For those unfamiliar, The Opportunity Oxford programme (Opp Ox) is a programme, conditional to some students offers at Oxford, that helps to prepare offer-holders from disadvantaged backgrounds to feel more comfortable about their transition to higher education. The programme consists of a distant-learning component and a two-week residential in Oxford in early September.
Launched in 2020, I was a part of the second cohort of Opp Ox students in 2021. I will admit, when I received my offer and place on the programme I was apprehensive; after dealing with UCAS applications, the HAT (I study Ancient and Modern History), and the pressure of interviews, I felt as though I had been presented another challenge to prove my worth. Looking back, I don’t consider it to have been a challenge, indeed my time on Opp Ox was an important aspect of my beginnings in Oxford.
After an online welcome day in February, the Opp Ox programme begins in July, starting with the online course.
You’re not expected, as I first assumed, to lock yourself away over the summer to complete this course. It is flexibly designed, allowing participants time to engage in other activities over the summer. I never felt as though I was overwhelmed with work; I could easily spread the tasks across the summer, completing them when I had the time to do so. I also had consistent feedback and support that were readily available during the online course.
The course exposed me to skills I had not necessarily been taught at school, such as how to approach a reading list or the best way to take notes, an essential skill for my degree. As a humanities student, the academic tasks ranged from summarising articles to writing a short essay; it helped me get back into the swing of work after much-needed relaxation post A-levels.
One thing I did not really enjoy was that while the skills you practice are essential, there were some aspects that did not feel very ‘history focused’, since the course accommodates several subjects under the banner of ‘humanities. The course did, however, reaffirm my motivation and decision to study at Oxford, and I saw the programme as preparation for the real thing.
After what felt like virtual communication overload, I got to be in Oxford in person. For me personally, the residential was the most enjoyable part of the programme.
For two weeks I stayed in Trinity College, though many are used for the programme, and you have the chance to attend formal dinners at some other colleges too (like Keble, or Magdalen). Food and accommodation are provided free of charge, and you receive a sum of money to cover the cost of your lunches during your two-week stay, which gave me the chance to try out various food places in the city (Najar’s being a personal favourite).
Over the course of two weeks, I attended some lectures, seminars/study groups, and partook in a mock tutorial. These sessions were useful as they improved my familiarity with new formats of teaching, such as the tutorial system, and grew my confidence in group discussions. I would be mindful, however, that not every tutor has the same style of teaching, so the mock tutorial was not a representation of any tutorial I have gone on to experience.
The workload was manageable during the residential, and like the online course, support was readily available for any issues that may have arisen. Not only this, but a temporary bod card (registered before your official university card) gave me access to the university’s libraries during the residential. This meant I could experience Oxford’s most famous, and typically the busiest, libraries outside of term time, before students can rush for the best seats in the Rad Cam.
In terms of subjects or topics that we looked at, there was a quite restrictive selection for us to choose from, since humanities are streamed into one group (as was the case in the distant learning component). There were some interesting discussions however, for example, a class exploring the history of food demonstrated to me that there were unique ways to think about the subject and its significance.
The best thing about the residential was meeting other Opp Ox students. Meeting people from across the country, in a similar position as myself, was an exciting start to my student life at university. Knowing I had friends I could relate to in various ways made me feel much more confident about returning to Oxford in two weeks, when first year would officially begin.
Our Opp Ox ambassadors arranged social events for us during the residential, but we also had plenty of free time that we used to enjoy Oxford, in the day and the evening, exploring the city in a way that you cannot always do during term time.
Is it beneficial?
Short answer: yes. Reflecting on my time at Oxford, as an ageing third year, I have fond memories of Opp Ox. Getting to familiarise myself with Oxford, the city, the university, and its traditions, made me feel much more comfortable about the real move in the upcoming weeks. Not only this, but meeting people from similar backgrounds was also very comforting; having friends at the beginning of term or seeing friendly faces in the street made Oxford feel less of a daunting place.
Room to improve?
One thing I think could improve the programme is a system of support for Opp Ox ‘alumni’. The transition from Opp Ox to the reality of student life is somewhat disjointed. Though I understand that Opportunity Oxford is designed as a bridging programme, it feels as though there is not a relationship retained between the programme and Opp Ox students, which could be something of benefit for many during their time at Oxford and could also forge a wider sense of community between Opp Ox students themselves.
There are, however, many ways to meet people from a similar background other than Opp Ox; regional and cultural societies, as well as Oxford’s state school society, the 93% club, offer such opportunities during your time at university.
For more information about the programme and any updates, there is a useful page on the university’s website linked here 🔗: