goes for wherever you are living – introduce yourself to your staircase by spending time in common areas or even knocking on doors in the first few days.
Get to know those studying your subject through induction sections, or socialise with your tutorial partners (those you have small group teaching with) outside of scheduled hours to support each other with the work, but also just for fun.
It's a Family Thing: Your College Parents
Before you arrive at Oxford, the majority of colleges will send you a letter from your ‘college parents’. These are students in the year above (one of whom usually studies your subject), so you have some built-in support when you arrive at Oxford. Plus, before you start, you can ask them any questions you have!
You are likely to have a ‘family dinner’ where you and the other freshers assigned to your college parents (your ‘college siblings’) meet up in the first few weeks to eat together. It’s a super nice, and low-anxiety way to get to know a few people well, and gives you a support network to fall on if you need. It is entirely up to you how often you stay in touch with you while you are at Oxford – some people talk to them very regularly, others on a less frequent basis.
Meet Likeminded Souls: Societies and Volunteering
One of the most effective ways I found for meeting people was through societies – particularly getting involved on committees where you can find people with similar interests. In the first few weeks, it’s worth trying out quite a few things to see what you enjoy and who you enjoy spending time with. Volunteering opportunities offer much the same experience in terms of meeting others who may have very similar values to you.
In Oxford, there are societies geared towards those from different backgrounds and identities eg. Oxford LGBTQ+ Society, Class Act, FemSoc, ACS, and The 93% Club. Many of these societies host regular socials so you can get to meet others like you, and this can be a great way to overcome imposter syndrome when you know there are others exactly like you at the University.
JCR stands for Junior Common Room, and is the representative and social body for undergrads in most colleges (Wadham College call it their Students’ Union). These are students who are elected to advocate for student interests, as well as putting on regular socials. This will be a mix of alcoholic socials - like 'bops’ (big organised parties) which is like a college club night, and non-alcoholic socials, like games and craft nights. Getting involved with the committee and attending these events are good ways to get to know others in your college, with the added convenience of it being just on your doorstep.
If you feel you need extra support, your college and central university each have a welfare team you could speak to. This could be anything from budgeting to worries about the workload, or if you need support with personal matters. They are there to help, and particularly due to the nature of Oxford’s collegiate system it can feel quite overwhelming working out how to navigate systems which is where college can particularly lend a hand.
Your tutors can also be very helpful, particularly if you need extra time for an essay due to a busy week or personal challenges. I found some of my tutors provided great advice in times of challenge, and if you are struggling with a piece of academic work they may be able to go through it with you or signpost to resources to support with your study skills.
In my case, I had long COVID for much of my first year and an English tutor volunteered to support me to develop my academic writing style which I was particularly struggling to do at the time. The collegiate system offers flexibility and personalisation, so make the most of that.
I had a blast at Oxford and had so many amazing opportunities so put yourself out there and enjoy it! There’s no one way to do Oxford, so do it your way.
For more information about your first term, you can read my blog on the Oxford History Faculty’s website: https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/article/settling-in-at-oxford