How to Choose an Oxford College
Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Does it matter what Oxford College I attend? Which Oxford College is best? How do I choose which Oxford College to go to? Applying to Oxford brings with it hundreds of difficult questions that can stress out applicants - follow this handy guide to help relieve some of the stress!
A Quick Note
Before we set off, when picking a college, there is one point to always keep in mind - fundamentally, the college you choose or the college you end up at won't significantly alter your Oxford experience. You're still going to have an amazing time, meet amazing people, and receive a first-class education. I like to think of college allocation like this: certain colleges add certain (unnecessary/ luxury) bonuses, but no college takes away from an amazing base experience. One might have an extra gym, one might have an extra £100 book grant, one might have a nicer dining hall, but none of them
Choosing a College
Oxford University is made up of a number of Colleges. While you are a member of the University foremost, and it is from them that you receive your degree, colleges provide your accommodation, food, and some of your teaching. Your immediate community will likely be built up around your college, and may students feely a closer identity and loyalty to their college than the University as a whole
Importantly, the emphasis on choosing which college is given to you when you apply. Now, there's some shifting around that goes on, and lots of people end up at a college they didn't originally pick. But that's quite a lot of pressure during your applications, especially if you're an international student or have never visited Oxford before. So, this guide intends to help run you through the process, and to acquaint you a little better with all the colleges.
First, let's have a look at all the options you can pick from. Feel free to click through the links to see the web pages of each college. Those in green accept only graduate students.
Here is the complete list of Oxford Colleges:
What Are 'Permanent Private Halls'
An endless source of confusion among applicants, there are six Permanent Private Halls in Oxford. Permanent Private Halls are not classed as colleges because their funding comes from an external religious body, although members of the Hall do not need to always be adherents to that religious body. Smaller in scale than most (but not all) colleges, the teaching experience at PPHs does not vary your experience - you are still part of the University of Oxford, and your degree is still from Oxford.
What Can A College Give You?
With the emphasis on choosing a college based on you, why should you choose a certain college?
Well, that's a hard question. They often say that when you walk into a college that's right for you, you'll know. For some, it's as simple as that: there's something about the look or vibe of a college that just feels right. If you're close enough by, I'd definitely recommend dropping by for an open day and having an explore around the city - the colleges are open, with students to help guide you around and answer questions.
Oxford education is based on a system of tutorials - weekly meetings with 1 or 2 students and a leading academic to discuss your work. While lectures are organised University-wide and by department, tutorials are given within colleges. If you have a particular academic you admire, it may be worth looking up which college they attend, and you may be taught more directly by them. Each college also has their own library, and some of these are better catered towards certain subjects (although, access to University-wide central libraries is open to all).
Now, it's true that some colleges have more money than others. This materialises itself in some colleges having different resources and services than others - although, as I said before, these are always unnecessary bonuses. Some colleges have two gyms, others have newer accommodation, others have more beer on tap in their bars. College websites tend to put these shiny resources forefront on their web pages, so a quick look through the list above will help you identify them. But it's up to you whether any of these swing your interest, compared to location or college attitude, for example,
It is often also worth choosing a college that is near your department or lab. If you have lots of early lectures and you're a late sleeper, it's advantageous not to be on the other side of town!
So, have an explore on google maps to get an understanding of the position of your potential college in relation to the rest of Oxford.
Stereotypes of Oxford Colleges
Oxford itself has one big stereotype associated with it - that it's the haunt of elite, privately educated people only. While there are still some serious demographic differences in application that need to be addressed at Oxford (and in education across the UK), things are improving dramatically at Oxford, It is my fond belief that anyone, from any background and any country, will be welcomed at Oxford and should apply.
There are some colleges with certain stereotypes attached to them - these should be ignored. For one they are often not true and are the product of friendly inter-college rivalry. They also have the possibility of being self-fulfilling - if only a certain group of students apply to a college because of its stereotype, it enforces that stereotype. So, feel free to apply to any college that connects with you.
On this note, please disregard and shun the Norrington Table - an unofficial attempt to rank each college by its academic performance: it has little real bearing on your final outcome and the quality of your teaching.
Restrictions on College Courses
Narrowing down a college to apply to is helped somewhat by a set of natural restrictions on the colleges you can apply to. Some courses are not offered at every college, for example - you can find more information on the department website application site, with a list of available colleges. Some colleges are open only to graduate students, for Masters and PhD courses - this creates a different atmosphere that you need to decide whether you'd prefer.
Conclusions - Which Oxford College is 'Best'?
The simple answer here is that no college is 'best', although there may be a college that is 'best' for your needs. Explore the college websites to get a feel for each college, their resources and their general vibes - visit them in person on open days if you can. And, most importantly, if you end up at a college you didn't originally pick, don't worry. Oxford will be a great time for you, wherever you end up.
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