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Choosing Your Oxbridge College: Our Expert Advice

Choosing your Oxford/Cambridge college can be unnecessarily stressful!

Elite IB’s team of ex-Oxbridge university consultants are here to help simplify the process with their insights into which colleges are the best and how to weigh up different colleges according to your needs!

Oxford Colleges

The Oxford collegiate system is one of the major factors setting it apart from many other universities in the UK. Several other ‘red brick’ universities such as Durham, St Andrews share this collegiate system with Oxford and Cambridge. You can’t just choose from any college, your subject needs to be offered at the college you choose, so do be sure to do your research before having your heart set on any particular college.  Here is a very useful resource: https://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/UGP%25202015%2520Colleges.pdf

Oxford has added colleges since its inception in 1096, through to present day. Although colleges continue to have annexes built, and original buildings refurbished, part of the charm and beauty of Oxford is how much of its original features still remain. You first year bedroom may have been built as early as 1200, and your may have tutorials in beautiful teak rooms set in imposing gothic architecture.

When choosing which college best suits you, there are several factors to take into consideration… 

Geography – One of the most overlooked aspects when choosing colleges is the geographical location. Would you prefer to be close to your department? Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of town, or a more remote location. More central colleges such as Jesus, Lincoln and University College may be super convenient but may not be as peaceful as colleges further out. 

Size – Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond,  or part of one of the larger college set ups? Smaller colleges like Corpus Christi may suit you best if you prefer a smaller environment, whilst big institutions like Keble or Christ Church may be more your style if you’re picturing the larger more imposing colleges you may recognise from films.

History – Oxford boasts many beautiful, historical colleges. Take time to walk around colleges like Merton, Balliol or Exeter to experience the origins of Oxford as a university. If you prefer newer architecture, look no further than St Catz, built in the 1960s.  

Ethos – Each college tries to foster its own ‘ethos’. Try to carry out some research about what makes a particular college special – rich history, sporting prowess or brilliant facilities may play a role.

Cambridge has a total of 31 colleges, each with its own unique character, so it can feel a little overwhelming when you come to choose where to apply. There is a broad distinction between ‘old’ colleges founded between 1284 and 1596, and ‘new’ colleges, established from 1800 onwards (with the youngest college, Robinson, founded in 1977).

That said, there is so much variation within these groups that age alone is not enough to choose a college! If you are seeking a large college with perhaps the most visually impressive surroundings, you might want to consider St John’s or Trinity (though do bear in mind that the latter has a particularly academic reputation, so some students find the work ethic here to be slightly problematic). Some students might like a smaller college with a ‘cosier’ environment, such as Corpus Christi or Peterhouse (the oldest of all!)

Students from all colleges can participate in an excellent range of extracurricular activities at the university and college level alike, but there are some extra facilities which are worth bearing in mind: Jesus has a reasonably sporty reputation, with its sporting pitches contained within the main college site, Christ’s is equipped with its own theatre, and Clare has an underground bar with regular music events put on here.

Finally, though Cambridge is a small city, and therefore most colleges are reasonably central, there are a number of outliers: Girton is approximately a 45 minute walk from the centre, while Homerton will take you half an hour to reach on foot, so you may want to invest in a bike!

It is in your interests to carry out your research before applying, considering factors which extend beyond entry statistics. You never know – you might spend three or more years of your life here!