The Complete Guide To Choosing Your Oxford College

With 39 colleges at the University of Oxford, it is difficult to decide which college to choose. Each college has its own history and traditions, so let's take a look at each college, including its size, its alumni, life at the college and why it is famous.

Last Updated: 4th August 2022

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With 39 Colleges at Oxford University, it’s tricky to settle on one to apply to. 

Over your time at Oxford, you will spend a lot of your days in your college, having tutorials, writing essays late into the night or just hanging out with your friends. A lot of people get stressed about which college to choose, wondering if there is a ‘right’ college, or whether there is one they are more likely to get into than the others.

Each college has its own unique history and traditions. Some, like Balliol College, were founded in 1263 and in those many years since, countless traditions have formed and are still respected. Others, like Kellogg College, which was founded in 1990, have more modern ideas and Kellogg is known for its egalitarian ethos and lack of formality.

Although it’s important to not get carried away with the minutiae of every single college it is nevertheless essential that you pick one that is right for you!

Here is an outline of each of the 39 Oxford Colleges, as well as some advice and considerations to help you choose the right one before you make the final decision.

How Does the Oxford College System Work?

With the amount of choice and variety available, it may feel like the Oxford College system is a complex ecosystem. However, while it is a complicated system to run, it’s actually pretty simple for the students themselves. 

Colleges essentially act as mini-universities within the University of Oxford. They are all independent of one another, meaning the student experience from one college to the next could be very different. Some colleges impose rules and restrictions on who can join (such as female-only colleges), while other are open to anyone attending Oxford. 

Each college has a dedicated building, some of which you will find outside of the main campus. Each college is also responsible for holding its own social and formal events throughout the year, meaning your cohort here are the people you’ll likely be spending the most time with. 

Of course, the decision isn’t as serious as you may think; they aren’t prisons after all! You’ll be free to socialise with people from any other college, but the amount of time you’ll be spending at your own college means it’s important to choose one that you like the look of in order to get the most of your university experience. 

What Do You Want From Your College?

This is the first question you should ask yourself before beginning your college search. Whilst all colleges offer excellent facilities (well-stocked libraries, a catered hall, scenic landscapes) there are ways in which they differ. Try thinking about the following questions to see what is important to you:

These are just some of the ways that colleges differ from each other. If you have a strong preference for one of these aspects, that might help inform your decision. You can find out answers to all of these questions on the individual colleges’ websites.

We’ll break down these questions and explore them further later on, but for now, let’s take a deep dive into each of the colleges currently operating at Oxford. The information below comes from current and recently graduated students of the colleges, so it is up to date, but the bar and food prices may have changed! (Many colleges have websites, which you can check out by clicking the name you want to learn more about).

The college system at Oxford is similar to that at Cambridge. If you’re applying to Cambridge, read our ultimate guide on choosing a Cambridge college. 

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All Oxford Colleges (A - Z)

balliol-college-small

College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed for first and final years and there is a student bar (The Lindsay Bar) that has cheap prices with bar games such as table football and darts. The bar is run by students and all profits are reinvested to keep the cost of drinks down. Halls offer low-cost lunch and dinner and all rooms are near a kitchen/kitchenette so you can do your own cooking if you fancy it.

Sports and Reputation:

Balliol has a good record with sports, especially with their football team. The track where Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile is nearby and the college offers financial support to any Blues level athletes. Balliol is known for its history of politics with multiple Prime Ministers as recent alumni. Although it is a fairly old college with a political reputation, students say that it is more welcoming and relaxed than the reputation indicates.

College Living:

Accommodation is within the college halls in first year. Brasenose Students (Brasenostrils) have the option of informal meals every day and formal meals three times a week at the college. The food is very good but also surprisingly affordable (a three-course meal is only £5).

Sports and Reputation:

Brasenose has a strong reputation for its location in the City. It is 10 meters from Rad Cam at the heart of Oxford University, and near some of the best bars and restaurants. You’re also close to the Exam Schools for those wanting an extra few minutes of studying during the morning of exams. The college offers a variety of sports and the gym is free for all college students. Students report that the college atmosphere is of ‘intellectual pursuit’ and the Oxford Barometer Survey for friendliness recently placed Brasenose in first place.

College Living:

Students can live at the college for 3 years, all allocated via the usual random ballot. Students say that the bar is fun on event nights but off nights are hit and miss. Food is generally quite good at Christ Church, especially brunch which is an opportunity to eat lots of food for not much money. The college is known for being formal so expect a Formal every evening and two black tie guest dinners every month with spectacular four-course menus.

