Growing up, studying at Oxford was never something I even considered, let alone aspired to. You hear so much about its prestige that I didn’t really see it as a place that actual people went to and that it was populated entirely by NASA interns who spoke 12 languages and played the oboe in their sleep. Honestly, me going to Oxford just didn’t seem realistic. But then I had a meeting with a college teacher to discuss university choices, and one of the names he suggested was Oxford. He seemed to know a lot about things, so if he thought I could get in, I thought why not? I was then lucky enough to take part in a residential outreach visit alongside my friends at school and was given the opportunity to talk to current Oxford students. This, more than anything, showed me that Oxford students are actually real people (shock horror I know) and that I could be one of them. So, I applied, was offered a place, and while my time was not always easy, I can safely say that my three years at Oxford were three of the best of my life.
This experience, and I’m not exaggerating here, is completely due to the incredible outreach activities run by the University and its various colleges. I fell in love with the city as a student, and so decided I wanted to stay as a graduate. Why not apply for a role in outreach then? Fast forward to now, where I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be given the position of Outreach and School Liaison Coordinator at Brasenose college. Outreach is such an important role for me personally and for so many like me – people who may think that Oxford isn’t for them or that they lack the ability to get in because they weren’t lead pianist in the national orchestra at age 7 and didn’t land their hamster Speedy on the moon during their school science fair. Brasenose has an incredible history with outreach, and in the short time I’ve been here (three days at the time of writing, probably three weeks at the time of publishing) I’ve already been blown away by how enthusiastic the students here are about getting involved. Hopefully, this means I’ll have an incredibly easy job moving forwards.
Having carried out my studies at St Catherine’s College, a very young college built in the 60s, working in one of the more classic Oxford colleges is a big change of pace. Brasenose has very few concrete slabs, and those it does have are hidden away at the back of the college, so the architecture is already markedly disparate. One thing that is the same across both colleges, however, is the incredibly positive environment. At Catz, everyone knows each other and is always ready to say hello or offer a best-of-27 pool tournament. I was very relived to see that this is also the case at Brasenose. According to student surveys that I’m not entirely convinced are run anymore, Brasenose has been the friendliest college since 2013, and I can see already this reputation is well earned. Needless to say, I’m going to have a tough time deciding who to support next time there’s a Catz vs Brasenose cuppers final. Probably whoever is winning.
The whole point of outreach is to ensure that any deserving student, regardless of background, has the confidence and help needed to move into higher education, whether that be at Oxford or any other university, while breaking down the stereotypes and myths that may deter students from applying to Oxford in the first place. Obviously then, it’s a role that has the capacity to do a great deal of good in the world, and its one that I’m incredibly excited to be starting in. Here’s to hoping that I can carry on the strong tradition of outreach here at Brasenose.
And maybe manage to sneak off with the door knocker when no one’s looking.
Ben Holden, Outreach and School Liaison Coordinator