By Chloe Bardou
When it comes to picking an Oxford college, the experience can be quite daunting. Do you want it to be small or big, old or modern, central or not? These may not even be questions you are considering, and a lot of students here say they just picked it on a whim and liked “the vibes”. Well, one college that has impeccable vibes is University College.
Univ (as it is affectionately known by the students) is located in central Oxford, and is among the oldest Oxford colleges. Notable alumni include Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, as well as Percy Shelley, to whom we have a large decorated memorial. However, I had absolutely no idea about any of this when I first walked through the gates, on a cold, wet, rainy open day in September, 2019.
I had dragged both my parents down to Oxford, and they were pretty annoyed with me as I had, had my heart set on Cambridge for as long as I could remember. We had attended both Cambridge open days, visiting 24 of its colleges in July. However, having looked at the course in more detail than when I was 7 years old, I realised Oxford would suit me better as it seemed to have less political theory than Cambridge, and that was pretty important to me studying a History and Politics degree.
I walked into Univ and was taken aback by how incredibly gorgeous it was. The architecture is simply stunning and it fits very nicely with the aesthetics of the RadCam, Queen’s and Magdalen college, with which it shares a street. But what was particularly important for me was the access to kitchens. I was not a huge fan of cooking but I was worried about not making friends and always being in my room, so a kitchen forces you to meet people. Univ had its Goodhart Building renovated in 2015 and when I visited, I was taken aback by the huge kitchens with large tables that could easily sit 10 people and very modern equipment. I turned around to my parents and I knew they were thinking the same thing. And that was that, Univ it was and Univ it came to be.
Since coming here, I have found Univ to be much more than its architecture. It has a medium-sized population for a college, with around 120-130 undergraduates a year, it feels like you know who everyone is in the year whilst still having the space to have individual groups and not being forced into social situations with people you may get on with less. It is also so conveniently located, with access to the important areas only being a 10 minute walk away. This includes the Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera (which as a History student, I have ended up spending a lot of time in), as well as Tesco and Sainbsury’s and Westgate (our main shopping centre). Let’s not forget its close proximity to the Alternative Tuck Shop, Najar’s and Ahmed’s Kebab van, which are just student essentials for lunch, a snack, or a midnight craving. Furthermore, it has two 24-hour libraries, and a really lovely hall, with the quality of food having improved in my time here. It caters for vegan and vegetarian diets for all meals, has a coffee machine and a salad bar, as well as a whole range of desserts and two hot meal options. Most importantly, it serves an incredible brunch on weekends, and the waffles and croissants are simply delightful!
In addition to its amazing facilities and location, it is known to be one of the friendliest colleges. I would say the majority of people get on well, it was very easy to make friends even when I started during COVID and was confined to households. It has a very active entertainment life, with bops and open mics frequently taking place in the college bar. It also has a lot of student set up societies including the Socialist Society, Album Society and Rock Climbing Society, which have all started in my time here. You will often walk down High Street and see someone you know and give a slight nod or wave, or even stop for a conversation, and it just makes the whole place feel more friendly and less terrifying. It really is a home away from home.
Even in second year, where we move to North Oxford and have to cycle 15 minutes to get into town, the community remains strong and everyone lives in flats or houses with kitchens and a lot of communal space, making the environment even friendlier. Walking back late from different social and sporting activities, I enjoyed looking up and seeing most lights on in kitchens and hearing chatter and laughter coming out the windows. This community is definitely not found in all colleges or year groups, but I was lucky I found it in mine, even when COVID decided to limit the interactions we could have in our first year.
There are always disadvantages and some of Univ’s include the price of hall food as well as only having 2 formal nights a week, but we do have a college cat. I think my university experience would have been very different elsewhere and I am so grateful I was able to come here. I have been a very active member of the college by rowing and coxing for the college, participating in outreach events and the telethon, creating a short comic film about it in my first year and sitting as Access and Outreach officer for a year. Univ has simply kept me sane at points when my degree got too much, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone unsure of where to apply!