Sports and Reputation:

As indicated earlier, the college has a reputation for being rather ‘posh’. This is more fiction than fact but you may be placed in this category by members of other colleges until they realise that it’s not completely the case. Christ Church is brilliant for sport. There are amazing facilities for free use, such as tennis and squash courts, an Astro and it is in a great location as the college is based in a very central location.

College Living:

Corpus Christi has a popular bar called the Corpus Beer Cellar (or BC) which has bar games and low priced drinks. College accommodation is offered to students for all 3 years and the food is said to be decent, costing around £2.50 for lunch and £3.00 for dinner and there are Formal Halls every Friday.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is one of the smallest in Oxford which means it generally has a more intimate and friendly atmosphere. Students become quite a tight unit and everyone knows each other which is rare for most colleges and for the UK university experience. College clubs include cricket, men’s and women’s football, netball, rugby and ultimate frisbee and the gym is free. Students also report that the societies are great fun at Corpus Christi such as drama and music.

College Living:

College accommodation is guaranteed for 3 years but often people move out in second year. The bar is an asset to Exeter as it is a popular venue. There are many social events, open mic nights, karaoke, charity events which all tend to have an amazing atmosphere. At weekends, there is a roast dinner which goes down well with the college students and the dining hall caters well for vegetarians and vegans.

Sports and Reputation:

Exeter has a stunning chapel which featured in the film Dr. Strange and there are weekly choral Evensong services and a Christmas Carol service which students say should not be missed. The college is known for its friendly atmosphere and is less political than other colleges, which may be a relief for some students. Sport receives a lot of support from the college and has a sports day with Emmanuel College, Cambridge which even the most un-sporty students have fun getting involved with.

College Living:

There is an opportunity for accommodation on-site but students report that it has an undergrad feel which may not be what postgraduates are looking for. There is plenty of accommodation off-site though and the rooms are spacious with nice facilities. The Stables Bar is said to be a good place to relax with mates or just to do some reading, and the college food is ‘rarely less than excellent’. Interestingly, the college is secular so there isn’t a college chapel.

Sports and Reputation:

As Green Templeton was recently established, there is not a big push for formality and formal dress is not required at the majority of dinners. The rowing team has had some success and there is a tennis court and a gym. The college offers many competitive teams which are ideal for postgrads looking to get involved in activities outside of study.

Harris-Manchester-College-Oxford

College Living:

Harris Manchester is actually the only all mature college at Oxford. Accommodation is promised to 1st  and final year students and the rooms are situated in the college’s beautiful buildings and most have an en-suite. Sunday brunch is popular with students and food is generally around £1.80 for breakfast, £3.75 for lunch and £5.00 for dinner and for students living in the college, Formal Hall is included in the rent. The kitchens are brilliant because they suit a wide range of dietary requirements, including halal, vegan and gluten intolerant.

Sports and Reputation:

Harris Manchester students (Harris Mancunians) put on some great socials such as pub quizzes, open mic nights and ale festivals. The college has a good rowing team with many opportunities for new rowers to get involved. The societies are well suited for mature students, with a popular Wine Society and Music Society.

College Living:

College accommodation is situated in the city centre, so it is close to bars, restaurants and entertainment, and the rooms are spacious with a gym on-site. The accommodation is also opposite Oxford’s main library (the Bodleian). The underground bar is popular most nights of the week and the food is more on the pricey side compared to other colleges at £4-5 for a main meal.

Sports and Reputation:

Recently, Hertford has had some success with women’s rowing and there are many clubs to get involved with. The college is known for being friendly with a strong sense of community. It is heavily liberal which may be more for some students who would rather not attend a very conservative college.

College Living:

Jesus has accommodation for all degree years and one of the college annexes has a full sized rugby pitch. Students say that it can get cold in halls in winter but the college offers heating subsidies to offset the costs of leaving heaters on. The Jesus Bar has a karaoke machine, Xbox, PlayStation and a foosball table, and there are many college events held in the bar that nearly always reach full capacity.

Sports and Reputation:

Jesus is more laid back on the formalities compared to other colleges. It is thought to be the friendliest college and even the Principal attends sporting events to cheer on the college teams. Jesus College is not very political and is known to be all about inclusivity. This applies to sports too, even if you are not great at a sport or new to it, everyone is welcomed to join in and there’s always a good turnout of supporters to cheer the Jesus teams on.

