Your mind on fire: Summer programs at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne

Cambridge University procession of academics
Procession of proctors and academics, University of Cambridge

Whether you are an Ivy Leaguer who missed the chance to be a Rhodes Scholar or a graduate of a state university who worked your way through school, the dream of having that Oxford or Cambridge experience may still be with you. Or maybe you always fancied sitting at a sidewalk café, sipping a café au lait before your class at the Sorbonne. Well, pack your bags, because it’s not too late.

Spend a week (or two) igniting your brain

These three preeminent institutions open their doors to the public each summer with adult education programs that explore subjects ranging from art history and architecture to creative writing to history and economic thought. For the life-long learner student, the prospect of spending a bright sunny day in a classroom is nirvana—plus it keeps your mind alert and alive.  So much better than another night of Wordle.

Stunning locations

The other attraction, of course, is location, location, location. The universities are steeped in history, are architecturally beautiful, and the towns and cities offer opportunities to set out into the surrounding countryside or wander through neighborhoods filled with shops and restaurants and museums.

Cost is reasonable considering the value

“But isn’t this an expensive proposition?” you ask. Not necessarily. Fees for one-week programs with accommodations can cost from £1,485 to £2,285. Summer 2024 programs begin in late June and are offered through the end of July at the Sorbonne, and into August at Oxford and Cambridge.

Registration is on a first come, first serve basis with popular courses filling up quickly. Because these classes are held in small groups some are already full, another reason to act quickly. If it doesn’t work out this year, now is a good time to start planning for next summer.

University of Cambridge 

Cambridge University punting on the Cam river
Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge

Located in the Fens of eastern England, Cambridge University was founded first by immigrant scholars from Paris in the 12th century, then fortified in the early 13th century by a group of disaffected scholars from Oxford. It is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world, the world’s third-oldest surviving university, and consistently ranks in the top four of the world’s greatest universities.

The fenland of East Anglia

East Anglia, the region in which the University is situated, was settled by the Angles, a tribe from northern Germany, in the 5th century and was once the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. Cambridge is noted for its green spaces, including the Victorian-era Christ’s Pieces, known for its lovely ornamental trees and flowerbeds.

The Cam River flows by some of the most famous of the University’s 31 colleges, including King’s College and Trinity College, seen to advantage from a punt (flat boat) moving slowly through the Backs. There are plenty of other sights to see in Cambridge.

Summer program students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including teachers, scientists, writers, journalists, researchers, executives, professionals, and retirees, who have the time to pursue lifelong interests in more depth.

International Summer Programme, July 7 to August 3, 2024

The courses on offer in 2024

Courses run from Monday to Friday. For each week of study, you select a morning  and an afternoon course. Some courses have 10 sessions over two weeks, some courses have 5 sessions over one week.

In 2024 the Cambridge summer program is offering courses in the following subject streams:

  • Global Challenges (including Politics, International Relations, Climate Change)
  • Literature, Philosophy and the Visual Arts (including Creative Writing, Shakespeare, Modern Literature, Art History)
  • History (including Medieval Studies, Ancient and Classical Worlds, Archaeology)
  • Science (including Psychology, Genetics, Sustainability, Astronomy, Physics, Microbiology)
  • Business and Innovation (including Finance, Marketing, Creating Innovative Ideas)

Examples of the courses include:

There also are creative writing courses in fiction and nonfiction that have 10 sessions over one week. The maximum class size is 25 students.

Some of the more than 130 one- and two-week courses on offer are already full, so make your plans soon.

Tuition and accommodation fees

Fee and accommodation packages range from £1,485 to £1,865 for one week. The accommodation fee pays for a room, breakfast and evening meals, unless otherwise stated.

Accommodations are available at several of the colleges including Selwyn College with its extensive and peaceful gardens backing onto the teaching site, and Queens College overlooking the River Cam. The fee includes breakfast, evening meals, and a closing dinner.

Leisure time

Spend weekends visiting area sights such as Hever Castle  (Anne Boleyn’s childhood home) and Penshurst Place, birthplace of the great Elizabethan poet, courtier, and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney.

East Anglia and neighboring Norfolk are rich in Bronze Age finds. One of the best preserved and accessible is at Flag Fen Archeological Park, about 45 miles north of Cambridge. It is one of the few places where original Bronze Age remains can be seen in situ.

London theaters are less than two hours away by train.  Or join a Cambridge walking tour through the beautiful city and Colleges. And naturally there are the pubs (about which we might be too well acquainted from our youth).

For more information visit the Institute of Continuing Education’s robust website for the International Summer Programme at Cambridge, which provides everything you need to know to register.


University of Oxford

Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College Oxford
Radcliffe Camera, Oxford University

In his poem ‘Thyrsis,’ the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires’, referring to the dramatic architecture of the University of Oxford. Oxford’s beautiful historic center has starred in many films and television series. Scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot here, but Oxford is perhaps most firmly associated with British TV channel ITV’s ‘Inspector Morse’.

