Choosing a college at Oxbridge can seem as intimidating as being a clueless first year at the Hogwarts sorting ceremony. Rumours have been flying thick and fast, increasingly exaggerated: one college is a hive of tequila-slamming drug-snorting party animals; one is home to a sect of fearsome intellectuals who discuss only Kafka and Proust, and one, you have been sternly warned, is the Hufflepuff of colleges, ‘where fun goes to die.’
Fear not, though. For one, although being sorted into a Hogwarts house conditions your social life irrevocably, your Oxbridge college does not. This is the first thing to remember: at Oxbridge, you will make friends through your course, through sports, drama, societies, even through the random outcome of a fortuitous trip to The Three Broomsticks – sorry, I mean The King’s Arms. A big group of my friends at Oxford were second years at a different college, introduced to me by a mutual friend – so the decision isn’t really as big as you think it is.
The second thing to remember is that, unlike the Sorting Ceremony, at Oxford or Cambridge you get to choose where you go. (And die-hard Potter fans will know that even during the Sorting there’s a bit of leeway for personal desire.) Perhaps the element of choice is something that seems like part of the problem at the moment – but it shouldn’t be. Although it would be crazy to make a decision on hearsay, there are a couple of things you can do to make sure you end up somewhere that’s good for you.
Firstly, obviously: visit. Have a look around the building and see if you could imagine yourself reading on its sunny lawns or holing yourself up in its library. Go with your gut – if it feels good, it probably will be. Secondly: look up the tutors. However much you end up trying to avoid it, a big part of your life at Oxbridge will be spent working, so you might as well make sure your interests match up with those who will be teaching you. This will help at your interview, too: you’ll be able to show a genuine passion for your subject.
However, my advice would be to resist looking into the statistics that pretend to offer insight into how likely it is that girls from your school will get into read biology at St Hilda’s, or whatever it is you’re going for. Trust me, this can’t really be predicted – there’s every chance that applications in your year are particularly strong, or weak, and you’ll only end up wondering whether you might have got into the place you really wanted to go. So follow your heart – and remember, if you’re a strong candidate, but there’s no room at the inn, you’ll be ‘pooled’ – sent around to interview at other colleges too.
Apart from the building and tutors, the only other things you can really determine about your college is its intake size, and whether it has any special facilities, or areas of expertise – perhaps an amazing choir, or great sports grounds. Apart from that, nothing can be predicted, so ignore the rumours, and take a plunge – after all, as Harry himself learns, some of the bravest wizards of all time go to Slytherin.