College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed for first and second years. The college bar is known as ‘the spaceship’ and has a retro feel. Food is a good price which is ideal because only third years have access to a kitchen, so eating in Hall is a big part of college life. Formal Halls occur twice a week. Keble was founded as a Christian college so there are still some remaining traditions, for instance, Grace is said before formal meals.

Sports and Reputation:

Keble may appear as a very formal college (Formal Hall used to be every dinner until recently) but in fact, it is one of the more relaxed Oxford Colleges with traditions more focused on building a college community than enforcing old rules. The college is quite large which means that there are many sports and societies on offer for students, including more obscure ones such as ice hockey. The Keble rowing team receives good funding and it is respected across the University, with some of the crew rowing in The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

College Living:

Kellogg is graduate only and it is the largest college by number of students. Even with so many students, it is thought to have the best accommodation in the University, with private gardens and student housing based in three Victorian mansions. The college has a new hub which has a café and meeting spaces. Formal dinner is held once a week and there isn’t a chapel due to how new the college is.  

Sports and Reputation:

Known for its egalitarian ethos, Kellogg boats a lack of formality with no high table separation between students and fellows. The college has a large international population and is thought of as very modern. Kellogg has a unique tradition of saying Grace in Welsh as the college was founded on St David’s Day. With a big reputation for sports, Kellogg has seen many famous sportsmen pass through the college including Olympians and international rugby players.

College Living:

As an undergrad at Lady Margaret, you are able to live in the college for three years. Everyone has access to a kitchen so you do not need to always eat at the college hall. The bar is open all week with happy hour lasting between 7pm till 9pm. Formals are every Friday and informal hall costs £2.50 for a main meal.

Sports and Reputation:

Lady Margaret is famous for being the first Oxford college to accept women exclusively and then the first to accept both men and women. This history is something the college is proud of and they strive for inclusivity and a welcoming environment. Following on from that, the college shows complete inclusivity in sports too, teams are very open for beginners up to Blues athletes.

College Living:

Linacre is graduate only. The college campus has great facilities such as a gym, conference facilities, study rooms and an amazing library. The common room has a Nintendo Switch, Xbox and bike maintenance kit and Linacre does not have its own chapel. Food is not served at the weekend but there are guest dinners every Tuesday and Thursday.

Sports and Reputation:

Linacre is known for being Oxford’s first graduate-only college and as a more modern college, it is relatively informal but there is still a college Grace said at the end of a meal. The college has a number of sports clubs, including the Linacre Ladies who Lift.

College Living:

Accommodation is available for all years of your degree. The college bar, known as Deep Hall or ‘Deepers’, is a popular underground bar. Students say that the Lincoln has some of the best college food in Oxford with three meals a day in Hall and takeaway pizza from the bar in the evenings. There is an informal hall every evening and every other Thursday there is a Great Hall, which is smarter than the Formal Halls.

Sports and Reputation:

Lincoln has a reputation for being a warm and welcoming college. It has a balance of being progressive but still keeping some traditions. The students at Lincoln fundraise for two charities a month and they stress the importance of clubs and societies to have a strong sense of community. The sports facilities are great with a modern pavilion at the college’s sports grounds and a newly refurbished boathouse.

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College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed for all students for the entirety of their degrees. Rooms are a good price as they are subsidised by the college. Bops are held at the college bar called the Old Kitchen Bar, along with general meetings and karaoke. The food in Hall can get quite expensive as it is £4.00 a meal but there are kitchen facilities accessible for all students. Formal dinners cost £9.00 per person and on a Sunday Formal, the choir performs.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is old so naturally, it has its own traditions. For example, students are only allowed to walk on the grass in summer term (Trinity). Magdalen has a reputation for being an old and wealthy college that attracts mainly privately educated, conservative students. This may be the case for some students, but it should not put off others from applying. Admissions statistics are changing each year from improvements made by the college access and outreach teams. Students have free access to the Iffley Sports Centre and there is a variety of sports that students can get involved in such as ice-skating.

