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Choosing an Oxford College

By Natalie Bright

Congratulations, you have decided to go for it and apply to Oxford! But wait, you are now faced with the decision of which college to apply for, a task which may seem difficult and even daunting. Everyone’s reasoning behind their choice is different, yet many credit the ‘vibe’ of the college on the open day. However, with open days having been online for the past year, it can make it harder to come to a decision. This is why I have decided to provide my concise but ultimate guide on how to pick an Oxford college:

The first but obvious step in choosing a college is eliminating all those that don’t offer the subject you are applying for – for the vast majority this will also include all of the postgraduate and mature colleges. Depending on your subject this may have greatly narrowed down your choices already, for example only seven colleges offer Earth Sciences and only six offer History of Art.

One of the next important things to consider is the size of the college. Are you looking for a very small college where everyone knows everyone, or are you looking for a larger community? It can be useful to think that even the largest undergraduate college, St Catherine’s, has only 505 undergraduates, which may be considerably smaller than your school. For example, I came from Peter Symonds, the largest sixth form college in the country with almost 5000 students, where I was very accustomed to seeing new faces every single day. For this reason, I felt a larger college would suit me better, even though I still had to adjust to knowing almost everyone I walked past! On the other hand, some of my friends came from schools where there were only a handful of students in each year, making the size of our relatively large Oxford college (Lady Margaret Hall) more intimidating.

Moreover, another consideration linked to size is the number of students studying your course at a particular college. Do you want to be the only student reading your subject or do you want a larger cohort to share materials with?

Another important consideration is the facilities your college has on offer, particularly those on-site. Is having a gym or private music practice rooms important to you? A great thing about Lady Margaret Hall is the acres of outside space we have, with our own tennis courts, football pitch and river. However, this comes intrinsically linked with the distance from the city centre. Do you want to located right in the excitement of town or do you prefer the tranquillity of the more suburban colleges?

The final important considerations surround accommodation and food. For example, how many years of your degree is accommodation offered for, is this on site and is there kitchen access? For some students, particularly those with specific medical or religious needs, it may also be important to check if en-suites are available and can be offered to all year groups. In regard to food, you may want to know if the dining hall is a set price each term or if the food can be brought on a ‘pay as you go’ basis?

Overall, even after all of these considerations you may still have no idea which college to pick and that is perfectly okay. Regardless of where you apply (or if you choose to submit an open application) you may still get reallocated before interview (as did I) or pooled after interview, meaning if I could give any advice it would be not to agonise over this decision, and remember wherever you are lucky enough to end up will soon become home.


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