Ellie – Geography
Journey to Oxford
I’m from Liverpool and went to a small comprehensive school which didn’t really send many students to university. I was the first student to get an Oxbridge offer in at least five years there, so we were all kind of shocked when it happened!
Even though my school didn’t really know much about applying to Oxbridge, especially how interviews worked, I kind of understood the application process because my sister had applied to do Medicine a few years before, and I was lucky that my mum had gone to university when she was younger, so she was around to support me in choosing my course.
Why did you choose to study your course?
I originally wanted to apply for a Politics course but kind of went off that and fell into really enjoying my Geography A-level. I’ve always cared about the environment and civil rights and thought that it might be a really good fit. I then went and did a free week-long summer school at Lancaster University which was just amazing and it really solidified my desire to study Geography.
What is your favourite thing about studying Geography?
I thought originally that I wanted to do physical geography, but I’ve ended up being a human geographer. I think my favourite thing about the course is how interdisciplinary it is – I get to read lots of articles from other subjects and disciplines like anthropology, sociology, and politics, so it’s kind of given me the flavour of the politics degree I had thought about in the first place!
How is your course taught?
My course is taught differently depending on what year you’re in. In first year, you have maybe 1 or 2 lectures a day, which always start at 11am at the earliest, giving you a nice lie-in! You might also have one practical class a week, and one tutorial a week, so most of my time in first year was spent reading for and writing my essays.
In second year, you do maybe 3 lectures a week and 1 tutorial, but there’s much more time spent on writing coursework like extended essays and fieldwork reports.
Now I’m in final year, I have 1 lecture/seminar a week, 1 essay every 2 weeks, and I have to work on things like my dissertation and coursework in the extra time I have.
Describe your average Oxford day…
The structure of my day kind of depends on my extra-curricular commitments that day. Aside from my studies, I am really involved in making the admissions process fairer as JCR Access Officer (one of the elected representatives for the undergraduate body) and as President of a student-run access project, so I often have meetings over lunchtime or in the afternoon to help with that. If I don’t have meetings, I’ll work in the college library or in a coffee shop.
Generally, I start my day with a to-do list, and then get on with work. Usually, I like to break up my afternoon with a walk or grabbing a coffee with a friend, and then in the evening I’ll cook dinner with my housemates.
I’ve found that resting is really important in making sure I can manage my workload, so I often get some music practice done in the evening, or try to do something sociable with housemates or friends like watch a film, go to the pub, or attend any social events in college.
Why did you decide to apply to St Edmund Hall? What is your favourite thing about it now you’re here?
I wasn’t able to come to Oxford for an open day before making my application so I had to rely on online resources to choose my college. I had a little look through the ones offering Geography and then looked further into about three before settling on Teddy.
I think I had come across someone describing it as ‘small and sociable’ and that was exactly what I was looking for, since I came from such a small and close-knit school.
I think my favourite thing about Teddy Hall now I’m here is how amazing the community is – we definitely do have a “Hall Spirit”. We all take care of each other and it really is lovely to be able to know so many people who are all amazing, kind, and so friendly.
What helped you prepare for the admissions process?
I relied a lot on online resources to help me prepare for the admissions process. For my personal statement, I read a few books which I had found recommended online, including on the Geography department’s recommended reading list. I had a free subscription to ‘Geographical’ magazine in Year 12 so I went back through those magazines and found interesting articles which I might be able to scrutinise and talk about in my statement. I also found that the summer school I went to at Lancaster University was really helpful!
Then for interviews, I didn’t really access much support as I didn’t really know where to look, but mostly just practiced vocalising my thought process out loud with my parents and my teachers. I didn’t have a mock interview, but I think if you can access support workshops online or in person, they’re really helpful.
What was the biggest misconception you had about studying at Oxford before you came?
That it would be full of posh people who would judge me for coming from Liverpool! And this is absolutely not true. I know that Scousers tend to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder because of previous events and stereotypes, but I’ve found that mostly, not many people have misconceptions about me or my accent. While I’ve found that there definitely are some more wealthy people here, the majority of people are not stuck up and it’s really easy to find a friendship group of people are down-to-earth and well-rounded.
What would you tell your 17-year-old self about applying to and studying at Oxford/St Edmund Hall now?
Not to worry, and to take everything in your stride. I was incredibly nervous about moving away from home, about applying to such a prestigious university, and the idea of being in a new place where I would potentially stick out because of where I am from! But if anything, I have found that I have really settled myself in Oxford. I would tell myself to have confidence and believe in myself and my ability to adapt and make the most of it. It has been really fun, academically inspiring, and so worthwhile.