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A guide to Oxford’s traditions

This is a quick guide to some of the events and evenings that will constitute a vital part of your Oxford experience. These traditions will form many of your fondest memories of your time at Oxford, hopefully making up for the late nights in the library that inevitably outnumber them (though actually, in a strange way vaguely reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome, those late nights also seem to morph into something suspiciously similar to fond memories) . 


The first big event, which marks the official beginning to your degree. You’ll get dressed up in sub fusc, queue up outside the historic Sheldonian Theatre, stand (the unlucky ones) or sit (the lucky ones) in the Sheldonian, listen to some Latin, and leave. I’ll admit it is not my personal favourite of the Oxford traditions, as that is about all there is to say about the event itself. If I could, I would enlighten you as to what the Latin actually means, but since that remains a mystery to me, I am afraid I am none the wiser. This is the kind of thing that gives Oxford the reputation it has and sets it apart, for better or for worse (or just as different), from other universities, according to many people. 

Afterwards, many students like to go out for a meal to celebrate. Don’t let it be said that I’m giving people ideas, but – apparently – on occasion alcohol accompanies these meals. That’s a personal choice though, of course.


Whilst matriculation is essentially the same for everyone, formals vary considerably college to college, making my job somewhat harder. 

Formals are essentially the fancy meals where everyone dresses up, or puts their gowns on, and has some nice food served to them. Depending on your college, these can be compulsory events or highly sought-after, held daily or weekly, with strict or loose dress codes.

Ultimately, it all depends on your college. 


Once again, your college massively influences how these events are held.

To give you a brief summary, bops (suspected but not confirmed to stand for Big Organised Party) are college parties almost exclusively attended by members of the relevant college(s). Bops are similar to normal night-outs but pretty much everyone there is from your college. What makes it a little more interesting is that there is usually a theme to dress towards. Again, depending on your college, they may be held at a club/bar or in college, lead on to a club night or replace a club night.

Some people love them, some people hate them – you’ll just have to find out how you feel about them yourselves!


The clue is – kind of – in the name. Two sports teams getting together and going for a curry would be the accurate but reductive and misleading definition. Vitally, copious volumes of alcohol are drunk (usually at least a bottle of wine per person, but obviously this depends on the person, with many non-drinkers also participating), often as a result of the various drinking games that are played. Generally, the teams will then go on to a nightclub.

As a general rule, crewdates are probably more inclusive and less wild than their reputation, though there is the occasional outlier which lives up to the stereotype. If you’re worried about what might happen, it’s probably best to go with a team you feel entirely comfortable in, but equally it can also be a great way to bond with a team you’ve only recently joined. 


To get the picture: tickets are generally over £100 and somehow people usually don’t regret buying them.

This will involve food, drinks, dancing, live music, rides, entertainment, and lots of people. Balls don’t happen often, with most being held towards the end of the academic year, but they are very good fun and are something to get excited about if you decide to attend. Whether or not they are worth the price is another question, but they are certainly very enjoyable.

Much like previous entries, these can vary considerably depending on the relevant society/college/association hosting them. Prices, dress codes, entertainment, facilities, amenities, and venue can all differ considerably. 

To conclude: throw yourself into it and in a year you’ll all be able to write this article as badly as I have. 

Image credit: The Illustrated London News/CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia commons.

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