Overseas university spotlight: University of Bristol (UK)
If I'm playing the word association game and asked for one word to describe the city of Bristol, the first thing that comes to mind is: cool.
But I'm not the only one; in 2017, the Rough Guides named Bristol as the UK's coolest city for its nightlife, creative and tech industries and its proximity to the great outdoors:
'Think London, but smaller and (dare we say it) cooler – or at least more committed to its offbeat counterculture, and with an enormous gorge cutting an improbable chunk through part of the city.'
The cultural hub of the southwest, Bristol is also home to one of the UK's leading Russell Group institutions, the University of Bristol.
Here are some of the highlights from my visit in June 2023!
The city of Bristol
Given the choice, there's no doubt in my mind where I'd move in the UK; in my three days there, Bristol easily became one of my favorite UK cities.
Just 90 minutes on the train from London and a population of about 460,000, Bristol is much more affordable, manageable and liveable than the capital city (in my opinion).
And on top of that, it's super lively!
If you're into the arts, you'll definitely want to check out the Bristol Old Vic, which is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world.
And to my surprise, shows weren't that expensive!
Bristol is also a UNESCO City of Film and a fantastic place to admire street art, as it's where graffiti artist Banksy hails from.
Banksy isn't the only one to work in Bristol though.
The amount of green space in Bristol is also impressive, with more than 400 parks.
There's plenty of history, too; the oldest pub in Bristol dates back to 1606.
In Queen Square, you'll even find the first American embassy in Britain, dating back to 1792.
Also note: it can get a bit hilly in some places!
Perhaps my favorite thing about Bristol, besides its coolness, is the plentitude of scenic walks and hip coffee shops.
Just follow along the River Avon, and there are so many places to stop for a bite or drink, many of which are actually on the water itself!
My favorite coffee shop was Society, located in a gorgeous stone building also right by the river.
And not that you'd ever want to leave, but if you did, Bristol is only 45 minutes on the train from Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, and 15 minutes from the World Heritage city of Bath.
University of Bristol
The University was founded in 1876 as University College, and at the time, it was the first higher education institution in England to admit women on an equal basis to men.
Nowadays, it is made up of about 30,000 students and in the 2024 QS World University Rankings, placed #55 in the world.
(For reference, similarly ranked U.S. universities include Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon and Duke.)
It's also a top 10 UK university with 30 subjects also ranking in the top 10 of the UK.
These include aeronautical and aerospace engineering (there is also a large aerospace industry in Bristol), general engineering, marketing, medicine, veterinary medicine, law, drama, psychology and history of art.
I got to visit the theatre department at Bristol, which was actually the very first one in the country.
In Bristol's program, it's not necessarily production-based; students engage in academic research, too, and are always thinking about the research in a performative way.
Students are not just there to put on a pretty show; they actually have critical enquiry in mind.
In this way, Bristol's program is like a halfway house between the conservatoire experience and completely desk-based theatre studies.
Each cohort is made up of about 80 students (40 studying just theatre and the other 40 doing a joint degree with English).
Students won't be graded on full-length productions; instead, they might do a 20-minute piece from a larger work.
They can also choose to write a 10,000-word final year dissertation or have it be a performance-based final exam.
This is why there is no audition, and in fact, 80 percent of students graduate realizing they don't want to be actors.
But there are many other benefits to studying here, and this includes getting to shadow the director at the Bristol Old Vic, participating in design and costume workshops and if you're in the History of Clowning class, getting to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This department is also home to an accredited archive, which is one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history and Live Art.
Of course, there are plenty of Shakespeare originals in there, too!
One thing I should note is that there is no distinct campus at the university; its buildings are integrated within the city.
The absolutely stunning main building that you'll see in many of the university's publications, however, is home to law and earth sciences.
Bristol Vet School
One of Bristol's premier programs is its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which can be studied straight out of high school (5 years) or in the accelerated 4-year graduate entry option.
Bristol has been educating future vets for a very long time, having opened its vet school doors 74 years ago.
Its been AVMA-accredited since 2019, which means it's super easy for a U.S. student to bring this degree back to the U.S.
Students are taught in a case-based learning style, where they work on individual animal cases in groups of 12 and learn to approach cases in a holistic manner.
They spend the first three years studying in Bristol's city centre with one day a week at the more regional Langford campus (about 30 minutes away, and the university does provide a bus service).
Then in years four and five, students are at Langford full-time.
Here, they benefit from facilities that include a commercial dairy farm, a first opinion practice for small and large animals and a referral hospital for small animals.
But before getting thrown in to the deep end though, there are plenty of opportunities to practice on stuffed animals.
There are also social spaces just for students, a cafe, gym and community garden, and brand new facilities will be coming in January 2025.
Bristol is also known for its animal welfare and behavior research.
In terms of the admissions process, Bristol's vet school is quite unique in that there is no interview and no cap on international student places.
If students have met or are predicted to meet the minimum entry requirements, they progress to the next stage, which is completing a 3-question questionnaire on their knowledge and understanding of the program and profession.
Around 400-500 students will then receive offers out of 1,100-1,200 applications, which are pretty good odds given the school ranks 16th in the world for veterinary medicine!
Lastly, for high school students interested in finding out more about Bristol's vet program, I highly recommend its summer program, Destination Vet.
A newer feature of a degree from the University of Bristol is innovation, headquartered in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Almost any subject area can add an additional year and complete a joint degree in their field + innovation, which is very highly regarded by employers.
Some employers have even said the innovation degree reduces their on-the-job training by two years!
Innovation classes are project-based with no exams, and students write papers no longer than 2,000 words (because no one in business would read anything longer!).
Students learn how to commercialize ideas (intellectual property always belongs to the student, not the university) and are taught by real entrepreneurs.
They learn how to manage client relationships, set up meetings and more.
It's very intense, and they want students who question data and paradigms and are willing to unlearn what they may have already learned about business.
There are around 450 total students in innovation from a wide range of subject areas, but they're all part of an ecosystem (for example, music students can link with materials science students to create acoustic wallpaper!).
With mentoring, training and funding opportunities, it's truly an amazing program.
By the way, conveniently located in the same building, you'll also find the Students' Union, a campus shop and a cafe and bar.
Whew! That was one of my longest blog posts -- but when it comes to the city of Bristol and the University of Bristol, there's just so much to cover!
I spent about three days here and didn't even get a chance to check out the suspension bridge, one of the city's main attractions!
Hopefully by now though, you'll get the idea of just how cool and fun the city is and how the university has such a reputable and unique offering in a variety of subjects.
Forget London -- I will absolutely be coming back to Bristol, and maybe I'll see you there, too!