College Living:

Accommodation is offered to all undergraduate students for the duration of their degree. The rooms are quite nice with most rooms being en-suite. Mansfield does not really have a bar. The college says they do but students say that it is never open. The college food is really good, especially for vegetarians and was voted the best for vegetarian food out of the Oxford Colleges. As the college is poorer than other colleges, food is not subsidised so can be quite expensive. A main meal usually costs around £5.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is quite informal with a high intake of state school students. It is really the only Oxford College where the ratio of state school students to private school students matches that of the general population so it achieves fair representation each year. The college is known for being more inclusive with little elitism. Students are often more progressive with less social exclusion based on politics. There is not a gym but students still have free access to other gyms. Rugby and football are played with Merton College on their pitches.

College Living:

Merton offers accommodation for all years and has a cosy and cheap college bar. The college food is also cheap but there is lots of it, which students aren’t annoyed at. Merton is located 2 minutes from the High Street but tucked away enough to not hear a car pass.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is known for being fairly traditional with the requirement of wearing gowns for all meetings with the Warden and there is a Formal Hall six times a week. It is not known for being a sporty college but there is a small gym and tennis and squash courts with some sports fields and a pavilion. Merton has the unfortunate reputation of being a college ‘where fun goes to die’ due to the regular residence at the top of the Norrington Table.

College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed to all first-year students with most of the rooms being en-suite. Most of first and second-year accommodation does not have access to kitchens but the food in Hall is said to be really good and students enjoy the opportunity to socialise with others over lunch and dinner. The bar has been recently renovated and is used as a café in the day. There are pub quizzes and darts competitions and the bar is a popular location for sports teams.

Sports and Reputation:

New College has a famous motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’ and is generally seen as a strong academic college which comes near the top of the Norrington table. The sports grounds are only a 5-minute walk from the main college site and there is a variety of different sports teams available to get involved with, including dancesport, cricket, hockey and netball.

College Living:

Accommodation is offered to first and second-year students. It is one of the smallest colleges, if not the smallest college and Nuffield is postgraduate only. The college is based right in the centre of Oxford which makes it a great location for bars, restaurants and entertainment.

Sports and Reputation:

Nuffield is known for being the hub for social science research at Oxford. Students tend to be very brainy (unsurprisingly for Oxford) and fellows and students engage in political questions, which apparently can become quite ‘lively’.

College Living:

Oriel offers accommodation for the full duration of the degree. The food is priced around £4 for lunch and £6 for dinner and students say that the food is nothing special but still nice and they manage to cater to different dietary requirements.  The bar is not as big as other college bars, but it has a variety of bar games and a TV which shows live sports.

Sports and Reputation:

Oriel has a strong reputation for rowing success. The rowing programme is well funded with free coaching and state of the art equipment. The political atmosphere tends to be very conservative and there has been some controversy with the Cecil Rhodes statue in the college.

bridge-of-sighs-oxford

College Living:

Pembroke offers 3 years of accommodation to undergraduates. The nicer rooms in the main site tend to have term-time only contracts. Hall food is ok, but students do not shout about it. The only meal they do really well is the famous college brownie. Interestingly, Wednesday Hall meals are meat-free. Similarly to the food, students say that the bar is not as good as other colleges but Pembroke is currently trying to improve the footfall.

Sports and Reputation:

Pembroke’s JCR is one of the richest in Oxford so they regularly donate to charities. Aside from this, the college tends to not be as well-known as other Oxford Colleges. Sports are important to the college, especially the rowing club which is also free, this is unusual for Oxford colleges.

College Living:

Regents guarantees accommodation for first and third-year students only. The college bar was voted the best college bar in Oxford and it is very popular among students for its prices and character. Students do not praise the college food but say that although fairly terrible, it is still cheap with a number of vegetarian options.

Sports and Reputation:

Regents is very informal and has a friendly atmosphere with an active welfare team. It is fairly public school heavy and can be quite ‘posh and rowdy’ with the Bullingdon Club being founded there (apparently). Sport has improved in recent years and the netball, football and rugby team is joint with Mansfield and Merton.

College Living:

Accommodation for over 100 students is available at Farndon Court, while the college provides a number of catering, library and IT services. Students also have access to a full selection of sporting, social and recreational facilities, while the college also has close ties to the University’s Gardens and Museums. 

Sports and Reputation:

Reuben College is Oxford 39th established college and was created to meet the increasing demand for graduate student places at the university. The college can be found in the city centre, located within the University Science Area which suits the college’s heavy focus on STEM subjects and research. 

