logo
Contact usCareers
logo
Apply

6 Unusual University of Oxford Traditions

As one of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Oxford has developed some rather unique traditions over its 800-year+ history.

From wearing white tie with carnations pinned to your lapels for exams, to celebrating the end of Finals with a good old 'trashing,' there are some unusual rituals which have stood the test of time.

We'll take you through some of the University of Oxford's most unusual traditions, giving you insight into student life at this historic institution.

Wearing White Tie to Exams

Oxford finals (exams) must be sat in a mixture of garments, similar to white tie dress. The outfit, which is properly coined ‘sub fusc’ is comprised of a short black ‘commoner’s’ gown, which has streamers over the arms instead of full sleeves. 

The outfit also includes a white shirt or blouse, black trousers or skirt, and then either a white or black bow-tie, a black full-length tie or a black ribbon tied into a bow. 

Although there were traditional gendered rules surrounding the outfits, the university lifted these in 2012 after a student vote meaning that girls could wear bow ties and trousers if they wished.

Another important aspect to the outfit is the mortarboard. Students must carry (and never put on) a mortarboard into every exam. Placing it on your head before you have passed your degree is frowned upon. 

Colour-Coded Carnations

A slightly less obligatory tradition for exam season is the wearing of carnations which are pinned to a student’s gown. These follow a strict colour code, and change depending on the stage of your degree. 

For your first exam, you are expected to wear a white carnation; in your interim exams, you will wear pink, followed by a bright red carnation in your final exam to signify your freedom from your study. 

If you’re local to Oxford, you may have seen the quaint flower stall which resides in the famous Covered Market. The carnations are usually bought here by a student’s ‘college parents’ (older students) as a good luck charm for their college ‘children.’

bunches-of-carnations.png

College Families

College families are a huge part of Oxford life. You are acquainted with them (well, your parents) before you arrive at the university, and they will become a supportive network for academic and welfare support. 

Your college parents are chosen on the basis that they should be able to help you flourish during your time at the university. One of them will study the same subject as you, meaning they can provide great academic help, while the other will be on-hand to offer truthful answers to the questions you may not want to ask your tutors, as well as help you adjust to the busy Oxford workload. They’ll most likely take you for a meal early in Freshers’ Week so you can get to know them, and this will form the basis of a reliable and supportive network.

During your time at the university, you will almost certainly ‘get married’ - in a completely platonic and friendly way. Colleges advise against marrying early on in your course in case your friendship doesn’t last, and they also suggest that you don’t marry someone who does the same subject as you, as it limits the range of children you could be assigned.

Trashing

At the end of their exams, University of Oxford students take part in a popular tradition known as ‘trashing.’ A marker to signify the end of exam season, those who have just finished their exams will have glitter, prosecco, custard, foam and many other messy delights thrown at them as a way of celebration. 

A rather messy tradition, some students like to complete it by subsequently jumping into the river (although this is banned). 

Bodleian Library - 'Trashed' students.jpg

May Bumps

Taking place in the springtime, the May Bumps is an unusual four day rowing race between the various colleges around Oxford. 

The idea of the race is that one boat is given a slight lead to start with, and the other team has to try and bump it - a bit like dodgems. If they are bumped, the team must pull back slightly before resuming the chase. The idea is still to be the first to pass the finish line, though just through a fun and slightly messy race. 

Oxford Time

Before Britain had a widespread railway line, most towns and cities operated in their own time zone. Oxford, in particular, always operated five minutes ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time. To signify this time difference, Tom Tower would sound 101 times every evening a t five minutes past nine - to signal a curfew to students to go back to their colleges. 

There is still a nod to this time difference, with Oxford lectures beginning at five past the hour, which is great for students who struggle with punctuality!

radcliffe camera.jpg

Discover an authentic Oxford student experience

Always wanted to study in Oxford? Now's your chance.

Join us for a 2-week summer courses here in the city for your chance to live the student way. You'll be taught by expert academic tutors in the same historic buildings that have inspired generations before. We'll curate an exciting socio-cultural timetable that mirrors the same activities that students enjoy throughout the year. It's a truly immersive learning experience, served up by Oxford insiders.

Browse the courses we have available for this summer.

Share this article

Summary

Learn about 6 of the most unusual traditions that the University of Oxford still adopts today!

Get Our Newsletter

We deliver helpful tips, tutorials and thought-provoking articles to inform and inspire your professional development.

Our privacy policy states Oxford Summer Courses will use this information to contact you.

Oxford Summer Courses Limited

18 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2NA, United Kingdom

+44 01865 818403

Summer courses for 9-12 year olds
FAQs
Apply Now

Oxford Summer Courses is an organisation which contracts with the colleges of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London for the use of facilities, but which has no formal connection with the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Oxford Summer Courses © 2022
Oxford Summer Courses is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 08011543