To what extent does 'academic pressure' vary between colleges? Oriel?

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    I was wondering to what extent academic pressure varied between different colleges at Oxford. I've read for certain colleges, particularly Oriel and Merton, that it can be a much more 'pressurised' environment. What exactly does this mean, and does it hold any merit in people's opinions? Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not adverse to a large academic workload or challenging work or anything like that, but I do tend to get extremely nervous, anxious, and just generally stressed out during exam time. Does this mean somewhere like Oriel may not be for me? It's a shame as I quite liked other aspects of Oriel, but reading that they are top of the Norrington table has slightly put me off, as I feel the stories about it being very high-pressure are likely true, and also that most people applying there will be much better candidates.

    Thanks for any input
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    (Original post by Whippersniffer)
    I was wondering to what extent academic pressure varied between different colleges at Oxford.
    There are surely some differences but it's hard to guess what and where having only studied at one and having a very vague idea of what a few other colleges are like. It will, in part, come down to your tutors, too. I think some of my friends at Magdalen were surprised by how seriously my tutors treated collections (progress checks at the start of each term), for instance. The colleges with the most stringent academic requirements won't necessarily be the ones at the top of the Norrington Table, mind you. Possibly quite the opposite, in fact. I remember a student news article about St Peter's (I think) a few years ago that said all students had to get permission before joining any societies!

    I've read for certain colleges, particularly Oriel and Merton, that it can be a much more 'pressurised' environment. What exactly does this mean, and does it hold any merit in people's opinions?
    I don't know about the specifics at these colleges, but some Mertonians I know like to stress that Merton's reputation for being particularly demanding wasn't necessarily well-founded. Magdalen's been very high up the Norrington Table in recent years without any St Peter's-esque nonsense, too. As for what 'pressurised' might mean – probably lots of work and high expectations from your tutors (again, not a college-wide thing), and/or expectations that you do well (2.1 or 1st) in collections and exams, or serious academic concerns if you're not on course for a 2.1 overall (more likely to be college-wide).

    Like I said before, these pressures will vary from college to college and tutor to tutor. Up to a point, this pressure can be good because you don't want to end up with a lower degree classification than you could have done, if the only obstacle was not working hard enough. It's not something I would worry about when choosing my college.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not adverse to a large academic workload or challenging work or anything like that, but I do tend to get extremely nervous, anxious, and just generally stressed out during exam time. Does this mean somewhere like Oriel may not be for me?
    I think if a college has high academic expectations throughout the year, you might feel less stressed out during exam time because there's a good chance you'll be better prepared. Or perhaps you'll feel just as stressed but do a bit better. It's hard to say. Lots of people suffer stress at exam time, though, some very seriously, and colleges and the university have provisions to help with this.

    It's a shame as I quite liked other aspects of Oriel, but reading that they are top of the Norrington table has slightly put me off, as I feel the stories about it being very high-pressure are likely true, and also that most people applying there will be much better candidates.
    Don't mistake high college success after 3 or 4 years of studies with how good the applicants generally are. The general standard of applicant will be pretty similar across most of the colleges and the difficulty of getting in to the college you apply to (rather than being pooled to a different one) will (on average) come down to the number of applicants for your course at your college and not so much the academic reputation of the college.

    It sounds to me like you should apply to Oriel.
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    (Original post by BJack)
    There are surely some differences but it's hard to guess what and where having only studied at one and having a very vague idea of what a few other colleges are like. It will, in part, come down to your tutors, too. I think some of my friends at Magdalen were surprised by how seriously my tutors treated collections (progress checks at the start of each term), for instance. The colleges with the most stringent academic requirements won't necessarily be the ones at the top of the Norrington Table, mind you. Possibly quite the opposite, in fact. I remember a student news article about St Peter's (I think) a few years ago that said all students had to get permission before joining any societies!



