University of oxford faq - university life

So you've had the interview, got the offer - maybe even made your grades. Now the questions about university life are starting to begin. Some of them will be answered on the college pages (See University of Oxford), and other college-related questions may be answered on the xx page. If however your question relates to the university as a whole then they answer may be here.

Unusual Circumstances

I won't be 18 yet by the time the first term starts. Does this mean I would have to apply for deferred entry?

No - you won't. Being 17 when you come up is actually relatively common, especially for Scottish students and internationals. The only point at which you need to be 18 is to sign a landlord's lease. And since every college accomodates you in your first year, as long as you turn 18 before the start of your 2nd year it shouldn't be an issue at all.

"I'm considerably younger than 18, actually. Can I still apply, and if so, are there any specific problems which I'll be likely to encounter? And are there any colleges that would be particularly suitable / unsuitable for young applicants?"


I've heard that I'll need to buy "subfusc". What does this constitute? How much will it cost me? Can I just rent it?

Subfusc is the name given to the sort of "uniform" that Oxford students wear for matriculation (the ceremony where you become officially part of the university), graduation, and exams. It is a black gown and a mortar board, worn with a dark suit, white shirt and white bow tie for men, and black skirt or trousers, white blouse and black ribbon for women. The gown on its own is also worn for formal hall and chape; at many colleges, and for collections. The major formalwear companies in Oxford (such as Shepherd and Woodward[1] or Taylor's[2]) usually do special deals at the start of each academic year, selling everything you need for about £30. At this price, and bearing in mind how much you'll wear it, I'd say it's well worth buying your own.

So do I need to get this subfusc before I come up then?

College will normally send you order forms from some of the major companies, so it's possible to order it and then collect when you arrive in Oxford. If however this isn't possible then don't worry - you won't need subfusc until Saturday of 1st week (at least 10 days after you arrive in Oxford) - plenty of time to go buy it then.

Do I need to buy a ball gown / cocktail dress / dinner jacket / tux?

It is undeniable that Oxford has a lot of black tie events. College balls, dinner dances, subject dinners, sports and society dinners, dinners for finalists, half-way hall, dining with the tutors...

The key thing to remember is that firstly all of these are optional. It is entirely possible to get away with only attending one or two if you want to - but chances are if friends are going you'll fancy it, so it's best to be well prepared. Renting is possible, but often buying can be less expensive: especially for men. Generally speaking you will need a tux at some point (you'll need a dark suit for matriculation and exams anyway) and having a dinner jacket will be useful, but plenty of people won't. Girls aim to have one cocktail (read: knee-length) dress for black tie dinners and one dress suitable for a ball (think your school leavers' ball / prom). Overall don't panic - there's always the option of dress swapping and charity shops (which are more frequented than you might expect!) once you're here.


I've heard that everybody in Oxford rides a bike. Do I need to buy one? Will it be stolen? Oxford is an almost entirely flat city, so the majority of students do cycle yes. As a first year you're unlikely to need a bike (although if you're a rower it makes getting to the boat house in time for sunrise much easier!) but when you start living out of college it's an incredibly useful asset. (Bus fares in Oxford tend to be extortionate). If you have an old bike at home then that's perfect - nobody has new bikes! Those with baskets and bells are particularly sought after. Make sure you've got a strong D-lock. If your bike is locked it's unlikely to get nicked, but it does happen.

I want to bring my car. Where can I park it?

The centre of Oxford is a maze of pedestrianisation and one-way streets. No college is more than 20 minutes walk from the city centre. And the only place to park once you're in the centre is Broad Street - with fairly obscene parking charges. Unless you have some desperately pressing need there is no reason at all to bring a car to Oxford, as you'll never use it. If however you have a medical reason etc that requires you to have a car then speak to college. They may have one space hidden somewhere that's usually for staff.

What's the bus service like in Oxford?

In terms of frequency the buses in Oxford are excellent. If for instance you live out in Cowley then there are three bus services (1, 5 and 10) which all run buses once every 10 minutes. However in terms of cost the bus within Oxford is quite extortionate. It works out at about £1/mile for a single.


I want to stay in Oxford over the vacation. Will it be possible?

Most colleges will be reasonably flexible if you have a genuine reason for staying in Oxford. Over Christmas it's an almost definite no - especially if your college only accomodates first years in college. (The rooms are needed to house interviewees in!) However over Easter and at the end of the summer term it's quite common for them to let you stay. Don't forget though that you will still be paying rent - and often at a much higher rate than during term time (as you're preventing conference guests from staying)

Can students store their things over the holidays?

Most colleges have some provision for international students to store their possessions when they go home.

Academic Issues

I've heard people mention "Collections". What are these? Am I meant to work for them?

Collections are what you might think of as "mock exams". They usually happen on Friday of 0th week when you first get back to Oxford and usually take the form of a past paper. How much emphasis is placed upon them, and how often you get them, varies a lot by college and by tutor. For some the collections will occur every term, and in subfusc, in Exam Schools; while for others they will only be done once a year in college and failing to achieve a high grade is unimportant.

Aim to do your best - but don't forget that nobody expects you to do well in the first one, as you've never sat this kind of exam before. Plenty of people get 2:2s or 3rds in their first collection and still go on to do perfectly fine at the end of the year.

What's the difference between Mods and Prelims?

At the end of your first year you will sit exams referred to either as Moderations or as Preliminary exams. Which you sit varies by subject. While in Mods you must get 40% overall, and can therefore fail a paper, provided you do sufficiently well in other areas of the syllabus, in Prelims you must pass every paper. One retake is allowed.

However, it should be noted that individual colleges can decide that failure of a Mods paper is unacceptable and demand a retake even though you have passed overall.