Cinema and Life: How to Actually Study at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard

World-famous universities Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have repeatedly become the scene of action of many famous films. The ancient walls of educational institutions were not just decorations. Student life on campuses, classes with teachers, sports traditions – all this was transferred to the screen and became an integral part of the plots.

A lot has been written about how to enter universities, whether it is necessary to pass the GMAT, IELTS and TOEFL exams. Let’s see how directors saw these historical educational institutions before and how the educational process is built today. I think it will be interesting.

Universities in film


The University of Oxford has been on the big screen more than 30 times, and has also been the scene of action in 15 television series.

The biographical drama Tolkien about the creator of The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings shows the philological faculty of Pembroke College, Oxford University. It was here that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien invented the languages of the peoples of Middle-earth and was inspired by stories of little hobbits, evil orcs and immortal dragons.

Specifically, Oxford in this film includes scenes on the student campus, where Tolkien and his friends create the “Tea Club and the Barrovian Society” – the prototype of the Fellowship of the Ring. Students study literary works from the extensive library of the college, read the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic in the original.

In an episode of a lecture scene by Professor of Philology Joseph Wright, we are shown an old lecture hall with wooden pulpits, which is occupied by students in traditional robes. It seems that you yourself are present at the classes, plunging into the atmosphere of that time.

Well, where without the sporting traditions of Oxford?! In one of the scenes of the film, the authors gave us the opportunity to attend fencing competitions.

Another topic that is relevant, by the way, and today is the topic of Oxford student scholarships. Prestigious training at this university has always been expensive. Therefore, Tolkien, as a descendant of a modest family of a parish priest, is desperately trying to get a scholarship in philology.

The zeitgeist in Oxford is also felt in the film Shadowlands. The main character is the author of books about Narnia Clive Staples Lewis played by Anthony Hopkins, a professor at Magdalena College, Oxford University. One of the first scenes in the film is dinner in the college cafeteria. We see how strictly the etiquette adopted in Oxford is observed: you can only be at the table in a student robe.

The modern image of Oxford will be found in the detective thriller The Oxford Murders. The film begins with a lecture by Professor Arthur Seldom on the logical and philosophical aspects of mathematics. Before our eyes is an impressive lecture hall with several hundred people – students and teachers. Traditional robes no longer exist, but it is impossible not to feel the majestic atmosphere of the educational institution.

Cambridge in film

In the historical drama Chariots of Fire, we can get acquainted with the sports life of Cambridge. At the legendary Trinity Great Court – the main courtyard of Trinity College in Cambridge – the protagonist of the film Harold Abrahams takes part in the annual traditional running competition The Great Court Run. The goal of the competition is to run almost 340 meters around the courtyard, while the chimes on the tower beat 12 blows.

Cambridge’s student life is well illustrated in the biographical film The Theory of Everything about the world-famous scientist Stephen Hawking. One of the main popularizers of modern science was a student, and then a teacher of the Faculty of Astrophysics.

In the film, we see students spending time in dormitories, having fun in local pubs and preparing for classes in the library. One of the key scenes is Hawking’s defense of his dissertation on black holes in front of the examination board.

Cambridge without sport is not Cambridge. The authors of the film are well aware of this, and therefore the main character takes part in traditional boat races and plays croquet in the courtyard of the university. How could it be otherwise?

Harvard in film

About how studying at Harvard becomes a reality even for people from the bottom, tells the film Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story. The main character was born in a dysfunctional family, does not have her own housing, but courageously overcomes difficulties.

During an interview before the admissions committee, Liz Murray defends the essay and convincingly proves the right to fulfill the “American dream”. The girl was not only able to enter the Faculty of Psychology, but also received a prestigious scholarship from The New York Times for needy students.

In the film Legally Blonde, we see how the main character is preparing to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) – a standardized test for admission to US law schools. Elle Woods receives a score of 179 out of 180, giving her the opportunity to apply to Harvard Law School.

