What to Expect From an Oxbridge or Russell Group University.


An Oxbridge or Russell Group University can be slightly different to others, so here’s a brief guide on what to expect, from degree length to customs and traditions.

Degree Length

Most Oxbridge and Russell Group bachelors’ degrees last three years. However Oxbridge undergraduate degrees leading to a Masters in the subject – for example, Computer Science (MCompSci), Engineering Science (MEng), Maths (MMath) and Physics (MPhys) last four years. Most Oxbridge Bachelor of Arts graduates are automatically conferred or promoted to the degree of Master of Arts (MA) as an academic rank, and not a qualification.

Academic Year

Each Oxford or Cambridge and some Russell group academic year is divided into three ‘intense’ terms, which are each eight weeks long:

  • Michaelmas term from October to December
  • Hilary (Oxford) or Lent (Cambridge) term from January to March
  • Trinity (Oxford) or Easter (Cambridge) term from April to June

In-between students have substantial vacation / holidays within which they will be studying from home.

However, some Russell Group universities’ academic year is divided into 2 semesters.

Collegiate System

Universities like Oxford and Cambridge (and a few other Russell Group universities such as Durham and York) operate a residential college system. Every Oxford or Cambridge student belongs to a college. There are 45 colleges at Oxford and 31 colleges at Cambridge.

Applicants usually choose a particular college to apply to and colleges ordinarily handle their own application processes. Each college is like a little ‘complex of historic and attractive buildings’ of student support services including accommodation, common rooms, cafes and bars, library services, computing facilities, health and finance services.

Oxbridge colleges are a closely-knit social hub and community of undergraduate and post-graduate students studying different degrees, who work as a team in a lot of social events and participate as a team in intercollegiate competitions and sporting events. Colleges also provide academic support to students through their tutors and academic supervisors.

Teaching and Learning

Teaching is delivered using a range of methods including

  • Lectures: Lectures act as a starting point for each topic and typically last around 50 minutes to an hour.
  • Problem Sheet/Example Sheet Assignment questions: sets of questions based on recent lectures.
  • Tutorials/Supervision: one-to-one or small-group sessions (1-3 students) providing the opportunity to explore the student’s subject more deeply, discuss their current essay or piece of work and ideas, and receive regular feedback from their tutor / academic supervisor. Debates with tutors take place too and will enhance intellectual confidence.
  • Labs/Practicals: laboratory classes focusing on practical elements of the course.
  • Classes and seminars: small/medium-sized group discussions led by an academic providing students with the opportunity to discuss topics in more detail.
  • Field trips, study visits, study abroad and language courses: several Oxbridge and Russell Group courses include opportunities to go on field trips, study visits, language courses or international exchange programmes.
  • Essays and Independent research: an opportunity for students to undertake their own research study (self-directed learning), explore theories and critically generate ideas. They will receive lots of reading lists and will be expected to write at least one essay a week, in most cases.
  • Work experience: a chance to explore the world of work in the student’s chosen career. This often could lead to the opportunity of a securing a job upon graduating.


Most Oxbridge courses are assessed by exams at the end of the first and last years.

  • First year examinations (Prelims / Moderations): these exams must be passed in order to progress to the second year.
  • Final year exams (Finals): must be passed to achieve the degree and determine the classification of the degree together with any practical work and/or dissertation.
  • Colleges may also set their own progress tests or mock exams or ‘collections’, at the start/end of each term to check that students are progressing satisfactorily through the course. These do not count towards the final degree class.
  • Most Russell group courses are assessed each year, with the second and third year results determining the final degree classification.

Customs and Traditions

Most Oxbridge colleges have their own traditions on all sorts of things, such as:

Dress codes for various events and seasons

  • ‘Formal dress’ dinners with tutors
  • ‘Fancy dress’ college balls
  • Sporting events such as the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race’
  • Matriculation – a celebration of formal admission wearing full fusc (gown and mortarboard).