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University of Oxford

The Facts

Helping you choose the right college with the greatest chance of success. 

Established: 1209
Motto: Dominus illuminatio mea (the Lord is my light).


Undergraduates: 11,955
Postgraduates: 12,010
Total students: 24,000 (2020 figures)
Alumni: There are currently more than 350,000 alumni in over 90 countries.
Colleges: The University is made up of 45 colleges, 33 accept Undergraduates.
Admissions: 23,000 people applied for 3,300 undergraduate places (2020), giving a success rate of 14.3% although this varies widely across subjects


Chancellor: The Lord Patten of Barnes
Vice-Chancellor: Louise Richardson

The Lowdown

Oxford is a university that more or less everyone recognises, but very few actually know.

Oxford is a university that more or less everyone recognises, but very few actually know. Most people have a patchwork sense of it from the Harry Potter films: the New College cloisters, Christ Church’s Hall Staircase, the Divinity School. It certainly lives up to the cinema cliches but it’s so much more than a beautiful film set. It’s been named the best university in the world four years running in the Times Higher Education World rankings. The university wide tutorial system plays its part in this accolade; you get to spend an hour or two a week with a tutor and your “tute” partner. This is an amazing opportunity to learn from someone who may be the greatest academic in the world specializing in your favourite subject. The tutorial system means that you are provided with a personalised educational experience that centres on your interests, and you are given much greater freedom than other universities to explore ideas and texts beyond your syllabus. The intellectual freedom and flexibility that the tutorials afford is at the crux of what makes an Oxford education so successful, and so sought after. 

Hilaire Belloc believed there were “few greater temptations on Earth than to stay permanently in Oxford” and “read all the books”. It would have taken him a while: the university library system is the largest in the country, housing over 13 million items. It’s a copyright library which means it has a copy of every book ever published in the UK.  Students have access to college and faculty libraries, along with the main university library known as the Bodleian, or “Bod” for short. Seats in its two enormous reading rooms, which are shaped like right-angled “u”s, are highly sought-after. Readers must swear not to set fire to the building before they’re let in. Whilst the Bodleian may allow students to read a whole range of texts, students flock to Blackwell’s Bookshop to buy their favourite copies. The bookshop is opposite the Bodleian, on Broad Street, and boasts the subterranean Norrington Room, which contains over two miles of shelving. For many years it was the largest commercial book room in the world. 

The Bodleian and most of the older colleges are located around the city centre, but even the most remote colleges aren’t further than a bicycle ride away. What colleges like Lady Margaret Hall and St Hugh’s lack in proximity, they make up for with larger and leafier grounds. 

While Oxford is home to fine museums such as the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, the city itself can feel like a historical monument. If you venture up St Giles’, you’ll find The Eagle and Child pub, where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and other members of the “Inklings” used to meet. If you head east, you’ll come across the Dunn School of Pathology, where Florey and Chain discovered antibiotic penicillin. If you end up on St Michael’s Street you’ll see the Oxford Union, which has cultivated generations of politicians. Michael Gove, now a cabinet minister, once stripped off his Union boxer shorts during a debate. Twenty-eight prime ministers went to Oxford – double that of Cambridge. 

Amongst the university’s concentration of libraries, colleges, faculties, tourists and bicycles, this is still a place for students to discover their voice and develop their ideas – through sitting down with a tutor, or just chatting to their fellow students. As most alumni will tell you, this is where they discovered their passions both inside and outside the library and met their lifelong friends. 

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