The Student Room Group

Gap Year Or Durham/St Andrews

I decided against applying for Oxford during Year 12 due to the potential stress and perhaps lack of self confidence. I am in year 13 now and currently predicted 3 A*s. I feel very much on top of all the topics in my subjects and believe if I took a gap year to apply for Oxford, I would have a more than reasonable chance of receiving an offer, but am curious if it would be worth it, any advice?
This is an interesting question.

Much depends on whether you really want to study at Oxford or whether you just feel you ought to, because you believe that everyone else thinks that Oxford is 'the best' and anything less won't do.

There is no doubt that Oxford and Cambridge are in a class of their own in terms of academic standards. However, applying there is a lottery, even for the brightest and best of students. I note your alternative options are Durham and St. Andrews. The only thing these two universities have in common is that they are the most 'Oxfordish' of the rest of the bunch. If it's the ambience of tradition and exclusivity that appeals to you (as it does to so many, even if they won't admit it) then these two should fit the bill. However, what really matters is that you will be happy both with the course and the location of the university where you will spend the majority of your time for three or more years. There is also the question of whether you actually fancy a gap year and what you would do with it.

It would be easier for others on TSR to advise you if we knew what subject/s you intended to study at university and what your A level subjects are. Maybe you could tell us?

On a personal level, if I were a Y12/13 student, I would be placing Durham at the top of my list (BA Liberal Arts/Combined Social Sciences). The course appeals to me more than any at Oxford or Cambridge and, in any case, I wouldn't want all the fuss involved in applying to Oxbridge, knowing that the chances of admission are hit and miss. Durham is the 'Harry Potter' version of Oxford and combines high academic standards and a sense of tradition that Oxbridge is rapidly losing. It is also in the north of England where I live.

So, to sum up. Think about your real interests. Select the course and location that suits you and (insofar as you know it) your chosen career path. In the final analysis, Durham or St. Andrews will stand you in good stead unless you have some burning desire to stake everything on the Oxbridge lottery - even at the expense of a fallow year, in which your academic skills might become a little rusty.

Good luck - and please tell us what you decide; it's always interesting for other TSR users to learn how these conundrums are eventually resolved.
Reply 2
Original post by Supermature
This is an interesting question.

Much depends on whether you really want to study at Oxford or whether you just feel you ought to, because you believe that everyone else thinks that Oxford is 'the best' and anything less won't do.

There is no doubt that Oxford and Cambridge are in a class of their own in terms of academic standards. However, applying there is a lottery, even for the brightest and best of students. I note your alternative options are Durham and St. Andrews. The only thing these two universities have in common is that they are the most 'Oxfordish' of the rest of the bunch. If it's the ambience of tradition and exclusivity that appeals to you (as it does to so many, even if they won't admit it) then these two should fit the bill. However, what really matters is that you will be happy both with the course and the location of the university where you will spend the majority of your time for three or more years. There is also the question of whether you actually fancy a gap year and what you would do with it.

It would be easier for others on TSR to advise you if we knew what subject/s you intended to study at university and what your A level subjects are. Maybe you could tell us?

On a personal level, if I were a Y12/13 student, I would be placing Durham at the top of my list (BA Liberal Arts/Combined Social Sciences). The course appeals to me more than any at Oxford or Cambridge and, in any case, I wouldn't want all the fuss involved in applying to Oxbridge, knowing that the chances of admission are hit and miss. Durham is the 'Harry Potter' version of Oxford and combines high academic standards and a sense of tradition that Oxbridge is rapidly losing. It is also in the north of England where I live.

So, to sum up. Think about your real interests. Select the course and location that suits you and (insofar as you know it) your chosen career path. In the final analysis, Durham or St. Andrews will stand you in good stead unless you have some burning desire to stake everything on the Oxbridge lottery - even at the expense of a fallow year, in which your academic skills might become a little rusty.

Good luck - and please tell us what you decide; it's always interesting for other TSR users to learn how these conundrums are eventually resolved.