The University of Oxford is a leading research university. It was likely founded in the 11th century, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation.

Oxford is known for its excellence in literature: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, T.E. Lawrence, John Le Carré, V.S. Naipul, Graham Greene, and Oscar Wilde either studied or taught here. Other notables include 27 British Prime Ministers, 30 international leaders, 50 Nobel Prize winners, and 120 Olympic medal winners.

Inspiring Oxford Summer School, June 30 to August 10, 2024

Inspiring Oxford is the university’s program for adults. Around 40 week-long courses are offered from July 6 to August 10 2024. Both classes and accommodation are in  historic Brasenose College, in the heart of Oxford.

All courses are pitched at an introductory level for non-specialists aged 18 and above, and no prior knowledge is required. Study is conducted in small groups, of up to 16 participants, taught by highly experienced tutors. Seminars and lectures take place before lunch, which leaves the afternoons free to explore Oxford and its surroundings.

The courses on offer in 2024

Courses look thoroughly enjoyable. Many are booked already, but courses are still available as of publication, including:

Tuition and accommodation fees

You will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Brasenose College, in the heart of the city in buildings overlooked by the iconic Radcliffe Camera, an Oxford landmark and a working library, part of the central Bodleian Library.  Bedrooms are modestly-furnished and do not have air-conditioning.

The course fee includes breakfasts Monday-Saturday, four weekday lunches, and two-course dinners Sunday-Friday.

Program fees include accommodation and meals

  • Single en suite accommodation and meals: £2,285 per person
  • Twin en suite accommodation and meals: £2,135 per person
  • Standard single accommodation and meals: £1,955 per person
  • Non-residential, including lunch and dinner: £1600.00 per person

Leisure time

The Inspiring Oxford program includes some planned social activities. Take a punting trip down the river, or enjoy an evening of croquet. Let expert local guides lead you on a walking tour Oxford, visit a famous stately home, or take an afternoon mystery field trip, and more.

Oxford is situated among some of the most beautiful regions in the UK. The charming villages of the Cotswolds (Midsomer Murders, Agatha Raisin) are an hour to the west.  Stonehenge lies 60 miles south through the North Wessex Downs. And Stratford-upon-Avon is only an hour north of the university. Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theater.

For more information about the Inspiring Oxford Summer School, complete course listing, and application informatioin visit Inspiring Oxford Summer School.  


The Sorbonne, Université de Paris

The Université de Paris/Sorbonne University, with campuses in the heart of Paris, covers all major disciplinary fields. The school began in 1150 as an annex of the Notre Dame cathedral school and was considered the second oldest university in Europe until it was suspended following the French Revolution. Reinstated in the late 1800s, the Sorbonne Universities is currently made up of 11 member universities. Paris-Sorbonne.

One of the members is internationally renowned for its academic excellence in the humanities, especially theology and philosophy; its sister schools are academic leaders in law, medicine, and natural sciences. Its list of Nobel Prize winners and other notable alumni includes Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Honoré de Balzac, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Luc Godard, Albert Schweitzer, Michel Foucault, Pope Benedict XVI, St. Francis Xavier, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who refused his prize).

Located on the Left Bank

Paris-Sorbonne is located on the Left Bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter (5th and 6th arrondissements), perfectly situated to give you the total Paris experience. Within a few minutes’ walk are the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Luxembourg Gardens, the Louvre and d’Orsay museums, Saint Germain des Pres and the cafes made famous by Hemingway and Gertrude Stein—Les Deux Magots, Café de Flor—and endless winding streets filled with shops and patisseries. The Eiffel Tower is visible from  almost anywhere.

Summer University in Sorbonne 2024, June 24 to July 21

The summer program at Paris-Sorbonne offers a small selection of courses in French and English compared with Cambridge and Oxford.

Multidisciplinary courses, June 24 to July 19

The Summer University offers 14 cycles of one-week courses, in French and English, given by teacher-researchers from the Sorbonne University community. There are 15.0 hours of lectures per week, 3.0 hours a day, Monday to Friday, in the morning or afternoon, depending on the course.

Choose from courses such as:

  • French Women
  • French Gastronomy
  • The French Revolutions
  • The Classics of French Literature

A full list of courses and dates in English can be found here.

Fees for Multidisciplinary Courses 

The full fee for one cycle is €425 until April 30. Beginning May 1st the fee increases to €500.

French as a foreign language, June 26 to July 21

Learn to speak French, or polish your passable French in a two-week, 40 hour French language course.

Unless you are a beginner, testing is compulsory if you cannot provide official proof of your level in French. Topics focus on oral comprehension, written comprehension, oral expression, and written expression. Participants will become familiar with different aspects of French cultural life, including lifestyles, the French education and University system, and the history of the Latin Quarter.

Fees for French as a Foreign Language

Fees start at €800 for beginners, up to  €1,210 for advanced levels.

You will need to arrange your own accommodations.

This article was first published in 2018. It was updated on March 24, 2024.

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