    I don't know about the specifics at these colleges, but some Mertonians I know like to stress that Merton's reputation for being particularly demanding wasn't necessarily well-founded. Magdalen's been very high up the Norrington Table in recent years without any St Peter's-esque nonsense, too. As for what 'pressurised' might mean – probably lots of work and high expectations from your tutors (again, not a college-wide thing), and/or expectations that you do well (2.1 or 1st) in collections and exams, or serious academic concerns if you're not on course for a 2.1 overall (more likely to be college-wide).

    Like I said before, these pressures will vary from college to college and tutor to tutor. Up to a point, this pressure can be good because you don't want to end up with a lower degree classification than you could have done, if the only obstacle was not working hard enough. It's not something I would worry about when choosing my college.



    I think if a college has high academic expectations throughout the year, you might feel less stressed out during exam time because there's a good chance you'll be better prepared. Or perhaps you'll feel just as stressed but do a bit better. It's hard to say. Lots of people suffer stress at exam time, though, some very seriously, and colleges and the university have provisions to help with this.



    Don't mistake high college success after 3 or 4 years of studies with how good the applicants generally are. The general standard of applicant will be pretty similar across most of the colleges and the difficulty of getting in to the college you apply to (rather than being pooled to a different one) will (on average) come down to the number of applicants for your course at your college and not so much the academic reputation of the college.

    It sounds to me like you should apply to Oriel.
    Hey - thanks very much for the detailed response - I appreciate it.

    It does seem quite hard to guess about a lot of aspects of different colleges - although I have a slight feeling that I'm overthinking the college choice aspect. The point about St Peters seems pretty crazy though!

    And perhaps in some aspects being pushed more throughout the year could actually be beneficial for me, if I feel more confident in the fact that I've been consistently studying and pushed throughout the year, instead of bundling up stress until exam time if that makes sense. I might still struggle, but I have always heard that pastoral supports is very good at Oxford if you need it like you say.

    But in regards with your last point, about the number of applicants to your college affecting the 'difficulty' the most, would it not follow then that colleges who come top of the Norrington table tend to see a fair spike in applications? I'm still not entirely sure if Oriel is the best place to apply for me although I do like some aspects haha.

    Thanks again for your response!
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    (Original post by Whippersniffer)
    And perhaps in some aspects being pushed more throughout the year could actually be beneficial for me, if I feel more confident in the fact that I've been consistently studying and pushed throughout the year, instead of bundling up stress until exam time if that makes sense.
    Hello :wavey:

    BJack has written an extremely excellent post above (even by his own high standards of helpfulness to applicants! ). I hope you don't mind but I'd like to throw my tuppence in, on the bit quoted above.


    I read music at Woosta (Worcester) College from 2007-2010. We are not, as an overall college rep, known for working very hard or having much pressure to work hard (at least not when I was there - things may have changed with the new head of college). The music course is structured so that there are no exams in the second year at all. So when myself and my tutorial partners started our second year, we were expecting to do very little work and spend the whole year doing extra-curriculars, super-curriculars, having a bit of a breather, and doing lots of punting in the summer.

    Boy, were we wrong! For reasons that remain unknown, my college tutors both decided to make us work very intensely in second year, piling most of our second/third year work into that second year only :headfire: We were pissed off at the time, because every other music student who wasn't at our college seemed to be having it far easier

    The point of telling you this story is to illustrate how working in an intense environment can, sometimes, end up being highly beneficial in the long run. Allow me to continue the story (bear with me - there IS a point to all this background, I promise!)

    In January 2010, five months before my Finals (end of third year exams - bear in mind that in music at Oxford, this is 100% of your final degree result), I had a very massive, rather public, and extremely prolonged mental breakdown. I stopped functioning pretty much completely. It was pretty horrendous and was one of the worst and most traumatic experiences of my life.

    Usually in Oxford (and indeed, in any uni!), if someone becomes that ill, they are encouraged to leave and come back when they are better. My tutors were obviously concerned and, as a matter of prudence and formality, asked me if I wished to leave and return in October 2010, or if I wished to leave Oxford altogether. Being the stubborn cow I am, I said I had no intention of leaving, because due to all our work being piled into the second year, we had actually covered all the material that we needed to for Finals - the final 5 months were almost purely for revision only. My tutors agreed that I could stay and made all the necessary arrangements to help me to do so.