College Living:

Sommerville accommodation is located close to the city centre and is offered to all undergraduates during their degrees. The college bar, called ‘the Terrace’ has indoor and outdoor seating which is great in the summer. They have a pool table and a selection of local beers. Hall serves three meals a day during the week with full meals costing around £4. There are some meat-free days to reduce the environmental impact.

Sports and Reputation:

Sommerville is known for being very relaxed and liberal and this goes for the tutorials too. The grass quad is large and you find many students sitting outside together during the summer months. The college has a variety of sports teams and lots of options for beginners. They even have a croquet club.  

College Living:

St Anne’s offers accommodation for 3 years to its students and 4th years normally live in college-rented houses. The college bar is popular during the weekends and after Formals, and it hosts many events during the year such as charity pub quizzes. The food has its own accolades as the St Anne’s Chefs have won awards in national competitions. They cater for a variety of dietary requirements and menus can be found online at the beginning of each term.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is less formal than most with only five Formals each term and no gowns needed to be allowed in. As St Anne’s is not the most well-known college, it does not have such a defined reputation but students say the college is very inclusive and there are many sports teams to get involved with, such as the tennis team and even a rounders team.

College Living:

The college has 104 rooms which are mostly reserved for first years. All rooms have access to kitchen facilities so students do not need to just use the college’s catering. St Antony’s is graduate only.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is unusual because it focuses pretty on International Relations. Similar to most graduate only colleges, St Antony’s is fairly informal which is expressed in the shared use of many facilities between students and fellows, including open seating in Hall. The college has a variety of clubs and societies such as Yoga Society and the Brewing society.

College Living:

Accommodation at St Catherine’s (St Catz’) was built more recently than most Oxford College’s accommodation. The campus has on-site accommodation and it is thought to be one of the largest with lots of great facilities. The JCR is the biggest in Oxford and has many activities inside including arcade games, Wii, Sky Sports TV and the college bar is said to be cheap and well-stocked. The college is fully catered in its cafeteria and there is Hall dinner which has a more interesting menu.

Sports and Reputation:

As St Catherine’s is the youngest undergraduate college, it has a more modern atmosphere although formality is still enforced with a strict dress code/code of conduct during Formals (no shouting and singing and a limit on alcohol). With a lack of tourists visiting the college, it tends to be a lot quieter than others. The college has a reputation for being a sports college and it is near some of the large sports grounds. The college has also seen a number of Olympians pass through its gates and row for the college.

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College Living:

The college has around 190 rooms which are reserved for first years as older years are expected to live outside of the college. Most rooms are en-suite and all rooms have a kitchen that is easily accessible. St Cross is based in the centre of Oxford which makes it great to access the city centre entertainment and university facilities.

Sports and Reputation:

Possibly known as the least formal college, students constantly mix with peers and leading academics. Facilities are shared between fellows and students and there is open seating in Hall. There are plenty of sports on offer for St Cross students and the college offers subsidies to help defray the cost of participation.

College Living:

All first-years live at St Edmund Hall and they report that the food is really good with plenty of choices available, which is especially the case for Formals. Meals are expensive though. There is a small but very active religious community in the college and students and staff are both dedicated to running events and providing pastoral care.

Sports and Reputation:

St Edmund has a reputation around the University of being fierce sports competitors and a fairly boisterous atmosphere but students report that this can easily be avoided if it is not what you would like. The college is also famous for rugby with a strong rowing team too. There is a great deal of college support with many attending the team’s rugby matches throughout the year.

College Living:

St Hilda’s guarantees accommodation for all first and third-year students so second years tend to live out in shared houses together. There are shared kitchens in halls and all rooms are the same price to make it fair. The bar is great because of how cheap it is and the Entz team run themed bops with some wine and cheese tasting nights.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is the only one with round tables which makes it feel more sociable. Interestingly, St Hilda’s was the last college in Oxford to admit men which started in 2008. St Hilda’s has had recent success with sports such as rowing and netball and the men’s football team won cuppers last year. They have also had a few Blues athletes.

St-Hugh's-College-Oxford Exterior

College Living:

St Hugh’s guarantees accommodation for 4 years of study at a fixed price, which is rare. Students in later years are given the option of living in a student house that is still on site so students can get the house share experience. The bar serves drinks for cheap prices but is said to be fairly quiet as other bars, outside of the college, serve cheaper drinks. A full meal costs £3 and students say it is good quality and there is also a tea room that offers higher quality breakfast and lunch for £5.

