Oxbridge Colleges: Small vs Large? | UniAdmissions Guide

Universities in Oxbridge come in all shapes and sizes, and one factor that impacts your university life is the number of students in each year group. These students are the people you are most likely to live and work with for three years. Raymond shares his experience of the size of colleges as a current Oxbridge student at Cambridge.

Author: Raymond Hart

You are here:

Table of Contents

Colleges at Oxbridge come in all shapes and sizes, and one factor that impacts your college life is the number of students in each year group.

These students are the people you’re most likely to live and work alongside with for three years, and might even contain some friends for life! Oxbridge college cohorts vary greatly in number – from those averaging 600-700 undergraduates across all three years, to colleges of around 200, and this variation brings about important social implications, including ones you might not always expect before applying.

Raymond shares his experience of college sizes as a current Oxbridge student studying at Cambridge.  

Studying at Small Oxbridge Colleges

I study at one of the smallest colleges in Cambridge, with an annual intake of just 85 first-years. Small colleges are regularly dubbed as “Small but Friendly” in prospectuses, and in my experience, this has often been proven correct! 

With such a small first-year cohort, you quickly get to know everyone in your year, with fewer embarrassing blunders about forgetting people’s names in fresher’s week. I’ve never seen a larger college with such friendly and regular interactions between all three-year groups as my tiny community. Older year students almost become your more experienced ‘siblings’ and there are no qualms about age differences in our college’s many inter-year friendships, which is really lovely to see.

Oxford Colleges from the City Centre

Cambridge Colleges from the City Centre

It’s a fact: size matters. Both ‘small’ and ‘large’ Oxbridge colleges have their relative merits – by putting some thought into what you’d like to get out of your college environment, you can ensure that the benefits associated with each size meet your wishes best.

Largest Oxford Colleges 

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

Smallest Oxford Colleges 

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersVisiting, Recognised and Other StudentsTotal
All Souls66
Campion Hall1717
Blackfriars Hall127331

Largest Cambridge Colleges (includes visiting students)

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersTotal
Homerton6327111,343
Trinity7483351,083
Wolfson1948391,033

Smallest Cambridge Colleges (includes visiting students)

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersTotal
Clare Hall0264264
Peterhouse315187502
Lucy Cavendish169373542

What are the drawbacks of studying at small colleges?

Only one other student in my year studies my subject in college. If you’re studying humanities or the arts, do take a look at the annual college intake for your subject: the answer might surprise you! Whilst my subject buddy in college is the best comrade I could ask for, I have college friends in small subjects who aren’t friendly with their sole subject companions, which makes for an isolated experience during stressful revision periods.

However, this can be surmounted by making lots of friends on your course, though, if you’re shy like me, this could be daunting in a lecture hall full of strangers, and you might feel more comfortable being eased more gently into their companionship by joining a college with a larger subject cohort!

cambridge-city-university
View over Cambridge

Common Misconceptions

“If you are very shy, the best course of action is to join a small but friendly college.”

This isn’t as intuitive as it sounds. Whilst the atmosphere of these colleges might be more open and friendly in general, your goal is likely to be to find people who are on your page – who you’ll ‘click’ with. Going to a larger college will maximise your chances of meeting your ideal friends. Ultimately, in a very small group, there’s no guarantee you’ll get along with everyone, and casting the net as wide as possible might be no bad thing on your quest to meet your “friend soulmates” in college.

oxford-university-from-above
View over Oxford

The Correct Stereotype

The stereotype is true: almost everyone thinks that the college they end up attending is the best, and they wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, keep the size at the back of your mind when applying: it may well comprise a factor when you inevitably declare your unflinching college loyalty!

Feel like a world-class education and life at Oxbridge will work for you?

We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive Admissions Test score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxford or Cambridge application, from History to Medicine.

Discover our Oxbridge Premium Programmes by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

Book An Expert Application Consultation