That Oxford Girl

‘That Oxford Girl’, Tilly Rose, on access at Oxford and her new book

Tilly Rose provides a student perspective of Oxford University through her successful book, blog, and social media pages ‘That Oxford Girl’. She aims to provide a free resource which will encourage young people from a range of backgrounds to apply to the university, targeting problems with access that the university faces. She shares her own experience of her time studying English at Balliol to offer realistic insight into Oxford life; her blog has received over 400,000 views. Tilly also works closely with a network of student ambassadors and local businesses to not only encourage students to apply to Oxford but also to provide fun and interesting experiences of local Oxford businesses for those already at the university.

Could you tell us a bit about your own backstory?

I first visited Oxford on a day out with my family when I was ten years old. Whilst in the city, we stumbled across a sign outside Balliol College, inviting the public to look around. As I walked into the quad in Balliol, I was in awe of what I saw. It was at that very moment that I decided that I was going to Oxford University.

However, the following year I became seriously ill, and from that point onward I hardly went to school – I was regularly admitted to hospital with bouts of pneumonia and underwent major abdominal surgery. I was at a state school and told not to bother taking my GCSEs and definitely not to bother applying to university, let alone to Oxford. But with my health being so far beyond my control, studying became my unwavering focus. I taught myself, from hospital and home and, much to my school’s amazement, was later offered a place to read English Literature and Language at Jesus College.

What inspired you to start That Oxford Girl?

Whilst at Oxford, I found out I’d been living with 13 years of undiagnosed active tuberculosis and had to commence 18 months of life-saving chemotherapy treatment.

When I graduated, I was still on that treatment and wasn’t in a position to work full-time. I was conscious of the gap on my CV. So, I asked myself what am I good at? Writing. And what do I know about? Oxford University. I knew how much I would have benefited from an insight into the complex application process and student life when I was applying. Under these challenging circumstances, I had both earned a place and graduated from one of the top universities in the world: if I could do it, so could other young people with barriers to their education.

And so ‘That Oxford Girl’ was born; what started off as a little blog and Instagram, providing a student perspective of the application process and life at Oxford Uni, have now become a powerful free access resource, encouraging young people from all backgrounds to consider Oxford University as an option.

Since the launch the blog has had over 450,000 views and the Instagram has over 29,000 followers. I also set up a student ambassador scheme and now have over 70 current students writing regularly for the blog.

Whilst at Oxford, I found out I’d been living with 13 years of undiagnosed active tuberculosis and had to commence 18 months of life-saving chemotherapy treatment.

Tell us about your book… What was the writing process like and what has the response to it been like?

Whilst at Oxford, I remember going into the various book shops around the city. I noticed that whilst there were books detailing the factual, historical side of the University, there was nothing combining the application process and student life. I decided to write a fun and quirky first-hand account of Oxford University from a student perspective.

My book steers clear of the linear format seen in many of the factual books about Oxford. Instead, a refreshing, light-hearted tone is created. I break up the text with boxes detailing ‘Fun Facts’ and ‘Top Tips’ in an easy-to-read format. Each page is interspersed with photos and the little black and white cartoons I draw for the blog. It explores the hidden life behind the college walls, providing highly sought-after information as well as ‘My Story’.

I definitely never realised just how challenging the process of writing the book would be; the difficulty I faced was trying to write about a university which is made up of 38 colleges and 6 halls which all do things slightly differently!

I decided to write a fun and quirky first-hand account of Oxford University from a student perspective.

Very excitingly, the reception has been really positive; my book launch at Blackwell’s was attended by over 150 guests and both the eBook and hardback became No.1 bestsellers in four categories on Amazon!

How do you think the university could improve how accessible it is?

I think, particularly in recent years, positive steps have been made to make Oxford Uni more accessible, with schemes such as UNIQ and the recently launched UNIQ+. Yet, however much the University make it clear that they welcome applicants from all backgrounds, they are still viewed as the ‘official voice’.

What makes ‘That Oxford Girl’ unique is the fact that it is providing an independent, student perspective. It is more relatable and approachable to young people, as it is written by the very people who are experiencing Oxford right now.

I think through collaborating and supporting exterior access schemes the University could help to further open the doors.

Tell us about your collaborated with local businesses in Oxford, how do you think this has benefited both the businesses and Oxford students?

In September 2017, I launched the ‘That Oxford Girl’ student ambassador team and with it, set up a reward scheme with brands in the city. The way it works is brands may offer the volunteer ambassadors a complimentary meal, event or social as a reward for their contribution to the access resource. In return, I offer the brands coverage on the blog and Instagram. It’s a win, win! The brands are given exposure and are contributing to their CSR and the student ambassadors have enjoyed so many fun experiences and made new friends across the University.

Where do you see That Oxford Girl going in the future?

My plan for ‘That Oxford Girl’ is to keep developing the resource, growing the ambassador scheme and collaborating with more brands across the city.

I am currently looking into funding/sponsorship options to ensure I can maintain the resource in the future, to support more and more young people.

Image Source: Tilly Rose