With 26 British prime ministers, 58 Nobel laureates, over 150 Olympic medals and a list of “notable alumni” that reads like a historic hall of fame, the institutions of Oxford and Cambridge – collectively known as the name Oxbridge – are considered by many to be the ultimate alma mater.
However, as admissions season draws closer and the dreaded October 15 deadline for Oxbridge draws closer and closer, many students may wonder what makes the UK’s top two institutions so special. Why does Oxbridge symbolize the academic dream for so many? Do universities deserve the esteemed reputation they have in the minds of so many teens, parents and academics?
There is no doubt that Oxford and Cambridge have a long academic history and can boast of their achievements such as the education of Charles Babbage, who created the computer, and Issac Newton. Yet what is often overlooked is the solid reputation of countless other universities in the UK.
A single click on Google can tell students that the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, for example, has more than 18 Nobel laureates and 50 world leaders. University College London attracts students from 150 countries and maintains exchange and research links with nearly 300 universities abroad. The University of Manchester has the largest student union of any UK university and has alumni such as Niels Bohr and James Chadwick.
I suddenly realized the Oxbridge effect when I was in London with friends. I met new people and was surprised at their reaction when I told them I was going to study at Cambridge. One person even knelt down and kissed my hand.
From then on I told people I was going to take a gap year. Although I know Oxbridge offers a good education, I didn’t expect to have such an extreme reaction. This is what made me start to feel uncomfortable about the way Oxbridge is viewed.
Why is Oxbridge creating a sense of hysteria and hype among students? The answer, I think, lies in the fact that we are told over and over again that Oxford and Cambridge are the best. Perhaps we hear so much glorification of the institutions that we no longer question their position at the top.
The Cambridge Tab, the university’s student newspaper, argued that what makes Cambridge special is the fact that students are told they are unique and above others, so they believe it. Ron Weasley never took the felix felicis potion that Harry Potter claimed to give him – all he had to do to win the Quidditch match was believe he was grown up.
Oxbridge’s fanaticism may be due to the fact that a lot of people think they are the best. For over 800 years Oxbridge has touted itself as the pinnacle of academia, the holy grail of education and for centuries people have believed it.
For students applying now, yes you will receive a world class education at Oxbridge but you will find the same at many other universities across the country. Whenever you hear about the Oxbridge Shine, consider that it isn’t necessarily because many believe it.
So if you’re now in sixth grade and wondering where to go, pretend there’s some liquid luck in your cereal and go in search of your own holy grail of education.