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Balls to Bops – A Guide to College Socials

By Natalie Bright

Whilst Oxford students do admittedly spend a lot of time in the library, I can promise you not all our time is spent studying, with a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude very common and most students having jampacked social calendars. From events associated with your course, to societies and simple pub trips with friends, Oxford offers a multitude of great social opportunities like all other universities. However, having a collegiate system also creates a variety of unique social activities right on your doorstep.

One of the epicentres of an Oxford student’s social life is their college bar. Open most days of the week they offer the perfect location for a quick drink and catchup – with each college having their own special ‘college drink’. Although, it is important to stress that college bars are not just about drinking, but rather house many events such as open mic nights and somewhere to watch sporting fixtures on the big screen. Being on-site they provide a quick and safe location to retire to in the evenings, with no taxis required to get you back to bed. The more I think about it, the college bar really has formed the backdrop of my time at Oxford - being there for both the most mundane and special occasions alike. From library breaks during finals revision season to play pool, to being where I rung in my 21st birthday; the bar is synonymous with some of my favourite memories of life as an Oxford student.

College bars are also the location of many more organised events in college – with one of the most prominent being bops – a word I only recently discovered (whilst being a tour guide for my college’s open day) stands for ‘Big Organised Party’. Bops typically happen three times a term, each having a theme you are meant to dress for. Examples of bops held at my college (Lady Margaret Hall) over the last two years include: what you missed during COVID, ABC (Anything But Clothes – think costumes made out of newspaper and bin bags), Dynamic Duos and London Tube Stations. Not only a fun evening, bops are also a great way to catch-up with college friends amid busy terms. If music and dancing is not your thing though, running simultaneously alongside bops are bips – an alternative quieter way to spend the evening, complete with board games and free snacks!

Although less frequent than bops, balls are another unique and important part of an Oxford students’ social calendar, with each college typically holding one every three years. Lady Margaret Hall held its last spring, being ‘Cirque de la Lune’ themed. Walking out into the gardens was an unforgettable experience, with a real-life circus awaiting – complete with high top tents, fire-breathers on stilts and a Ferris wheel. Being surrounded by friends that felt like family, we danced until 5am to music from performers such as Not3s, S-Club 7 (well okay maybe it was S-Club 3) and the tribute band ABBA Re-Bjorn. The ball then ended just in time for the May Day celebrations to begin (yes, our college ball was the night before May Day!).

With so much going on just in the place you call home, Oxford certainly has too many social opportunities than could possibly be squeezed into the short 8-week terms - or even the 3 years of your degree!


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