With an illustrious English faculty, the University of Oxford is one of the largest English faculty in the United Kingdom. Ranking as the world’s overall top university in 2021, Oxford’s English Language and Literature programme is also ranked fourth internationally.

Continuing with our list of qualified mentors who studied in Oxford, we have invited a mentor to share with us her experience as an English Language and Literature student in Oxford.

What subjects did you do at high school (e.g:IB/A Level/AP etc) and what did you score?

I studied IB and took English A: Literature, History, and Economics at HL. I also took Chemistry, Mathematics, and Chinese B at SL. I scored 7 for all subjects and A for both EE and TOK. My final IB points is 45. 

What were your CCAs and  Leadership positions in high school?

I joined my school’s A Cappella Society and !nk student magazine. I also emceed for six major school events and was the class vice-chairperson.

How does the workload of university compare with IB?

I juggled fewer tasks and subjects at a time in university, but the work was more difficult as essays required significant amounts of reading and preparation.

How did you decide on your final university? Did you get offers elsewhere?

Oxford was my target university so it didn’t take too much to decide upon it. I also received offers from UCL (Comparative Literature), KCL, Exeter and Durham (English Literature), NUS FASS, and NTU-NIE Arts (Education). 

What is the cost of Living and cost of school fees for the entire duration of the undergraduate degree?

School fees are £22,000 a year. I lived comfortably on approximately £1,200-£1,300 a month and was able to eat out occasionally, and even travel.

How is the teaching and learning work in your school? Are the faculty accessible?

The teaching and learning are highly individualised. Tutorials are rigorous and stimulating as 1-2 students are assigned to a tutor, and require high levels of engagement and preparation. Lectures are aplenty, averaging around 2-3 classes per day, but optional. For some subjects, teaching is conducted through classes as well. These class sizes ranged between 5 and 15 students for me. This tutorial system made it easy to build close working relationships with the tutors.

How large is the cohort for your courses? How many Singaporeans are there?

There are approximately 200 students per year. In most years, there are 1 or 2 Singaporeans. In my cohort, there were 3 Singaporeans.

Are people very competitive academically? How many exams are there in a year? What happens if one fails the year?

People are competitive but not so much against one another – people are driven and want good results for themselves. English students sit for Prelims in their first year and Finals in their third year.

How would you describe the school culture?

Academically rigorous, fast-paced, exciting. Outside of Oxford’s intense work culture, there are numerous clubs and societies to be involved in. Colleges foster a strong sense of community, but students are free to socialise as they wish. Students tend to be independent and self-motivated.

Is there an established Singaporean presence at your university? How many Singaporeans are there per batch?

Yes – the Oxford University Malaysian and Singaporean Students’ Society (OUMSSA) is very active. There are usually 30-40 Singaporean undergraduates per batch, and a sizeable graduate student population as well.

How are freshmen/freshers welcomed to your university?

Freshers’ Week features university-wide events like the Freshers’ Fair, but the bulk of activities are conducted by individual colleges. Often, there are many introductory lectures and talks in the daytime, followed by evening events like clubbing, movie nights, or informal socials. Tutors will also meet students to brief them on academic work.

Is your school “cliquey”? Do people tend to hang among people of their own major/course/social class/race/nationality only, or is there a high degree of integration?

It depends on one’s college. Some are more insular than others. Many Asian international students are close to their country societies and friend groups, but there is enough freedom for them to mix with other groups if they wish. Friend groups tend to be college or nationality-based, and not so much by subject.

How would you rate the following “scenes” in your college and its surroundings: shopping, drinking, clubbing, fine arts, and sports?

Shopping – Very good because of the Westgate mall which features chain shops like Uniqlo and Primark. The city is very vibrant.

Drinking – I cannot drink due to medical reasons, but have been told that Oxford’s pubs are good for socialising albeit expensive.

Clubbing – Same as above, so I have limited experience, but club nights are immensely popular at one of Oxford’s 4-5 clubs. 

Fine arts – Excellent. There is so much talent at the university. Theatre and student journalism are especially strong.

Sports – Plenty of variety and opportunities for different skill levels (amateur to competitive).

How’s the accommodation? Do most people stay in college dorms/halls, or independently? How should one look for accommodation?

Virtually all colleges provide accommodation in 1st and 3rd years; many others provide accommodation for all 3 years of the degree. Students can “live out” in one of the many student houses about 20-25 mins walk from the city centre, which is also a 10mins cycle.

How is the transport like? Does one need a car? If so, how should one go about getting a car?

Walking or cycling. Cars are very impractical in Oxford. 

Is Asian food readily available? If one is to cook, where can we get the Asian food from?

Yes, although the quality is variable and London has much better variety. There are multiple Asian supermarkets in the city centre or just outside of it.

Do most people cook, eat at a catered facility or cafeteria, or eat out? How’s the catered food?

Many students eat in college halls, which are affordable, but quality varies greatly by college. There are many great places to eat out at different price ranges as well. 

What are the laundry arrangements like?

Colleges have shared laundry facilities. Prices differ by college but £2-3 per load of laundry is typical.

What’s the best experience you’ve had so far in college?

Getting involved with student journalism and editing the Oxford Review of Books in my third year. Generally, I enjoyed meeting such amazingly intelligent people from all walks of life at Oxford. 

Any final things you’d like to tell juniors about your school?

Oxford can be difficult and challenging at times, but the academic rigour and things you’ll learn are immensely valuable and eye-opening. It will prepare you well for whatever you choose to pursue in the future. The university and city are energetic and fast-paced.

We heard that you went on to do a postgraduate degree. What did you study and where did you study?

Yes – I studied my Masters in English and American Literature at New York University.

How did you decide on your postgraduate course of choice?

I wanted to study in the US after finishing my degree in the UK, and New York City has long been a dream city for me. 

How did you prepare for your postgrad application? Did you take the GREs, and if so, how did you do? Did you use any consultancy help?

I talked to my undergraduate tutors about my applications and did ample research on each school’s programme to decide if it was a good fit for my research interests. Yes, I took the GREs. I didn’t use any consultancy help and prepared for it on my own. For the GRE, I scored 166/170 for the Verbal Reasoning component, 163/170 for the Quantitative Reasoning component, and 6.0/6.0 for the Analytical Writing component.

What is the culture like? Is the academic work heavy?

The university was vibrant, diverse, and fosters a sense of independence. Work is not excessive but certainly very stimulating and rewarding. 

What is the cost of the postgrad degree and cost of living?

New York City is an expensive place to live. I lived very comfortably on approx USD 3,500 per month. My monthly expense was slightly higher as I was able to live alone, which is a luxury in New York. I imagine USD 3,000 would actually be quite generous already if one has roommates or lives in a pre-war building. The cost of the degree depends on how many credits one has to take and which NYU school they are enrolled in – for me, it was the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

What are some of the advantages of the postgraduate school and course you undertook?

  • Exciting and current class offerings e.g. Human Rights and Cultural Politics, postcolonial oceanic studies
  • Approachable and caring faculty with a genuine interest in student development and academic interests
  • Diverse classes and interesting classmates/professors with exciting perspectives

How about disadvantages?

  • Nature of university (urban campus) can make socialising difficult if one is not proactive
  • Graduate life is not as exciting as undergraduate life e.g. clubs and societies are undergraduate-dominant, and graduate students usually live off-campus due to limited accommodation
  • Living in New York City is very expensive in general”

Do you have any advice for aspiring postgrad Juniors?

Find a school that will accommodate your research interests and support your growth as a scholar.

Interested to hear other mentors experience as an Oxford student? Read our specially curated list of blog posts.