There are so small differences between the education system—not to mention the culture—in the United States and the one adopted by Oxbridge (the slang term for the combination of the UK’s highest educational institutions, Oxford and Cambridge). So here are some things I wish I knew before I arrived.
1) The University of Oxford is made up of 38 colleges—30 of which have undergraduates. In the city, if you are asked where you go to “uni,” you would say the name of your college, rather than just “Oxford.” And this logic applies elsewhere. For example, I purchased a very nice crew-neck sweatshirt at a University store with simply the word “Oxford” embroidered on it, but I cannot wear it around my college without immediately announcing myself as either a tourist or a visiting student. However, once I return to the States, having a sweatshirt that says “Oxford” will be way better for bragging rights than one has “St. Catz” written on the back (not that that stopped me from purchasing college swag).
2) Unlike in the American education system, students study only one subject in college. There’s no such thing as “double-majoring” or having a minor in Movement Studies. Upon asking me what I study, most people were pretty surprised to hear me tell them that I had two majors and a minor, so now I just stick to the subject that I’ve been taking classes in while abroad.
3) Most people don’t really take classes in the same way they do in the States. Students take a primary tutorial, which meets every week, and a secondary tutorial, which meets every other week (or, eight times and four times a term, respectively). For humanities classes, typically the workload includes a large amount of reading and a 2000-2500 word essay per tutorial. And that’s basically it in terms of mandatory classes. There are lectures—which are especially encouraged in more “science-y” classes—but you really only need to attend the ones that really appeal to you. I saw a conversation with a famous British playwright last week that was incredible, and I have a ticket to see a lecture from the man who wrote the score to Les Miserables. On a related note, the Oxford Union has guest speakers like Stephen Hawking and the twins who played Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter films, but to go to the events you need to have a membership to the Oxford Union (which costs around 100 pounds yearly, I believe), so it isn’t quite worth it if you’re only there for a term, but if you have a friend with a membership, you can also get in!
4) Oxford doesn’t really have grades in the same way that we do, either. Instead of a GPA, the students receive one of four classifications at the end of their schooling: a first-class degree (the top designation), an upper second-class or 2:1 degree (which most people get and is considered quite good), a lower second-class or 2:2 degree, or a third-class degree (which…is bad). And this classification is decided by exams the students sit at the end of their third (and final!) year. So again, their entire college career is decided by one set of exams. No pressure.
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<p>Scott Abrams is an English Literature major at the University of Rochester and is attending Oxford through IES Abroad Direct Enrollment in the fall semester of 2016. His favorite things include warm woolen mittens and celebrity Twitter feuds. He hopes you won't judge him too harshly.</p>