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What does it mean if Oxford or Cambridge allocate me to another college?
About 1 in 5 successful applicants to Oxford and Cambridge end up at a college they didn’t apply to. There are four different points in the application process where you can be reallocated to a different college. Read on to find out when, why, and what it could possibly mean…

When you are invited to interview at Oxford
So you might have applied to Brasenose and have been told that you will be interviewed at Pembroke, or applied to Pembroke and found that your interviews will be happening at Brasenose. The reason for this reassignment is that sometimes certain subjects at certain colleges have an unexpected glut of applicants. This could be as a result of a nifty new website, a particularly charismatic tutor talking at the open day or even a stellar performance on University Challenge. In order for each of the applicants to be treated fairly and get the same proportion of the tutors’ time, applicants to over-subscribed colleges are redistributed to the colleges that have had fewer applicants for a particular subject. This isn’t a reflection of your performance in your admissions test, or your predicted grades or reference – it’s actually done in the main admissions office by a computer, so the original college you applied to might not even have seen your application. Because the interviews at Oxford tend to last a couple of days and pooling to other colleges happens all at the same time – and decisions need to be made quickly – whilst at Cambridge candidates tend to only have one interview and the colleges have a bit more time to make their decisions, reallocation at this point only happens at Oxford.

You’re told you’ll be interviewed at another college whilst you’re up in Oxford or Cambridge
This has nothing to do with your performance – or your chances of receiving an offer. Purely and simply, certain subjects at Oxford and Cambridge are always interviewed for at two different colleges. These include Medicine, Biology and Physics at Oxford and Theology at Cambridge. This is possibly because the teaching of these subjects tends to be more cross-university than college-specific.

When you’re up at interview at Oxford and you are sent to other colleges after you’ve been interviewed by the first college.
This is called pooling. You’ll have an initial interview (or two) at your first college and then be asked to interview at a different college. This is might be because the tutors think that you’re a strong candidate, but possibly not the right fit for their college, or because they’re not sure they’ve really got to know you so want their colleagues at other colleges to give them their opinion too. If you are pooled to other colleges when you are at interview you could end up with an offer from your original college, from one of your pooled colleges or no offer at all – although the fact that the university keeps wanting to see you does show that they are interested in you. Don’t worry if you are not pooled – this doesn’t mean that you are not going to get a place; do your best in every interview and not try to second guess what it all means.

If you’re pooled in January at Cambridge and invited to interview at a different college
If you’ve applied to Cambridge, come January, you will be offered a place, not offered a place, or told that you have been placed in the winter pool. If you are in the winter pool, it means that Cambridge think you are good enough to get a place, and are now trying to find you one. You may be invited up to interview again, or you might not be – neither situation guarantees an offer or no offer. Some colleges are net contributors to the winter pool (ie. they tend to put a lot of their unsuccessful applicants into the pool, who are then found places, but don’t take many applicants out of the pool) whilst some colleges are receivers (ie. they don’t fill their places from the first round of interviewers and take a proportion of their students from the pool).

In fact, some colleges actually prefer to take students from the pool, believing that they will get stronger students. Some of the most academic colleges in Cambridge take this attitude – so if you are put into the pool, don’t think that this means that you are a second rate applicant. The truth is that everyone ends up loving their college and wouldn’t apply anywhere else given the chance – even if it wasn’t where they originally wanted to go. One member of our team applied for an oversubscribed college, was reallocated and has never looked back, one was pooled to her college during the interviews and loved every second and one was invited back up to interview in Cambridge in the winter pool, fell in love with the new college the second she set foot inside it and would apply there again tomorrow if she could. So don’t worry if you do end up somewhere different - we’re sure you’ll love it there.

Call our advisory team from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday to discuss any questions you might have about applying for Oxford, Cambridge, and other top universities, and how your choice of college can affect your experience.

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