Sports and Reputation:

Hugh’s is known for not being in the best location as it is a 20-minute walk to the town centre but only 5 minutes by bike. Students become used to this very quickly so it is not seen by those attending the college as an issue. The college tends to be fairly left-wing and the sports teams are not in the top of most leagues but there is a great turn-out of college supporters to each event so they make up for it. You can also often find a student game of football happening on the lawns during summer.

College Living:

St John’s offers rooms for all years for undergraduates and for some postgraduates too. The accommodation is said to be really nice with character (wooden beams and large kitchens). The barman is a French sommelier and there is a variety of cocktails on offer with frequent open mic nights. Food is served every day, three times a day with Formals four days a week. Guest dinners are reported to be fantastic with unlimited Prosecco and a professional photographer on hand.

Sports and Reputation:

John’s is known for being the richest Oxford college and for being fairly formal. There is a well-supplied wine cellar and stunning architecture. Although thought of as a ‘posh’ college, there is still a good state school intake and the atmosphere is very inclusive and not too political. With more money comes better sports facilities and John’s has squash courts, multiple gyms and it is based near the training grounds for rugby and football.

College Living:

St Peter’s gives students the opportunity to live on-site for two years and then move into one of the College-owned properties in the final years. The college bar has been voted as the best of any college and it is very affordable which makes it popular. Food is said to be good by the students with many mains on offer and apparently, the steaks are really tasty. For vegetarians, there are many options and similar to the steaks, students say the tofu stacks are great.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is fairly informal and is one of the smaller and newest colleges. St Peter’s shares sports grounds with Exeter and Hertford which has two cricket pitches and pavilions and two rugby and football pitches and much more. This allows students to socialise with other colleges and graduates too, especially for those who want to row as you will share a boathouse with Sommerville, Wolfson and University College.

College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed by Queen’s for the duration of all undergraduates’ degrees. The architecture is beautiful, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Students say that although there are kitchens, most people tend to eat in the dining hall. The common rooms are great with games and areas to relax and socialise. The bar is popular and situated in the basement which gives it a catacomb-esque feel.

Sports and Reputation:

Queen’s has earned a reputation as being a fun and friendly place to study and live. The location is just off the high street so there is a party atmosphere and the college is known for its music with an excellent/prestigious choir and a jazz band. Queen’s has one of the world’s oldest boat clubs and two heated squash courts (apparently the best in Oxford).

College Living:

Similar to other colleges, Trinity offers accommodation to students on-site for the first two years and then students live out in a college-owned property in their final years. The bar (Trinity Beer Cellar) is an underground bar that is well known for its whisky collection. Although they may be biased, Trinity students say that the food is the best in Oxford and the steak and brie night is always booked up on a Monday night.

Sports and Reputation:

Although fewer in student numbers, Trinity does not feel like a small college. Students say that the reputation of being small, stuffy and old fashioned is not actually true and there is a big sense of community. There is a famous triathlon, located in the Beer Cellar (table football, darts and pool) and the college sports teams have success with netball, rugby and hockey.

College Living:

Accommodation is guaranteed for all undergraduate years. There are three bops each term and a famous toga party (sheets not included) held in the College bar. Formal Hall happens three times a week with Sunday being the busiest as it is free entry for the choir.

Sports and Reputation:

University (Univ) hosts a fantastic summer ball every year which students report being the best night of the year. The college is situated off the high street making it a great place to get involved with city activities. The college strongly encourages students to take part in sports to form friendships and teamwork whilst improving health and wellbeing. Lawn tennis is available and the college has an iconic boathouse.  

wadham-college-oxford

College Living:

Wadham offers accommodation on-site for first and third years. The college food is priced low to be more accessible and lunch costs £2-4 and furthermore, half the menu is always vegetarian. Interestingly, Wadham doesn’t do Formals but there are still guest nights when college students can bring their friends and families. The college bar has regular bops for LGBTQ+ students.

Sports and Reputation:

Wadham has a reputation for being incredibly liberal and progressive, students say it can be fairly imposing but the inclusivity makes it a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The college was the first to fly the rainbow flag for Pride. Wadham has a Gaelic Football Cuppers side and the same with trampolining too. They have also had success with ultimate frisbee.

