The Oxford Pooling System

By Poppy Atkinson Gibson


After I had sent off my application, submitted an essay to my chosen college and sat the HAT test I waited, and waited, and waited for an email to find out whether I would get an interview or not. In all honesty I had begun to lose hope when surprisingly one day I did indeed receive an email congratulating me on receiving an interview. But it was not with Brasenose, my chosen college. I was a little confused to say the least. I was not prepared for this possibility. My teachers or Head of Sixth Form had not mentioned it to me and everything I had read up on about the Oxford application process omitted any mention of this occurrence. I had received an email from the little known St Benet's Hall, a permanent private residence situated on St Giles', about a 10 minute walk into Oxford city centre. To be truthful, I was crushingly disappointed. I felt this battling of emotions: excitement that I'd received an interview but rejection at not having that interview at Brasenose where I'd really set my heart on. What made it worse in some ways was that in this email from St Benet's, they said I ought to have received an email from Brasenose explaining what had happened and why I'd been "re-allocated" but I hadn't and didn't until about a week later. I moped around for a week or so. I seriously considered declining the interview and accepting my second choice of Leeds. I thought "If it's not Brasenose then I don't want to go". A rather hard-headed approach in hindsight. But I really was so upset. But my parents began to talk me round and I did some research into St Benet's Hall, I looked over the prospectus again, looked at their website and some of the things their current students said and I did begin to feel more acclimatised to the idea of it.

Something that I didn't consider when choosing my college for my UCAS application was the number of applicants for my subject at each college. I had blindly wandered into a heavily over subscribed college because I simply didn't realise that that should be something to look into and consider. In some ways though I don't think its wise to pick lesser known and under subscribed colleges because you think you'll have a better chance of getting in but it might be something you want to explore to prepare you in advance for the idea that you may not get into your chosen college. I wish I had. After eventually receiving my email from Brasenose I emailed back and asked if there was a specific reason I'd been sort of given to St Benet's and whether that meant I was no longer being considered by Brasenose. They were very vague in their answers, presumably so as not to breed ill feeling but the truth of the matter was that I had been declined by Brasenose and was no longer being considered by them. It was a tough pill to swallow. But upon later research I figured out that "re-allocation" is a process Oxford goes through to ensure that people they would like to interview are still given that opportunity even though their preferred college can't really take them in. It isn't a good or a bad thing per say, it simply ensures you get given an equal opportunity. As it turns out very few people at all actually apply to St Benet's, they're all re-allocated and it is in fact a sort of joke among college members. I was really upset by all this for quite a while, halfway through my sulking I started to feel really guilty. I'd applied and got an interview for Oxford. Oxford! And here I was throwing a tantrum like a toddler because it wasn't my first college choice. It was my mum really that got my out of my slump. She researched St Benet's Hall and researched other peoples' accounts of reallocation and forced me to confront all this and I actually found many people had gone through the same experience and sure enough St Benet's started to grow on me. This feeling was consolidated when I went to the interview; I politely asked around and out of about 30 or so of us, only one boy had actually applied there. The others had either submitted open applications (where you don't choose a college) or had applied elsewhere. I was so relieved - especially when many of them said they'd felt the same slap of disappointment as me. It was quite a heartwarming experience. I don't know what the statistics are for getting into your first choice college although all the people I know who've applied managed to. I think it's something to be aware of just in case so you can prepare yourself for every eventuality and don't take it quite as hard as I did. You can research applicants, interviewees, accepted stats in the prospectuses though and I'm sure the specific college information is out there as well.