What is Oxford Known For? Is Oxford a Good School?

Oxford University – one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. Set in a verdant, river-run city that bears its name, Oxford is equally known for its traditions, athletic prowess, and research contributions. 

The academic calendar at Oxford is divided into three 8-week-long terms – Michaelmas in the fall, Hilary in the spring, and Trinity in the summer. 

Twice a week, students meet in tutorials, which are groups of two to three students and a subject matter expert who serves as the tutor. These sessions allow students to ask questions, clarify their thinking, and receive more in-depth feedback.

Home to some of the world’s best research facilities, Oxford also launches initiatives such as Enterprising Oxford, an effort to bolster student entrepreneurship through fostering connections among students, alumni, and business leaders within the greater Oxford community.

Several of Oxford’s popular majors are some of the best-ranked programs in their disciplines. With traditions, sports rivalries, and student organizations dating back several centuries, Oxford offers an unmatched college experience to the best and brightest students worldwide.

What Majors & Academics Are Oxford Known For?

Queen's College, Oxford University
Odicalmuse, Facade of The Queen’s College, Oxford, 2020, CC BY-SA 4.0

Students use the term “subjects” in place of “majors” at Oxford, and all subjects are housed within one of four academic divisions: humanities, medical sciences, social science, or mathematical, physical, and life sciences.

The most popular subjects at Oxford are medicine, chemistry, philosophy, politics, and economics – students pursuing a degree in these subjects make up 20% of the Oxford undergraduate population.

Medicine is far and away the most popular subject at Oxford. Students can complete their preclinical stage in three years, then enter a three-year clinical stage after they graduate with an honors BA in Medical Sciences.

The Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) degree was conceived from the belief that complex modern problems require an interdisciplinary problem-solving approach. Students explore questions like “What happens if banks shut down immediately?” or “Why should a person have a moral code?” 

90% of PPE graduates confirm that they are employed or engaged in further study within a year of graduating. 

Many PPE graduates soar to exciting positions, such as prime minister David Cameron – a close analysis into PPE alumni will find that they make up a significant percentage of elite British society.

Oxford’s Department of Chemistry is one of the highest-ranking chemistry programs in the world. Students spend their entire fourth year conducting research projects under the guidance of world-renowned scientists. 

John B. Goodenough and M. Stanley Whittingham – two former staff members –  won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on developing lithium-ion batteries. 

Other popular subjects at Oxford include law, history, and English Language & Literature. Notable alumni from the ELL department include authors T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, and William Golding.

Is Oxford a Good School?

Oxford may very well be the best university in the world, and various renowned rankings list will attest to the nomination. 

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings have named Oxford as the best university in the world for six years in a row, while U.S. News lists Oxford at the top of Europe’s best universities.

Oxford maintains some of the best research facilities in the world, including the recently developed Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery

Here, scientists follow an interdisciplinary approach to examining how various diseases respond to new treatment methods. 

The Bodleian Libraries at Oxford make up the most expansive library system in the United Kingdom – housing more than 13 million printed items, the libraries also offer an array of digital technology for students to use at no extra cost.

It should come as no surprise that Oxford is also home to the world’s oldest public museum, the oldest scientific gardens in the world, and various other museums

On what other campus could you find a preserved blackboard from Einstein’s lectures, fossilized remains of the first dinosaur discovered by scientists, and more than 6,000 species of plants?

In addition to the ever-growing list of facilities and equipment, Oxford offers highly acclaimed academic programs in subjects like infectious diseases, public health, and endocrinology and metabolism. 

Oxford has proven to be an ideal setting for inventive, ambitious scholars. It is at Oxford where some of the most groundbreaking discoveries in modern medicine were made, including the behavior of antibodies, needleless injections, and penicillin.

Oxford Traditions

St. John's College, Oxford University
Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, UK-Oxford-St John’s College, CC BY-SA 4.0

There are truly too many traditions at Oxford to count, but that won’t stop us from sharing information about some of the most treasured campus rituals and celebrations. 

Let’s start with the Matriculation Ceremony, held at the end of the first week of the new school year. Here, students wear their formal academic attire and proceed to the Sheldonian Theater to watch the first-year students go through initiation. 

The St. Giles Fair is one of the most looked forward to events of the autumn season. Dating back to the 13th century, it brings the Oxford community together through food, games, carnival rides, and other social activities.  

Once settled at Oxford, students begin to develop their “Oxford families.” College parents are returning students paired with new students to help them transition smoothly into the academic and social scene at Oxford. Think of the match as similar to the “Big” and “Little” pairings in American sororities. 

