Amongst the many, many questions people ask about how to get into Oxbridge, wondering how to choose the right college is very high on the list. This may seem unimportant to the actual process of getting in, but don’t be fooled – choosing the right college for you and being able to prove it in the interview is a very important factor of the admissions process.
So you’ve decided whether you want to apply to Oxford or Cambridge and a glossy brochure has arrived, full of dazzling colour photographs of old brick buildings, sweeping lawns and beautiful views. Every page boasts excellent facilities…social activities…accommodation… How does one begin to choose?
We have prepared a handy checklist of different things to consider and activities to try when narrowing down your college choice – hopefully it will help you to identify the one that’s just waiting for you!
Take a Tour
It sounds so obvious, but it is unbelievably common for candidates to choose a college from a brochure without looking round, perhaps because their school has sent somebody there before or a member of the family attended it. This is a huge mistake for two reasons – firstly because choosing a college is a very personal business, and you really need to get the feel of it for yourself, and secondly because never having visited will go down like a lead balloon in the interview room.
Ask Current Students
By far the most invaluable information you glean when visiting colleges is not the polished spiel of your tour guide but the snippets of inside information you will get from chatting to current students. You will see plenty of undergraduates around the college and they are a friendly bunch, so do bite the bullet and ask about anything and everything that is important to you – they will be much more honest than the prospectus!
Request an Unofficial Prospectus
The unofficial prospectus, available from the JCR committee at most colleges, is written by students with the aim of giving new applicants an honest and realistic view of college life from the perspective of a current undergraduate. Here you will gain important insights into strengths and weaknesses of colleges that may not be mentioned in the official blurb.
Location, Location, Location
When choosing a college, many students don’t take location into account, overwhelmed instead by pictures and facilities and information about the college itself. However the location of your college will be one of the most important factors once you arrive and get down to the business of university life. Don’t only check whether it is central or far out, but also how it relates to the position of your faculty and lecture halls. In Cambridge, for example, Robinson College may seem not very central, but if you’re studying English, it is far closer to the faculty and lecture halls than the town centre colleges are.
If you are still struggling to choose, here are a few ‘deciding factors’ you may not have considered…
Academic Specialties: People will tell you that academic teaching is the same regardless of college, but the supervisors in each college still have special interest subjects. If you already know which area you want to focus on, go for a college where your Director of Studies works in the same field.
Living In/Out: Accommodation is generally good everywhere, but some colleges can provide you with a guaranteed room in college for the full duration of your course, while others will ask you to move out and find your own house in the second or third year.
Travel and Book Grants: College grants to support students vary widely, with some having money available for travelling during the holiday and others providing book grants to cover the cost of your textbooks – check these out on the college websites.
Sports Facilities: Many colleges have sports facilities, but it is worth checking where they are on a map! If you’re a keen sportsman, go for a college with adjoining pitches instead of one where you’ll have to make a trek across town for every practice!
Drama Facilities: Although university drama is open to everyone, some colleges have vastly better facilities on site than others, with some, like Corpus Christi in Cambridge, boasting their own theatre.