Insights|Oxbridge|University Applications

Embarking on a journey to study at Oxford or Cambridge university is a dream for many aspiring A Level students. These prestigious institutions offer unparalleled academic excellence, rich histories, and a vibrant collegiate environment. One common question we get asked by Oxbridge applicants, however, is how do you select the right college? With dozens of options available, this article will guide you through the process of choosing an Oxbridge college that aligns with your academic goals, interests, and overall university experience.

Before we get started, here are a few points to note. On your UCAS application, students can only apply to Oxford or Cambridge University, but not both. You can specify your college preference on your UCAS form (by listing the college campus code) but will be interviewed at two colleges. Typically, around a third of successful applicants receive an offer from a college that they didn’t specify in their application.

1. Research the colleges

Start by familiarising yourself with the colleges. Each college has its distinct character, architectural style, and academic strengths. Visit their websites, read about their histories, and explore their facilities. Consider factors such as size, location, and facilities provided. Some colleges may be located in the heart of the city, while others might offer more serene environments. Make a list of colleges that capture your interest.

2. Academic considerations

Different colleges have different academic strengths. Some are renowned for sciences, while others have strong humanities or social science departments. The Norrington Table is used to rank Oxford colleges by academic strength, while the Tompkins Table is used to rank Cambridge colleges.

A college suggester tool might be a useful starting point. You may also wish to consider how many places are offered for your chosen course, to maximise your chances, and the specialisms of the college’s tutors to make sure they align with your interests. These are the professors who interview prospective candidates and deliver weekly tutes for first year students.

3. Campus atmosphere

Oxbridge colleges can feel like an extension of boarding school. The porters, scouts (housekeepers), and older students offer an excellent support network. Investigate the accommodation options provided by your college shortlist – some may offer accommodation to all year groups, while others only to first year students. Some have modern, spacious rooms, while others have historic buildings with unique architectural features. Your college will become your home away from home for the duration of your studies, so it’s important that you feel comfortable and happy in that environment.

4. Extracurricular activities

When choosing a college, consider the type of campus atmosphere and environment in which you would thrive academically and socially. Some colleges are larger, steeped in history, and renowned for their choir and music scholars, or academic achievements, others have a more contemporary, relaxed atmosphere and strong sports teams.

5. Visit and talk to current students

Every college has its own personality. Attend an open day or book a campus tour to speak with staff and current students. This first hand experience will provide insight into the atmosphere, community and overall ‘feel’ of a college.

Choosing an Oxbridge college is an important part of your UCAS application – it shows that you’ve done your research and are familiar with the university. It’s not the be all and end all, however. Every college is academically strong and offers students access to world renowned academics. Many students are offered places at alternative colleges and have wonderful university experiences. We wish you the best of luck with your university applications!