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6 Ways to Choose Where to Study This Summer

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How do you choose a summer school when you have the whole world of destinations to choose from?

Even if you’re narrowing down your choice to the English-speaking world, that’s still a lot of different destinations that you could choose from. For most of us, when we’re choosing a summer school, the location is the first thing we’ll consider. After all, it’s much easier to narrow down a choice from the options when you’re searching for “Oxford summer school” or “Yale summer courses” rather than the 2.7 billion results that Google currently produces if you simply search for “summer school”.

But there are more aspects to choosing a location for your summer studies than you might realise. It’s not just a matter of figuring out what the least annoying journey would be or where the local food is likely to be tastier. In this article, we take a look at the different factors you should consider when deciding where to study this summer.

1. Think about where you’d like to study in future

Image shows Merton College in the sunshine.
If you’ve always dreamed of studying in Oxford, get a taste for it at a summer school.

The most obvious reason to choose a particular summer school is because you’d like to return to that location in future, whether for an undergraduate degree, as a postgraduate, or even potentially as a boarding school student. Living there for the duration of a summer school is a brilliant way to get an impression of the town or city you’re considering studying in, especially if the summer school is based in the school or university that you’re considering, so you can get a taster of the student lifestyle there as well. While you can visit a town or city under other circumstances, staying there for longer and studying there too will give you a much better idea of what studying there long-term might be like.

But it’s not just about getting a taste of student life in the location you’re considering. Summer schools are often staffed by current and former students of the universities that they’re based in;  Oxford Royale Academy recruits heavily from the student populations of our centres. That gives you an extra insight into studying there, because if you have any questions, you can find a current student, or a recent graduate, to give you the answer. You might be curious about the ethos of the university, how they deal with students who are struggling, what the courses, societies or extracurriculars are like, or even how they came to choose that university.

While you can ask this kind of question on an Open Day, in the context of a summer school, the students you ask will be there to support you, not to impress you as might be the case at an Open Day. Helpfully, you can also find out more about admissions processes from people who have experienced them recently; there’s nothing like an insider view to demystify the interview process, for instance, which can really help in dispelling your nerves. And on the subject of dispelling nerves, there’s nothing like living somewhere for a week or two to make you feel at home there, which is very useful if you want to feel confident when you go for interview or even when you arrive for Freshers’ Week.

2. … or consider where you might never visit otherwise

Image shows the beach by St Andrews on a sunny day.
Might this be the only time you’ll see the stunning St Andrews coastline?

A different, but equally valid approach to choosing a location for your summer school is to think about the places you might never visit otherwise. This could be a good option if, for instance, you’ve already decided which university you’re going to, and you’d like to spend the summer somewhere completely different; that particularly applies if you’re already at university or you’re going relatively soon.

Maybe you’ve always had your heart set on studying in a big city. If so, for the contrast, you might like to spend the summer somewhere like St Andrews, with its population of less than 17,000. It might be somewhere that you wouldn’t pick for a holiday, because you might not think there’d be enough to do – but if you’re there for a summer school, you can always be sure there will be plenty of activities and excursions to keep you occupied.

Or maybe it’s the opposite – perhaps you’re a country mouse set on studying somewhere where there’s no chance of getting lost and you’ll never be too far away from someone you know. You might like to try out what it’s like to join a London summer school and explore a big city in safe circumstances, rather than being there on your own for three or four years. Or it might even be that you’re certain you’d like to study in your home country, but you’d still like to get a taste of what it’s like to be a student in Yale when a summer school gives you the opportunity. Whatever the reason, a summer school can represent a week or two of complete escapism to try a setting that you might never encounter otherwise. And who knows, you might surprise yourself by falling in love with a location and a university that you never thought you would consider.

3. Find out what’s nearby

Image shows ORA students in London, with skyscrapers in the background.
London has some spectacular sights.

If your university choice isn’t a factor in your decision about where to go for a summer school, then maybe the excursions and activities available nearby will be more relevant to you. After all, the time you spend in the classroom isn’t likely to vary that much on the basis of the summer school you choose, but the excursions available definitely will do.

For instance, perhaps it’s an Oxford summer school that you’re considering. At Oxford Royale Academy’s Oxford summer school, we offer a wide variety of excursions from Oxford. That includes theatre trips in London (also easily accessible from Cambridge, while students at St Andrews can go to Edinburgh) for fans of musicals; visits to Blenheim Palace, the opulent former home of Winston Churchill; visits to wildlife parks, safaris and zoos like Drayton Manor (which also includes a theme park), Cotswold Wildlife Park and West Midlands Safari Park; and trips to see amazing historical sites like Roman Bath and Stonehenge. Consider where your interests lie in terms of history, culture and other activities. If you’re interested in Classical history then you probably don’t want to consider an American summer school, while if medieval architecture leaves you cold then the reverse may be true.

