So you’ve taken the decision to make an Oxbridge application. In addition to choosing the course for your UCAS application you also need to consider choosing a college. Here’s a brief guide to help you think through how to make that choice.
What is an Oxford or Cambridge college?
The college is a small academic community where students live, socialise and receive one to one or small group teaching. You will spend a lot of time there, especially in the first year, so it’s wise to consider which of the 30+ colleges, at either Oxford or Cambridge, you want to apply to.
Factors to consider
- Subject: does the college offer the subject you want to study? The bigger colleges tend to offer all subjects but less popular subjects may not be available at every college. You can check which subjects are offered at each college on the university or college websites.
- Location: would you prefer a city centre college or one further out of town, away from the tourist hubbub? You might also want to consider how far a college is from your course department and how you will get there.
- Size: how important is the size of college to you? The smaller colleges have a few hundred students overall, which make it possible to get to know everyone. The larger colleges can have up to 1000 students.
- Gender balance: do you have a preference? Some colleges have a much higher proportion of men than women. Several colleges in Cambridge are for women only (Newnham, Murray Edwards and Lucy Cavendish).
- Facilities: generally colleges offer similar facilities, such as a dining room, library, student common room and bar. However, some may have specific facilities which appeal to you eg sports pitches, gym, gardens to sit out in.
- Accommodation: some colleges will offer college run accommodation for the whole of your undergraduate degree. But be aware that after the first year your college accommodation may be off-site, possibly some distance away. Accommodation costs can vary between colleges, as can dining arrangements and kitchen facilities, so do check these out.
- Social activities: what clubs and societies does each college offer? Do any appeal to you?
- Special needs/disability: will the college be able to support you if you have a special need or disability? It’s always best to visit a college to check this out.
- Past admissions statistics: don’t be swayed by them! Applying to a college that had fewer applications in previous years is no measure of the competition you will be up against when you apply. The complex pooling systems at Oxford and Cambridge Universities ensure that the best applicants will be offered a university place but not necessarily at the college they applied to.
Open day visits
The main university open days are an ideal opportunity to visit several colleges on the same day if you are able to attend in person. Talk to current students and staff to get a feel for whether you could be happy living there. Otherwise check out the virtual tours online where you can see what a college looks like and view student accommodation and other facilities.
What if I can’t decide which college to apply to?
If you really can’t decide on a college you can make an open application. You will be allocated to a college which in that year has received fewer applications per place for your subject compared with the average number across all colleges. An open application makes no difference to the chances of being made an offer.
Do your research! Find out more from the university and college websites:
and the Student Union alternative prospectuses: