What exactly is a college?
In the magical realm of Harry Potter, a wizard who is accepted to Hogwarts must also be accepted to a house. In the same way, just as one is accepted to Oxford University, one must also be accepted into a Oxford house, which we muggles call a “college”.
Oxford has 38 different colleges, and the college will be your focal point for:
- Dorms - you’ll be living in a house with students solely from your college
- Cafeteria - while you can eat at other college’s cafeterias if you have an invitation from a student who belongs there, you won’t be able to walk into any cafeteria on your own, unless it’s the cafeteria of your college. You will also get a discounted price when you eat at your own cafeteria and will pay a higher fee at other ones.
- Library, lounges, hang out areas, and events - same story as the cafeteria. Some events are exclusive to a college and you will not be able to attend if you do not belong to the college.
Colleges and studies
If you are a grad student, the college has no bearing on your actually studies: regardless of your college, you will have the same professors and courses as everyone else enrolled in your program. For undergraduate students, (in most degrees) your TAs will be from your college, and so the teaching quality can vary depending on which one you belong to (this actually isn’t true for the undergraduate course in computer science, but it remains true even for ‘modern’ programs such as the bachelor’s engineering degree). Going further, for some of the more traditional undergraduate degrees such as history, your lectures will be given by the professors in your college, so you may be getting a different viewpoint on history depending on which college you are in.
The different colleges have very different ‘personalities’ - some are very British, others more international. Some are only for undergrads, some only for grad students, and others are mixed. The colleges vary widely in quality of cafeterias, and the number of meals they serve a day. They also vary in the services they offer: some have their own personal gyms and choirs, for instance. Some colleges are incredibly wealthy, and can pay for student travel grants and scholarships. Some colleges are ‘well-connected’ and can provide their students with discounts at stores and bars. Depending on your college’s wealth, it will subsidize your dorms and food costs differently, and that is one of the most important factors to bear in mind when selecting a college. I personally lived on a street where the dorms in my building, owned by College A, cost 200 pounds more per month than the same dorms on an adjacent building owned by wealthier College B.
When you apply to Oxford as a grad student, you request a single college that you would like to join. If the college selects you, great; if not, you’ll be assigned a college randomly depending on availability.
Review of Colleges
While there is an abundance of information about undergraduate colleges, there is hardly any about the graduate colleges. Due to this, I am compiling a short review of graduate or mixed colleges here:
Kellogg (Grad only)
This was my college! Named after the Kellogg cereal founder, Will Keith Kellogg, who left a fund that, among other things, funds this institution.
- Very international- we often joked that the British in the college were rare gems that we needed to protect.
- Has intimate libraries that are open 24/7 and are great for studying.
- Comfy hang out rooms.
- Great food, though the meals cost around 6 pounds.
- Close to the gorgeous University Parks.
- The college administration really tries their best to make you feel comfortable - any problem that I had with my dorms was fixed within 24 hours. In contrast, I’ve heard horror stories about other colleges who take two months to fix issues as simple as broken heating appliances.
- Less wealthy - so no travel grants and almost no scholarships. Dorms and food are more expensive.
- Mostly a part-time college (i.e. a college for part time students who do not live in Oxford), so the number of full-time students is smaller. While this gives a more intimate experience, it also means you have less people to choose from for your social group.
Linacre (Grad only)
- Very international as well.
- Close to University Parks.
- Great social life - lots of events and a large number of students. I always met interesting people when I visited their common rooms.
- Better dorm prices.
- Cheap cafeteria food, which I always found satisfactory. If you’re a food snob though, this may be an issue.
- The cafeteria food is not the best in Oxford.
- I’ve heard complaints from students who moved with their partners and children, so it seems that Linacre is not very accommodating to families.
Wolfson (Grad only)
- Very international as well.
- Great treatment of students who move with their families.
- Located right on the edge of a stream and walking path.
- Has gardens you can cultivate
- Good dorm and food prices.
- The only con I’ve heard about this college is its location: it’s quite far from the center of town. If you don’t see yourself riding a bicycle around Oxford, I would take its remote location into serious consideration, or you’ll be taking very long walks or paying for taxis.
Keble (Grad and Undergrad)
- Very international.
- Brand new grad dorms that are comfortable and stylish.
- 24/7 open library.
- Quite wealthy: offers many travel grants and scholarships.
- Has a choir.
- Hosts two parties a week in their common room.
Jesus (Grad and Undergrad)
- Offers 3 meals a day!
- Great location in the center of town, although if you’re a nature person you may prefer being a bit further away.
- A wealthy college that charges rent on a day basis rather than a monthly one: this means that if you leave your belongings in a friend’s dorm over the holiday vacation, you won’t need to pay anything during the time that you’re abroad.
- Has a squash court and a choir.
- 24/7 open library
- Generous 100 pound grant for textbooks for each student
- I’ve understood that it has a very British culture and has less internationals (although you may considered this a pro).
Many colleges are still missing from this list. If you see one that isn’t included and that you’d like to know more about, please comment below and I will inquire among my colleagues about the college for you. Happy college hunting!