Thanks so much for your reply :smile:
You are right in saying the want to study at Oxford is mainly just a feeling if I want the best possible future that I would have to go there.

Im studying Physics, Maths and Electronics and would like to do a Theoretical Physics course.

Upon visiting Durham I just loved the entire aesthetic, the cobbley streets and greenery mixed in with the modern university buildings felt right for me. It is also only one train journey from where I currently live.

I think my desire to apply for Oxford UG is simply due to a desire to be a researcher there in the future, perhaps studying there at undergraduate level would give me the edge when applying for a PhD ?

I’m probably trying to plan way too far ahead but it always feels nice to have an outline of what my future might be.
Original post by Alfie33
Thanks so much for your reply :smile:
You are right in saying the want to study at Oxford is mainly just a feeling if I want the best possible future that I would have to go there.

Im studying Physics, Maths and Electronics and would like to do a Theoretical Physics course.

Upon visiting Durham I just loved the entire aesthetic, the cobbley streets and greenery mixed in with the modern university buildings felt right for me. It is also only one train journey from where I currently live.

I think my desire to apply for Oxford UG is simply due to a desire to be a researcher there in the future, perhaps studying there at undergraduate level would give me the edge when applying for a PhD?

I’m probably trying to plan way too far ahead but it always feels nice to have an outline of what my future might be.

That is a very astute way of thinking. You have a difficult choice to make and you should seek as much advice as possible before reaching a decision.

You will obviously be aware that Physics at Durham is very highly rated (in the top four of the Complete Universities Guide Rankings, alongside Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrew's). If you have already secured a place at Durham, which you have visited and obviously like, then it is quite a gamble to forgo that in the hope of 'going one better'. And then there's the question, is it 'better'. Your family might have connections with a particular Oxford college to which you aspire or your parents and teachers may feel that your abilities are such that only Oxford would satisfy you? But the course at Durham will undoubtedly be demanding and there would always be the option of applying to Oxford for postgraduate study. While Oxford does tend to favour its own, a First from Durham would put you in a very strong position when applying for admission to the Oxford DPhil or the Cambridge PhD.

As I said earlier, I would personally prefer Durham in any case. It feels more 'homely'; its relatively small size, remote but easily accessible location and its sense of tradition all appeal to me. For the full Durham experience I would suggest you try to get allocated to any one of the bailey colleges. I spent a couple of weeks attending meetings based at Hatfield several years ago and it reminded me (in a positive way) of my time at boarding school - but with decent food and excellent accommodation in the postgraduate block!

I do hope you will let us know what you decide. All the best.
Original post by Alfie33
Thanks so much for your reply :smile:
You are right in saying the want to study at Oxford is mainly just a feeling if I want the best possible future that I would have to go there.

Im studying Physics, Maths and Electronics and would like to do a Theoretical Physics course.

Upon visiting Durham I just loved the entire aesthetic, the cobbley streets and greenery mixed in with the modern university buildings felt right for me. It is also only one train journey from where I currently live.

I think my desire to apply for Oxford UG is simply due to a desire to be a researcher there in the future, perhaps studying there at undergraduate level would give me the edge when applying for a PhD ?

I’m probably trying to plan way too far ahead but it always feels nice to have an outline of what my future might be.

Sometimes universities are less likely to accept someone for postgraduate study if they've already studied there for undergraduate - something about diversifying ways of thinking if I recall correctly - although I don't know whether Oxford uses that line of thinking or whether that's less applicable to PhD than masters. It probably wouldn't give you an edge though. You might look at doctoral candidates currently in your field at Oxford and see what universities they studied at for undergraduate.
Oxford doesn't have a theoretical physics course, so if you're dead set on that it's a non-starter. (That said, course names are just that: names. You should look at the actual course content to see if it's what you want.)

The other thing is that you absolutely shouldn't make a decision about this now. This is a choice you make when you are clutching your slip of paper with A*A*A*. The worst of all worlds would be to decide you're going to take a gap year to apply to Oxford with achieved results, withdraw from all your current options, and then things don't go quite to plan and you get AAA.

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