An introduction to life at UCL: in London, history, academia and more
UCL, otherwise known as University College London, was founded in 1826 as a secular institution to accept students regardless of class, race, religion and gender. Traditionally, prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge accepted students based on wealth and religion.
The founders, particularly Henry Brougham and James Mill, were strongly inspired by the Utilitarian ideas of philosopher and jurist, Jeremy Bentham. Although Jeremy Bentham was not directly involved in its establishment, he is widely regarded as the “spiritual father” of UCL due to the influence of his reformist ideas.
In his will, Bentham asked for his body to be dissected, and then preserved as an “auto-icon” for public display. This display can be found in the Main Wilkins Building at UCL, and to this day, creates much fascination. It can also be viewed virtually here.
London’s “global” university
UCL’s status of having a global outlook definitely lives up to its claim. With approximately 41% of the student community being international, there are many opportunities to work with people from many countries. From establishing a campus in Qatar as well as the prospective development of an Olympic Park Campus, the lists of opportunities are endless. UCL’s annual “Global Citizenship Scheme”, a summer school designed to equip students with entrepreneurial thinking, global outlooks, team building and problem solving have proved a success in providing a foundation for UCL students as active global citizens. From role-playing development projects in Dar es Salaam to understanding the urbanisation of East London, there are projects to take part in for everyone. Not surprisingly, many universities look to UCL for inspiration when developing programmes that exhibit these values.
UCL’s campus is located in the historic heart of London in Bloomsbury, around Gower Street. Much of UCL’s departments are based here; such as the Medical School, Engineering, Geography, History, Chemistry and Mathematics Departments, as well as many others. The Bloomsbury campus is a short walking distance from many notable institutions such as the British Library, the British Museum, the British Medical Association, RADA and London Business School. University of London’s Birkbeck, SOAS, LSE and Kings are only a few moments away. Its proximity to both London Euston Station and Kings Cross St Pancras means other cities in the UK and Europe are accessible.
Student life: Non-academic
Social life: With over 30,000 students, UCL has an extremely vibrant social life and hosts the largest number of international students in the UK. Founded in 1893, UCL Union is one of the oldest students’ unions in England. The diversity of students is reflected in the 230+ clubs and societies available; from the Baltic Society to the Bhangra Society, Harry Potter Society to the Horse Riding Society; there is definitely something to fit everyone’s interests. Societies are a great source of cultural enrichment, entertainment, socialising and gaining professional experience.
Entertainment: The Bloomsbury Theatre, owned by UCL, is a quality West End theatre with bargain tickets. Typical West End theatres in Leicester Square can be rather expensive, and so The Bloomsbury Theatre is a great on-campus alternative. From Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to stand-up comedy by the likes of Omid Djalili; there is a lot on offer.
Another (more obvious) form of entertainment is just BEING in London. This bustling metropolis attracts people from all over the world for its rich cultural heritage and things to do. From free museums in South Kensington to beautiful parks, historical attractions to mega sporting events; London has a lot on offer for just about anyone. There are always new people to meet and new things to experience!
Clubbing: UCLU have 4 café’s and 3 bars on campus with great student deals throughout the year, however exclusive club events at premium London venues such as Ministry of Sound and Koko prove extremely popular. Whether on or off campus, Christmas & Easter balls organised by societies are also premium events that sell out fast at 5-star hotels such as the Dorchester. The UCL Summer Ball held in the UCL Quad (in the Bloomsbury Campus) is also a great post-exam event.
Networking: Being surrounded by numerous other universities such as LSE, Kings and Imperial provides plentiful opportunities. Building large networks with other students enables collaboration, friendships, and can act as an aid in the future. With Cambridge and Oxford University students regularly engaging with London universities, the opportunities to engage with like-minded people are endless. There is no other city in the UK which enables such a teeming network of students.
Student life: Academic
Career opportunities: Living in London and studying at a powerhouse such as UCL means career opportunities are endless. There are lots of networking events hosted throughout the year by various societies, as well as multiple careers fairs for recruiters to visit campus. Aside from the standard careers fairs, brand ambassadors make regular trips to the UCL Campus to actively reach out to students and potential employees. UCL Careers organise sector themed ‘weeks’ such as Government and Policy Week, Media Week and Museums and Cultural Heritage Week (as well as a host of others). Typical events can include one-to-one CV sessions and coaching with industry professionals, as well as wider networking. The Banking & Finance and Consulting Fairs prove to be particularly popular amongst UCL students.
Aside from the keen recruiters, UCL Careers have well-equipped Consultants and Application Advisers to give CV guidance, practice interviews, and can give important advice for your future after graduation.
Multi-disciplinary approach: As UCL is an incredibly large university, teaching style’s vary from department to department. From individual experience, social science based courses are, as expected, taught with fewer contact hours and more reading time. Tutorial sessions are common and students are encouraged to engage in discussion and take a collaborative approach in their learning. This is largely shaped by the ‘global’ and ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach undertaken by the University.
Furthermore, tutors are assigned to small groups of students to mentor them throughout their time at UCL. This can range from personal, academic and professional mentoring and general advice.
For first years, UCL offers accommodation ranging from Halls of Residence (catered, close to Bloomsbury campus) to Student Houses (self catered, a shorter distance away e.g. in Camden or Kings Cross) to Intercollegiate Halls (available to all students in London). There is a lot on offer to suit everyone’s preference, such as en-suite rooms or catered.
After first year, students tend to rent flats in groups, as rent in London is not cheap! Most students relocate to nearby locations such as Camden and Kings Cross. Private accommodation providers are also widely available and come with their own amenities. Popular choices include UNITE (St Pancras Way) and Nido.
Rivalry with Kings: Traditionally, UCL has always had a strong, albeit friendly, rivalry with Kings College London; running over two centuries. The London Varsity Series is an annual sporting event where KCL’s sports teams (hockey, tennis, rugby, netball etc) take on UCL’s teams. Scores are often very close, making for tense and nail-biting matches!
Did you know?
UCL has been a popular location for many film directors due to its beautiful architecture. The scenes depicting the British Museum in the The Mummy 2 (2001) were, in fact, shot in UCL’s Quad, whilst the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre was used as a backdrop in the hit film Inception (2010).