Considering what’s nearby doesn’t relate exclusively to excursions, either. For instance, this year in Oxford we’re launching a new course in Mastering Automotive Engineering. What makes this so exciting is that Oxford sits within an international hub of motorsport, dubbed Motorsport Valley®. That means that students in Oxford have access to facilities, resources and expertise that might not be available elsewhere in the country. Much the same is true for other courses that draw on particular locations, such as the Summer Architecture Programme, based in a choice of four locations that are all notable for their architecture in different ways, or Film Academy, which allows the use of the Harry Potter-esque surroundings of the city of Oxford.

4. Look at the courses you can take there

Image shows St Hugh's College, Oxford.
Some courses might only be available in one location.

This brings us neatly onto thinking about the courses you can take in a particular location. In the case of Oxford Royale Academy, some of our courses – such as Broadening Horizons and New Perspectives – are available in a wide variety of different locations, while others, such as SAT Preparation or Veterinary Science, are currently only available in one location. So it may be that you allow your course choice to dictate the location where you study, rather than the other way around.

This can be relevant in other ways as well. For instance, we’ve already discussed the advantages of taking a motorsport course in Oxford. If you’re taking an English language course, such as our course on General English for the Modern World and Workplace, you might want to consider the local accent and type of English when choosing the location of your course: for instance, do you want to learn British, American or perhaps even Australian English? Would you like to be surrounded by people speaking with a typical Oxford accent, or would you prefer to hear a greater variety of accents, as you might do somewhere like London? If you’re working towards the IELTS exam, which includes different accents in the listening section, it might be worth spending time in an area with accents that you aren’t used to – for instance, studying in Britain if you’ve previously been taught American English. The first languages of the other students on your course could also be relevant in this context; ideally, you’d want to be with people where the only language you have in common is English, to give you the opportunity to practise every time you’re speaking to your new friends.

And this doesn’t just apply to studying languages; if you’re looking at archaeology and anthropology, to take just one example, you might want to consider which museums are nearby and if their collections reflect the particular areas you’re interested in – and make sure that the course you’re choosing offers you the opportunity to explore them.  

5. Think about where you might like to live or work in future

Image shows a typical Cambridge scene.
Cambridge is a fantastic place to live if you’re interested in tech or medical research.

It might seem like a long way away now, but the towns and cities you visit during your time at a summer school could also become the places that you’ll find yourself settling down in future for your career. You might know that you’re not going to study in a particular city but it could be an option for somewhere you might choose to live in the long run. That’s particularly worth considering if your intended career is one that only exists in a handful of places.

For instance, if you’re considering working in the media, then you’re likely to end up in a major city such as London. Oxford is known for its publishing, while Cambridge is a centre for science and technology, dubbed Silicon Fen. The same applies across many different other possible careers and locations; even studying somewhere as small as St Andrews could give you an impression of what it’s like to live and work in Scotland, which could be useful if you plan on working in engineering for an oil company. You could also spin the question around and think about it from the opposite perspective: can you narrow down your list by ruling out places where you definitely couldn’t do your intended future career?  

6. Choose which summer school you’d like to attend

Image shows Phelps Hall at Yale.
Sometimes the location is your first priority, but there are other factors too.

While it definitely makes sense to choose a location before choosing a summer school, you don’t have to do it that way around. If you choose the summer school first, that might make the choice for you: among premium summer schools such as Oxford Royale Academy, it’s typically for companies to have just one or two centres. Oxford Royale Academy is relatively unusual in that we have more, spanning Oxford, Cambridge, London, St Andrews and Yale. Within that, not all courses are available at all centres, so that can help you to narrow down your choice still further by choosing the course you’re most interested in first.

There are also plenty of reasons to choose a particular summer school other than the location in which it’s based. You might be impressed by some outstanding testimonials – either provided by the summer school itself, or by word of mouth from friends, family, or even your secondary school. Or it could be that they have a course selection that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Maybe their teaching philosophy holds a particular appeal for you.

Or maybe there’s something special about the summer school you’re most interested in; for instance, at Oxford Royale Academy, we’re particularly proud of the number of different student nationalities represented on our courses; students of 135 different nationalities attended our courses last year and that number seems set to grow in future. That means there’s an incredible diversity of experiences and perspectives to enrich the classroom experience – no matter which location you choose.

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