Oxford Colleges: How do I choose?


Current undergraduate Saoirse Genoni shares her advice on what to consider when thinking about Oxford's colleges


When it comes to applying to Oxbridge, the choice to declare a preferred college can sometimes feel like just another hurdle in the seemingly impossible path towards handing in your application: which college is prettiest? Where can I see myself most? Which college is most likely to let me in? Admittedly, these were all questions I asked myself when applying for Oxford and although my experience of choosing a college is by no means a universal one, hopefully the following tips will provide some helpful guidance for anyone currently having some issues.

The first step is pretty straightforward: find out which colleges offer your subject. Not all colleges offer all subjects but most subjects will be offered at multiple colleges so whilst this will not solve the problem straightaway, it certainly might make your job slightly easier. Find out here by clicking on your course title here.

Then, it is time to think about what your preferences are, so here are a few questions you might ask yourself. Would I prefer an old or modern building? Do I want to live in the centre of town or would I prefer a less busy area, nearer to my subject department, perhaps, or a sports centre? Can I imagine myself living in a small college, where most people know one another, or a bigger one, with more people who could be potential friends? Other factors you might want to consider are: disabled access, financial support, and accommodation type.

Once you have decided your preferences, do some research! I remember writing a list of all the colleges and striking off the ones which appealed to me less, based on location, architecture or size. Have a look at college facilities here and for a list of the colleges and the links to their websites check out this webpage

Next, and this step can be pretty important, try to take a trip to Oxford, if possible, and have a look at some of the colleges. Some people choose to do this first but I found that, considering the sheer number of colleges, it was easier to do the research first and then visit a more manageable number that I had a reasonable interest in. From visiting colleges, most people get a sense of whether they can imagine themselves there or not, based on the appearance, the subject tutors they meet or the facilities they see. If not, it is great to have done some research beforehand, to fall back upon.

My final point is that, at the end of the day, most people love the colleges they apply to, so it does not matter too much if you are still unsure. You might even choose to make an open application, without having to make a choice, which is something 17% of applicants did in 2018, and has no impact on your chance of getting in.

Indeed, you should have an equal chance of getting in to the University regardless of your college choice thanks to the pooling system that occurs at Oxford, which means that multiple colleges might review your application if the one you initially applied to turns out not to have the ability to offer you a place but wishes to recommend you elsewhere.

On that note, having spent literal hours considering which college I should put on my application before deciding on one, I ended up getting pooled at interviews and was offered a place at a college I had never visited or even heard of before interviews but now love all the same! So think about what college experience you might prefer, but at the end of the day, try to keep an open mind because, chances are, you will learn to love wherever you end up.


Oxford skyline