Without UNIQ, I wouldn’t be studying at Oxford now

     That first afternoon set a theme of stereotype-breaking that would last for the entire week

thomas coyle

Thomas Coyle is a 2nd Year BA History student at Hertford College. He is the JCR Access Officer at his college and a Mentor at UniReach and Zero Gravity.

I was incredibly nervous leading up to the beginning of my UNIQ experience. I know now that I had no reason to be. I’d been to a northern state school and was paranoid that I wouldn’t fit in with others attending. I distinctly remember walking off the train in Oxford station; meeting my fellow students, and being told I would be staying at Merton College. I knew nothing about Oxford Colleges; I remember googling Merton on the walk there. Upon arriving everybody was incredibly friendly. I was struck by how down-to-earth and normal the people were. This wasn’t the Oxford I was told to expect.

That first afternoon set a theme of stereotype-breaking that would last for the entire week. Friends from home said it would be ridiculously expensive – but I didn’t have to spend a thing. I was told the lectures would be boring and stuffy – but they were fun and interesting and rewarding. I thought the end-of-week tutorial would be intense and frightening – but it was an enjoyable conversation about an essay I was genuinely proud of.

Each day had a morning lecture session with an academic discussing revolutions and anarchy. I was surprised initially by the approach we took: studying individuals and their microhistories, rather than the sweeping overviews afforded by A Levels and GCSEs. It was an enthralling approach that was supplemented by an afternoon reading and conducting our own research in the History Faculty Library. Working inside the Radcliffe Camera during UNIQ was a privilege I’ll never forget.   

But more than anything else, UNIQ sparked a lasting love for History. History in Oxford was not just being recited but shared with us by the tutors with passion and enthusiasm: a dynamism that stayed with me through the UCAS application process. I wanted to have that same experience again; to read in Oxford’s libraries and to be taught by Oxford’s tutors. The UNIQ experience became a motivation to apply, then work hard in my A Levels.

And that’s just the academic side of UNIQ. I got to tour more colleges, attend more workshops, and collect more free pens than I’d ever seen. There were talks on the admissions test, the Oxford interview, and the Oxford experience. Every spare second was an opportunity to ask questions to the amazing team of ambassadors. There was no better introduction to the unique Oxford system than being thrown into it.

UNIQ is genuinely a lifechanging experience. My whirlwind week in 2019 – running between different colleges, libraries and lectures – did more to evoke my passion for History than any A Level lesson. It’s a confidence boost. It’s an opportunity to sample University life and academic work. I would recommend it to anyone.

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