College Living:

Wolfson boasts the most modern accommodation in Oxford with rooms overlooking the quad, punt harbour and college gardens. The college bar is said to be excellent and is one of the cheapest in Oxford and it holds a number of bops each year. The college has an amazing wine cellar to suit the more mature college members and students can request special wines.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is famous for being informal and is loved by those who avoid pomp and circumstance. There is a strong egalitarian ethos and no high table so students mix with fellows during social events and for dinner. Wolfson is sometimes nicknamed ‘the Berlin Wall’ for the radical political atmosphere and the bar is home to the Communist Part Party which is a popular bop. Wolfson has a day of sporting contests every year against its sister (and enemy) Darwin College, Cambridge and the college is competitive with sports in general.

College Living:

Worcester guarantees accommodation for three years of your degree but there is sometimes the option to extend it for fourth years. Students say that the college bar has a great atmosphere and although small, there are regular quiz nights and karaoke events. Hall serves meals three times a day with a tasty brunch on Sunday and Formal Hall happens four times a week.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is known for being a tight-knit community and for being a friendly college without a particular political orientation. The atmosphere is very informal and everyone is on a first-name basis. Worcester is great with beginners sports and has many teams, including rowing, that do not require any experience to join.

Practical considerations when choosing An Oxford College

Location

In your Oxford application, make sure you think about the practical sides of university life such as location. Although Oxford is a very small town, the colleges are sprinkled all over. Choosing a college that is further out from the centre might not be a problem if you are a keen cyclist, however, if you would like to be able to wake up and cross the road to get to lectures etc. it is worth choosing one of the central colleges like Jesus College.

Quote from Sammy an Oxbridge PBS student

Furthermore, with location, libraries are a huge part of Oxford life and, therefore, you should make sure that the college you are applying for is near to the library you would need.

Oxford Colleges from the City Centre

Naturally, there are quite a few differences in the way the colleges look. This can depend on the age of the college (there is a difference of over 600 years between the oldest and youngest) so if you would prefer a more venerable institution, this should be considered.

Some colleges are traditionally seen to be more attractive (for example Christ Church for the grandeur) however this does all come down to personal preference, and it is important to visit the colleges to see which you like the look of. Although this might seem like a more superficial consideration, it is nevertheless an important factor!

Accommodation

Accommodation Across Your Years At Oxford

Accommodation does differ somewhat between colleges. A lot of colleges will offer college-run accommodation for all three years of a standard undergraduate course, but in many cases, second years at least will be in an annexe outside the main college and in some cases, a mile or more away. If you’ve picked your college based on its fab city centre location, then this might be rather disappointing.

Price

As you consider how to choose an Oxford college, you might also want to consider the price of accommodation (some Oxford colleges are more expensive than others and you don’t usually get much choice as a fresher) and whether you’d be able to stay over the holidays, particularly if you’re coming from a long way away. Many colleges let their rooms to conference guests or to interviewees during the holidays.

Facilities

Finally, consider kitchen facilities and the reputation of the college food. A lot of colleges don’t provide ovens in their student kitchens and this can be tricky if you’re trying to self-cater, particularly for specific dietary requirements.

UniAdmissions Tip

Utilise open days! To properly develop an idea of what living at an Oxford college is like, make sure you utilise open days and get on the accommodation tours. You’ll be able to ask lots of questions to current students about what student life is like.

Accessibility

As Oxford suggest on their website, it is important to consider accessibility. Most colleges have facilities and accommodation for disabled students. However, with the age of the buildings in the city, some areas of some colleges aren’t accessible for students with mobility issues. If you feel this will affect you, please contact Oxford’s Student Welfare Team for advice.

College Size

When thinking of how to choose an Oxford college, college size is another consideration as there is quite a disparity between colleges so it is important to decide whether a large environment suits the extrovert in you, or if you would favour a close-knit community.

Largest Oxford Colleges By Student Numbers

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersVisiting, Recognised and Other StudentsTotal
Kellogg11371137
St Catherine’s52838537950
Keble4494663918

Some colleges have a small and homely feel which often means that everyone knows everyone. Others are quite large, often meaning that it is easier to get lost in a large group. Either one has its advantages or disadvantages depending on what you prefer. Before you make your Oxford application, make sure to have a look at the number of students per year in the Oxford prospectus or on the Oxford website.

College Food

Oxford University colleges are a hub for eating and sleeping, so you might want to think about what sort of arrangements will suit you best. Fortunately, students have recently told us how much the eating options have improved over the last few years meaning that whether you are vegan, vegetarian or have other dietary requirements, there will always be options for you at each college.  