    This is not to say that staying in Oxford was plain sailing. It was difficult, challenging, and I ended up trying to kill myself in the middle of my Finals exam period - that's how ill I was BUT because my tutors had worked us so hard in the second year and we had finished the material 5-6 months earlier than every other music student in every other college, I was in the exceedingly fortunate and rare position of being able to sit my Oxford Finals exams, without doing any work or revising at all in those final 5 months. This would not have been possible had we not been pushed so hard in my second year! The exams I didn't walk out of midway, I got either 2.1s or Firsts in. With no revision :king1: :yep:

    This has become longer than I meant it to The TL;DR version is essentially that being worked very hard by your college can, in very odd roundabout ways, prove to be beneficial, even if you ARE prone to stress/anxiety. It's not always doom and gloom!
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    As a recent Oxbridge graduate I do think that 'academic pressure' varies between colleges, but this does not necessarily reflect the ultimate standard of learning and indeed the final results of the students. This comes from someone who studied at one of the most prestigious and demanding colleges.
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    (Original post by Whippersniffer)
    I was wondering to what extent academic pressure varied between different colleges at Oxford. I've read for certain colleges, particularly Oriel and Merton, that it can be a much more 'pressurised' environment. What exactly does this mean, and does it hold any merit in people's opinions? Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not adverse to a large academic workload or challenging work or anything like that, but I do tend to get extremely nervous, anxious, and just generally stressed out during exam time. Does this mean somewhere like Oriel may not be for me? It's a shame as I quite liked other aspects of Oriel, but reading that they are top of the Norrington table has slightly put me off, as I feel the stories about it being very high-pressure are likely true, and also that most people applying there will be much better candidates.

    Thanks for any input
    I think there are some excellent replies above.

    I particularly agree with BJack when he says that actually, its very hard to predict as those at the bottom of the table might be introducing measures to change that, whereas colleges at the top might have a bit of self-perpetuation going on because the reputation attracts a handful of extremely high achievers, so they don't need to do anything to maintain it.

    Its worth also emphasising a couple of things about the Norrington Table (which is entirely where 'academic college' rumours come from): firstly, scientists are much more likely to get a 1st than artists and humanities, and some colleges have more scientists than others, so there is an inherent bias. Secondly, the differences between colleges are actually quite small. 5 or 6 people going from a 2.i to a 1st would make a huge difference and shoot you way up the table. 16 people (out of 80ish) and you're looking at the difference between the very top and the very bottom. When you factor in the science bias and year-on-year variation you'd expect anyway, that's very small.

    Jesus was the low-ranked college in my time which made you get permission for all extracurriculars, and even said that if you failed to get a 2.i or above on mock exams that you had to retake and failing that meant retaking the year. Scary. Compare that to my time at Merton (and this was at the height of the academic reputation - its had a few much worse results since) where I knew people completely failing their mock exams with no consequence. I personally worked very little and did persistently badly on exams. This resulted in me being called to a meeting to basically see whether I was depressed or not. I wasn't (just lazy/had other priorities), didn't want any other help, no other consequences. They were very helpful.

    Or if you want even more assurance about Oriel, you can take comfort about them being 16th last year https://web.archive.org/web/20160314...cations?wssl=1

    Don't let this worry you or influence college choice! If you want up to date information about what the college is like, I'd suggest attending an open day and asking some current students!
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    (Original post by Whippersniffer)
    would it not follow then that colleges who come top of the Norrington table tend to see a fair spike in applications?
    Not at all. Tends to reduce them if anything.
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    (Original post by HANNAHBENLOLO)
    As a recent Oxbridge graduate I do think that 'academic pressure' varies between colleges, but this does not necessarily reflect the ultimate standard of learning and indeed the final results of the students. This comes from someone who studied at one of the most prestigious and demanding colleges.
    So you could go to a "less prestigious" college, and by chance end up with excellent tutors in your subject, or/and a great peer group - and so end up happier?
 
 
 
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