Universities on this side of the screen

Well, what can I say after watching movies? Only that the traditions of the oldest educational institutions live on today. And the buildings have been preserved, and the auditoriums in which students once studied, and the sport continues to live, and even very actively. And of course, to enroll Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, you have to try very hard. You will definitely need to pass tests for IELTS and TOEFL, and not just pass, but show the result necessary for admission.

There are, of course, discrepancies. Especially if the domestic side of life is highlighted. So, the cinematic display of student life in the dormitories of Oxford and Cambridge is very close to reality, and in Harvard the situation is much more modest than on the screen. In the same Legally Blonde, the dorm room is more like a room of a good 4-star hotel with all the amenities. In fact, Harvard dormitories are usually rooms for 4-5 people with a shared bathroom and the simplest furniture. Refrigerator, TV, microwave, air conditioning – all these household appliances students purchase at their own expense.

But let’s take a closer look at what universities represent today and how the learning process is built here.


Oxford students can be sure that they will be trained by leading experts in their field. The methods are familiar: lectures, seminars, extracurricular activities and laboratory work. In addition, Oxford provides so-called tutorials – high-intensity discussion sessions for 3-4 students together with the teacher.

Oxford is known for the academic intensity of its schedule. In addition to hundreds of hours of lectures, there are one or two essays for humanities students for 2,000 words a week – each essay is discussed one-on-one with the teacher.

At the beginning of each semester, students pass the Collection – test tasks for knowledge of the material covered. But the most severe test awaits students at the end of the year in exams, which in total take about 21 hours for 10 days.

Being a student at Oxford means coping with a mountain of academic work. But there are also a huge number of student communities that you can join. Studying at Oxford is so intense that students are strongly discouraged from working even part-time during the semester.


There are 5 types of classes in Cambridge colleges:

  • Lectures are classes numbering from ten to several hundred people. Lectures are richly informative, but do not differ in interactivity.
  • Seminars – more interactive classes, such as language and art workshops.
  • Practical exercises – in laboratories or in the open air.
  • Excursions are special off-site classes on a specific topic both in the UK and abroad.
  • Supervision is an analogue of discussion classes in Oxford. Students study in small groups of 2-3 people together with the supervisor one or two hours a week.

In Cambridge, independent educational work is very encouraged – the student independently chooses the method of preparation and his schedule. For example, it can be additional hours in the laboratory or library with the study of a selected topic.

The study spaces are numerous and include departmental buildings and libraries, the main university library, and shared or private study rooms. There are a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities – 959 student communities are now operating on the territory of the university.

One of the highlights for Cambridge students is the annual Week of May after the exams. For 7 days, each college from 19:00 to 5:00 hosts its own Black Tie Ball with concerts, fairs, feasts and fireworks.


Almost every applicant enters Harvard with an outstanding academic record. Therefore, excellent grades and excellent results of standardized tests are not enough to surprise the admissions staff.

Harvard values students who:

  • participate in public life;
  • demonstrate leadership skills;
  • are engaged in volunteer and charitable activities.

Academic activities at Harvard include assignments for reading educational literature, working on documents and sets of tasks, meetings with teachers and consultants, meetings of study groups, as well as time for language learning in the language lab or in the library.

Often classes at Harvard are conducted by teachers who themselves are the heads of various commercial companies. High academic performance is a chance to become an intern in a reputable company with subsequent employment and high wages.

Non-academic activities are daily training or classes with a sports team, rehearsals of a musical or dramatic performance, attending a public lecture or seminar. Volunteers are also encouraged at Harvard.

In general, the image of the top three universities in the cinema is very close to the real situation in educational institutions. Ancient traditions, the atmosphere of high academic culture, the undeniable prestige of universities, studying in which is an honorable achievement in life – all this is really present on this side of the screen.

If you are ready to become part of the illustrious student fraternity, do not miss the opportunity to carefully prepare for the entrance exams. To get a high score on language tests for admission to the best universities in the world you will be helped by qualified teachers on MBA Consult courses.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x