As we mentioned earlier, utilise the open days to ask questions about food. Some suggestions to consider are:

Prices of food and accommodation. How much is the average meal? What are the kitchen facilities like at the college accommodation if you would rather be self-catered? How frequently is food served? Is it self-service or a sit-down meal each time? This might be particularly useful to think about for those who are keen to get involved in extra-curricular activities which may take place over mealtimes. Or perhaps you may just have a preference for one or the other!

Understanding Oxford Academia

Academic considerations can be good motivations for choosing one college over another. Some of the main differences might be as follows:

Have you perhaps read a book or article by an academic and are keen to be taught by them? Do you know that the fellow at your chosen college specialises in an area that you are interested in? Or, perhaps you are even just keen to be part of a larger intake for your subject, and you know that one college takes a bigger cohort each year.

If you are making an Oxford University application for joint honours, this might be particularly applicable as it can help to apply to a college which has often taken students for particular combinations. This is for both organisation and support reasons. It will be easier to coordinate your chosen subjects if there is someone who has studied the combination ahead of you that you can ask for advice!

St-Hugh's-College-Oxford Exterior
St Hugh's College, Oxford

It is possible to have tutorials at other colleges if your own does not have a tutor to suit your specific interests, so this is not the most important factor. However, it will help your application if the tutor who interviews you has interests in alignment with your own, and it is worth checking this before you decide.

Extracurricular interests at Oxford

Make sure you look on individual college websites to see what the general co-curriculum scene looks like, such as sport, talks, drama, music, and art. This will give you a good idea of what a college is like before starting your Oxford application.

Oxford University Sports

College sport is a key part of college life, and different colleges have different levels of sporting prowess. If you are interested in rowing or rugby, for example, it might be worth choosing a college with particular enthusiasm and history for these sports.

oxford-university-australian-rules-club
Oxford University Australian Rules Football Club (AstacopsisGouldi, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Oxford University Societies

Societies play a large part in students’ lives at Oxford. For example, drama is an interest that varies between colleges, with some colleges having their own theatres for their students to use. Therefore, if you have a particular passion, choosing a college with a reputation for that passion would be a good thing!

Open Applications

Remember, you can always make an ‘open application’. This means applying to Oxford with no preference for a college. You will be allocated a college at random to interview at, leaving the choice of college up to chance. This does not give you an advantage or disadvantage in the application process.

What To Avoid When Choosing An Oxford College

Here are some of the things you must avoid when considering how to choose an Oxford college.

Applying To The Same College As School Friends

At UniAdmissions, this is something we always suggest that you avoid. Not only are you making it more competitive for each other, but Oxford generally does not accept two students from the same school onto a course in the same college. They do this for a number of reasons such as avoiding cliques from forming instantly and to try to accept students with more varied backgrounds.

Oxford Stereotypes

Don’t buy into the Oxford stereotypes and let them put you off applying to a college. Sometimes, the very brightest minds, who may never even have realised they could fall under this bracket, lack the confidence, the self-belief, or sometimes, the desire to apply to these prestigious, albeit highly traditional, institutions.

They’ll see the Daily Mail’s photographic features of students enjoying extravagant May Ball events, raucous drinking society gatherings, or dressed in flamboyant academic gowns, and think “that’s not me”.

Here’s a secret: those who see these things and think “that is me” are incredibly rare – and these activities may either be entirely optional or occur very infrequently. They don’t reflect the daily reality of life at individual colleges, so don’t be put off by these quirks alone.

Applying Strategically

The college you apply to rarely makes a difference to your chances of getting into Oxford. If you are a good candidate, but the college you apply to is already full for your subject, you will be sent to interview at another college. This makes the system fair, meaning you don’t have to apply tactically.

Follow The Norrington Table

The Norrington Table is used to judge all of Oxford colleges’ academic standing. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as there have been problems with measurement and its variability. Don’t let the table be your deciding factor, particularly if you only look at the last couple of years as it will vary significantly across the space of a few years.

Final Considerations And Conclusion

In truth, you will likely be happy at whichever college you end up in.

The hours the college library is open, how good the bar is, and whether or not you have to wear gowns to dinner may all seem like trivial issues or big deciding factors, but ultimately, it’s all about what you personally want from a college. You might even be offered a place at a college different from the one you applied to. 

Take your time now to research the colleges, check out the college pages and visit the colleges during open days to see if they suit you and your interests. It is well worth the time and can guarantee a more positive experience at Oxford.

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