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Overseas university spotlight: University of Essex (UK)

Long before London became the capital of the UK, it was actually Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town.


Nowadays, Colchester is obviously no longer the capital; however, it is in fact where you'll find the main campus of the University of Essex.


Founded in 1964, Essex stood out to me for a number of reasons, including its philosophy that students are admitted on the basis of their potential and not necessarily their past.


Here are some of the highlights from my visit to campus in February 2023!


Lake on University of Essex campus

University of Essex - Campus


The University of Essex has three campuses: Colchester, Loughton (north of London) and Southend (southeast England).


The Colchester campus is set in more than 220 acres of parklands in Wivenhoe Park, which was made famous by an 1816 painting by John Constable that now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


John Constable painting of Essex
University of Essex campus lake

Wivenhoe Park has actually been rated in the top 10 parks of the UK, and I was fortunate to stay in the beautiful Wivenhoe House Hotel, located right on campus.


These beautiful foggy morning views were something out of a TV series!


Wivenhoe House Hotel

The campus is also 'hedgehog friendly,' as biodiversity is important to the university; there are 18 distinct habitats with a wide range of plant and animal species, not to mention the campus cat, Pebbles!


Besides animals and wildlife, Essex has a student body of around 15,000 students, 40% of whom are international.


University of Essex campus
University of Essex library

The library is right next to the theatre, and fun fact - all three Essex campuses have theatres!


Bookswap in the student library
One of three paternoster lifts left in the UK
One of three paternoster lifts left in the UK

The Colchester campus is also home to ESCALA, Europe's largest collection of Latin American art, housed in the Student Centre, which is also where student services and counseling can be found.


ESCALA art
Silberrad Student Centre at Essex
Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service

Although it was built in the '60s, Essex has quite modern facilities.


As someone who likes plants and natural light, I found the Essex Business School to be possibly one of the most fascinating campus buildings I've seen anywhere.


Essex Business School
Essex Business School
Essex Business School

It's also the UK's first zero-carbon business school and is built out of timber.


Essex Business School
Essex Business School
The best study spot in the world on any campus!
The best study spot in the world on any campus!
Climate controlled classroom
Climate controlled classroom
Essex Business School

The newer lecture theatre on campus, however, although modern and unique, was once referred to as looking like a 'dustbin' by His Majesty The King.


Essex lecture hall
Essex lecture hall

There are also a number of cafes on campus and pop-up food stalls.


University of Essex campus
Cool hangout on the University of Essex campus
Stem & Root Vegetarian Cafe
Stem & Root Vegetarian Cafe
University of Essex campus

One of the other most impressive features of campus is the sporting facilities.


Essex Sport Arena

It's a very sporty university, especially for volleyball and basketball, and it draws the largest crowds in the country for its games (though still far from an American college game).


Essex Sport Arena
Essex Sport Arena

Women's basketball competes at a professional level, and volleyball is on the cusp of becoming semi-pro.


Admittedly, I have never seen a locker room like this in the UK; it is professional level!


Locker rooms at Essex Sport Arena
Locker rooms at Essex Sport Arena

Essex has also recently launched the Athlete Village, which is dedicated housing for athletes just a few minutes from the sporting facilities.


And in addition to having a strong sporting reputation, Essex is also known for having a bit of a rebellious past after holding protests on campus in the '70s and '80s.


Academics


Degrees at Essex encourage self-development through experience, knowledge and skills.


All students have to do a research project, and there is a unique program called Frontrunners, which gives paid work experience to those with little to no experience.


Robotics class
Robotics class

Essex has expertise in Human Rights along with one of the biggest Model UN societies in the UK.


Fun fact: Nelson Mandela visited in 1997.

Nelson Mandela memorial

I was able to attend two academic lectures, the first of which was for the Psychosocial and Psychoanalytical Studies with Dr Chris Nicholson.


This degree focuses on the role of the unconscious mind in mental health, culture and society and is taught by one of the largest psychology departments in the UK.


Psychology building
Psychology building

A unique feature in this department is that students don’t need math or stats to apply, and they also don’t believe in exams.


Students are encouraged to learn a contextual understanding of issues, use personal pronouns in essays, learn to observe others, engage in group discussion and undertake a therapeutic placement in first year.


And from a wider university perspective, Essex sees its student body as family for life, so students are able to access things like careers service support forever after graduating.


Essex locks - forever family

East 15 Acting School


Students looking for a conservatoire style acting program should absolutely have a look at Essex's East 15 Acting School, located at the Loughton or Southend campuses (those interested in combat and circus performing would be at Southend, which has more space).


Each year, around 1,300 applicants apply for the 34 places in the BA Acting program.


There is also the BA Acting International program (17 places), which includes a bit more Shakespeare and dialect work, how to make your own movies and set up your own theatre companies.


Either way, both programs are rigorous, with 8:30 a.m. starts and 6 p.m. finishes (or even later during performances), and full attendance is required (students can't have more than three unexcused absences).


These programs also offer a cohort experience, as every student follows the same academic path (no electives) through voice, movement, acting, stage combat and more.


There is a 16:1 student to staff ratio over all three years, and the average entry age is 19-20.


Because it's so competitive, it often takes students two or three years of applying to gain entry.


Auditions are key, and they're held all around the world.


Colchester


The town of Colchester dates back to AD49 when it was settled by the Romans, remnants of which can still be found around the castle and the nearby Castle Park.


Colchester castle
Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle
Roman wall
Roman wall
The main park in Colchester
Castle Park
Castle Park
Colchester city centre
Colchester city centre

I made sure to stop for a coffee; I'm not one to normally go to a chain for my caffeine fix, but I discovered that the Caffè Nero on the top floor of the Fenwick shop has a lovely atmosphere and view!


Coffee views in Colchester

And last year during the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the town of Colchester finally gained status as a city.


Colchester city centre

With around 120,000 people, the center is just about three miles from the Essex campus.


It's quite historical and is where Flemish Protestant refugees fled religious persecution after being defeated by the Catholic Spanish in the 16th century.


Dutch Quarter
Dutch Quarter

Summary


The University of Essex surprised me in many ways.


I loved the modern facilities, lush parkland surroundings and sporty culture.


The Business School is a real gem and an interesting place to study, and overall, the campus is an easy train ride up from London in less than two hours.


University of Essex campus

 

Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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