Several Oxford traditions fall into the formal category. For example, students wear a white tie outfit called a “sub fusc” to exams. 

Additionally, they have been known to pin carnations on their formalwear, the color of which corresponds to a specific exam. For example, white carnations signify the first exam, while radiant red carnations represent the end of exams.

Some of the most beloved traditions include match-ups against rival schools like Cambridge. Events like the Boat Race on the River Thames and the Varsity Match at Twickenham Stadium attract hordes of enthusiastic Oxford students and community fans.

It’s worth noting that Oxford’s colleges maintain their own rivalries with each other. In addition to belonging to academic departments (such as political science, literature, and physics), students also belong to colleges, which are similar to dormitories and residence halls on American university campuses.

Students can select a preferred college in their applications to Oxford or submit an open application in which they agree to live in their assigned college. 

Colleges house rooms, kitchens, laundry centers, and even libraries. Colleges regularly host building-wide meals, games, and social events throughout the academic year.

Prominent Clubs & Extracurricular Activities at Oxford

We can’t talk about clubs at Oxford without first mentioning the Oxford Student Union (SU). All students automatically become members, and six officers are elected for a one-year term. 

The Oxford SU organizes various on-campus events, maintains a record of the status of on-campus student organizations, and assists students in finding resources needed for academic projects.

The Oxford Union is a separate entity from the Oxford Student Union, and definitely worth mentioning! The Oxford Union is known as the world’s most famous debating society, and they bring in several highly acclaimed speakers each term. 

On most days, students can tune in to sessions featuring figures like Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky, fashion designer Maria Chiuri, and triathlete Alistair Brownlee.

Lovers of theatre, film, and song will find an array of choirs and performing groups at their disposal. The Choir of Magdalen College was founded in 1480, making it one of the oldest and largest choral groups in England. 

The Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) announces upcoming auditions and crew calls. Additionally, they host the New Writing Festival playwright competition and the Cuppers intercollegiate drama competition. To join or not to join, is that really a question?

Students looking to contribute to a charitable cause will find Oxford Hub to be a helpful resource. The group is committed to building programs that link students with the Oxford community – it regularly organizes tutoring relationships, sporting games, residential home activities, and sustainability campaigns, among other social events.

What Sports Are Oxford Known For?

Oxford has an admirable reputation in the collegiate sports domain. 

Nearly 300 Oxford students have competed in the Olympic games, winning 167 medals (of which half are gold). Oxford students are highly encouraged to take part in either varsity-level or college club sports.

Rowing is one of the most popular and widely-attended sporting events at Oxford, and the majority of Olympic gold medals in Oxford’s treasure trove stem from rowing victories. 

One of the most exciting match-ups of the year takes place on the River Thames – the yearly Varsity against Cambridge University in “The Boat Race” provides an avenue for rival fans to show their support and enthusiasm! 

Cambridge currently leads Oxford 85-81 in overall men’s rowing history and 45-30 in women’s rowing history.

Football is another beloved sport at Oxford, and the university’s Varsity Match holds the record as the oldest match-up in global football! 

It has been played every year since 1873 (except for several years during WWI and WWII). In 136 years of competing, the Oxford men’s football team excels over Cambridge with 54-50 victories.

Other popular sports at Oxford include rugby and croquet. Croquet is especially popular in the spring, and many Oxford students will play socially against friends on the college lawns. 9% of students enter a knockout Cuppers competition, which runs throughout the final term of the school year. Rugby matches are another fan favorite, typically exceeding 15,000 in attendance.

Why Oxford?

Those students fortunate enough to gain admission to one of the world’s most competitive universities will find few reasons not to enroll at Oxford. Tuition is expectedly high, though the university provides more than 8.5 million pounds of financial aid to undergraduate students living in lower-income homes. Nearly one in four domestic UK students receive an annual bursary.

The community of Oxford provides a vibrant, close-knit setting for students to inhabit while they pursue their studies. Dotted with parks, courtyards, and pedestrian-friendly areas, students will enjoy stopping by the Covered Market and lounging by the river on temperate days.

Students admitted to Oxford join a large network of successful alumni. Several current and former world leaders got their start at Oxford, such as Benazir Bhutto, Tony Blair, and Bill Clinton.

Students who are particularly interested in pursuing medicine, chemistry, or an illustrious PPE degree will find no better context than Oxford for engaging in collaborative research endeavors, hands-on internships, and stimulating small-group tutorial sessions on a regular basis.

For most students accepted to Oxford University, there is no better choice.