It's crucial to remind yourself that you are capable, deserving, and worthy of a chance to apply
Natalie Thomas is a first-year undergraduate studying History at Jesus College. She is a first-generation university student and took part in the Oxford UNIQ summer school prior to her application.
Harnessing the self-belief and confidence to apply to Oxford was one of the hardest parts of the application for me believe it or not. Coming from a Welsh, working-class, and first-generation background, I was intimidated by the Oxford student stereotype and questioned whether I would be able to thrive here. I applied on a whim, post results, at the beginning of my gap year and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions that I had ever made. I think applying with a 'let's give it a go' attitude particularly helped me deal with the sheer overwhelm of the application process. I knew that wherever I was to end up studying, I would be happy eventually. However, I recognised that the Oxford course suited me best and that living in the city for the next three years would be great. It's crucial to remind yourself that you are capable, deserving, and worthy of a chance to apply so don't hold back due to your own insecurities or what other people tell you to do.
Initially, within Michaelmas term, I felt as though I was in way over my head. I was drowning in a perpetual essay crisis whilst everyone else seemingly appeared to be composed and coping effortlessly. This was when my 'imposter syndrome' became activated, I felt that at any given moment, a History tutor would tap me on the shoulder and say 'sorry we made a mistake, you need to leave'. Yet, that never happened. When I expressed these doubts and concerns to my Jesus tutors they were nothing but reassuring and supportive, they told me I needed to be confident in my own abilities and that Oxford life simply just took getting used to. Flash forward to the end of my first year and I am so much more settled academically and I look forward to discussing complex historical debates, the tutorial system is such a valuable and unique experience to which I have immense gratitude for. My course peers were also incredibly supportive and willing to lend me a helping hand during the weeks I was struggling, there was no competitiveness or judgment.
A typical working week for me consists of either one or two essays a week, with a mix of lectures, tutorials, and classes. I tend to library and coffee shop hop to get work done as I get bored with my study surroundings extremely quickly. The libraries are gorgeous and going with friends always makes it fun and allows you to take breaks together. You should know that being a History student, you get fewer contact hours than other humanities degrees, so you need to be self-motivated and manage your time efficiently, however, this allows flexibility and enables you to work according to your own timetable! Once you settle into a working routine that works best for you, there is plenty of time to socialise with friends and get involved in societies outside of your degree. I got involved in college drama, the Welsh Society, and the college Access Teams, however, there are so many other societies that you can join at both college and university level. The Oxford course itself is so broad and despite having to fill course requirements, you will always get to choose what you study and this makes the workload all worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed my Optional Subject of 'Haiti and Louisiana: the problem of revolution in the age of slavery', this was an eye-opening topic that I would have never been able to study at A-level, it was refreshing to be able to explore global history and stray away from the traditional, euro-centric historical periods that I was most familiar with.
My advice to prospective History students is to apply to as many outreach events as possible. I went to the UNIQ Summer School which was completely free of charge and provided a wonderful insight. It was the first time that I had been educated about the British Civil Rights Movement and the extent of Britain's racist past and present, it really stuck with me and was a major factor as to why I applied to Oxford. I signed up to 'Access Oxbridge' now known as 'Zero Gravity' and was paired with an amazing Oxford History student who guided me through the application process, she gave me personal statement feedback and organised a mock Skype interview. There is an abundance of support like this out there so utilise the internet and sign up for free support! Also, check out JCR Instagram pages and the 'Humans of …' Instagram accounts that every college has, the Humans of Jesus account gave me an insight into real student experiences and words of encouragement that I would never have heard as I didn't know anybody who went to Oxford.
So, my final words of wisdom are: have the confidence to apply if you want to, do not compare yourself to other students, manage your time well, and above all, enjoy yourself.