The collegiate system at Oxford and Cambridge can be quite confusing and many applicants find the process of choosing a college pretty difficult. Rumours abound as to which college will give you the best possible chance of getting in, which has the best food and which the best college talking points. In reality choosing a college is the fun bit of the applications process. You can look around all the beautiful buildings and picture yourself lounging around on the grass – if you’re allowed to tread on it – or, more likely, in the library, frantically trying to cram as much as you can before your next task. But to point you in the right direction to make a good choice, read our helpful guide to choosing your Oxbridge college.
Narrowing down your search
The first thing to consider is the size, location and gender balance of your college. Do you want to be in a big college, or in a little one where you know everyone one and everyone knows you? Do you want to be slap bang in the city centre, or a little way out so that you don’t keep bumping into tourists every time you step out of your door? And would you rather be in an all-girls college or in a mixed one? Ladies, don’t dismiss all-girls colleges too early – they are fantastic places to live and study and, as one college likes to proclaim, women-only is an admissions policy, not a life-style choice.
Visiting the colleges
Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of colleges a little, try to visit them on one of the upcoming open days. It is useful, but not essential to book onto an Open Day at a particular college: you can usually get pretty cheap accommodation there if you’re travelling a long way. You may also have the chance to attend a ‘subject tea’ where you’ll be able to ask tutors about the course you’re applying for and what it entails at that college, which can be really insightful. On the other hand, all colleges are open to prospective students at the main Open Days and there are usually lots of people on hand to whom you can direct your questions. Try to speak to members of your faculty, current students, tutors and members of the colleges you are interested in to build up a picture of what life at that particular college is like and whether you would fit in well. You may find that you fall head-over-heels in love with the first college you go into, and you can spend the rest of the day wandering around one of Oxford or Cambridge’s many fantastic museums and galleries.
If all this seems a little too much and you’re just keen to get down to learning about your subject, rather than picking the college with the prettiest stained-glassed windows, you could think about putting in an Open Application. You’ll be allocated by a computer to one of the colleges, which will then invite you up for interview there. It won’t necessarily increase your chances, and you certainly won’t be able to call up Oxbridge and ask for another choice, but it will let you get on with the other, arguably more important, parts of the application.
It may be tempting to scour the applications statistics for the college with the best success rate for your subject, but this isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Both Oxford and Cambridge have very sophisticated pooling systems to ensure that the best candidates are in the running for a place even if the college they applied to is over-subscribed. Moreover, remember that if you’re looking at the least competitive college, so will lots of other people and there may end up being lots more applicants than you were expecting! The last thing to say is that almost everyone at Oxford and Cambridge loves their college and wouldn’t swap their time there for the world. Belonging to a college – living there, learning there and relaxing there – is a fantastic experience, and one that will really define your time at Oxford or Cambridge, so enjoy the process, but don’t get too hung up about it. Best of luck!