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8 Do’s And Don’ts When Choosing An Oxford College

Eight Do's And Don'ts When Choosing An Oxford College

It’s that time of year. Sixth form students all over the country are writing their university applications, hoping to gain a place at one of their five choices. For many, Oxford and Cambridge seem like something completely foreign and many bright students are put off applying. The Oxford experience may seem daunting but I’m hoping to shed some light on how you should go about applying.

A common misconception is that all Oxford students do is work, work, work, work, work. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Oxford is not full of dull boys (or girls). Once you’ve decided to apply to Oxford, the next big decision is choosing an Oxford college. The question on every prospective student’s tongue is: which Oxford college should I apply to? With 38 to choose from this can seem like an impossible task and I’m sure many wonder how they could possibly pick the one for them. Let me help you how to choose an Oxford college. Here are 8 do’s and don’ts when choosing an Oxford college…

Do your research

Does your college offer accommodation on site for all three years of your degree? What bursaries, grants and scholarships are available? What extra curricular activities are there? Do they have a college tortoise? These are the sorts of questions you should be asking yourself before choosing an Oxford college.

When you look at the finer details, the colleges offer their students very different things and it is worth finding out what sort of perks each one has. For example, Christ Church students are treated to one free cake a term, and who doesn’t love free cake? Other colleges will have their own advantages.

Find out where your college is based and how far that is from your subject’s faculty too. Oxford is very small and most colleges are based in the city centre, but there are a few that scattered a little further afield and if you want to be down at the river for 6am, maybe don’t pick the college that is a 20 minute cycle away.

Don’t forget to research the basics like whether it’s a big college or a small one too. When you’ve decided what features and facilities matter the most to you, I’d suggest trying this Oxford College quiz, which really helped me whittle it down to just a few colleges.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother looking at the Oxford Norrington table because few people are going to judge your academic ability on the college you went to. Going to any Oxford college is quite an achievement and, in any case, the Norrington table rankings change year on year.

Which Oxford College quiz is available here.

Don’t believe all the stories

Oxford college reputations all start somewhere but that doesn’t mean that all the Oxford stereotypes are wholly true. Supposedly, Christ Church is for posh people, Merton is where fun goes to die and everyone at Wadham is gay. There is a small element of truth to each of these stereotypes but for each person that conforms to their Oxford college stereotypes, there will be another who doesn’t. Don’t heed too much attention to these rumours because they are often perpetuated by current and old students who just like to poke fun at other colleges.

Do talk to current students

Knowing how to pick an Oxford college can seem impossible but the best way to find out about what life is like at each college, or at Oxford University in general, is to speak to current students. There are numerous open days throughout the year, the dates of which can be found on the Oxford website. They will be able to give you the best insight into what sort of atmosphere there is at that college and what sort of activities you can expect to take part in whilst there. You can find out more about Oxford open days here.

Don’t try to beat the system

Don’t spend too long studying the statistics and definitely don’t try guess which college will be ‘easier’ to get in this year based on how many applied and were accepted last year. Remember there is also a pooling system whereby students who are ‘Oxford material’ can be interviewed by colleges other than the one they applied to.

Teachers often try to persuade students to apply to certain colleges because they have, for example, a high state school acceptance there or there are fewer applicants for history but I personally think this is bad advice. Just apply to the college you want to apply to, don’t worry about about the rest. You should be thinking which Oxford college should I go to and which Oxford college is right for me, rather than anything else. 

Do visit your college before applying

I knew from the second I walked into Christ Church that I was going to apply there and nobody was going to get in my way. I was largely influenced by the fact that this college inspired some of the scenes from Harry Potter (the Great Hall, for example, is modelled on Christ Church’s dining hall). Some of my friends told me I was stupid for picking a college based on such a flimsy reason but with so many great colleges to choose from it often just comes down to gut instinct.

Simply being in the college and having a nose around can often help you decide whether you want to go there. Making sure your college has a well-stocked library or a gym is important to some people and you can find out all of this with a guided tour.

Check out these posts for inspiration:

10 reasons to apply to Christ Church
10 Most Beautiful Oxford Colleges

Eight Do's And Don'ts When Choosing An Oxford College

Christ Church, Oxford

Don’t apply to the same college as your classmates

It is generally seen as bad idea for lots of people from the same school to apply to the same college, especially if you’re applying for the same subject. There’s enough competition as it is, do you really want to make life harder for yourself by going up against your own classmates? Given that you’ve been educated at the same school it is fairly likely that you have similar backgrounds but you need to be doing everything you can to stand out from the other applicants.

To give you an example, two girls from my school both applied to the same college for Classics, deferred entry. Only one was accepted. The one that was rejected applied to Cambridge the following year and was accepted so she was obviously bright enough to have been accepted by Oxford the first time. However, with two very similar students from the same school for the same subject, only one could be offered a place.

Do find out who the tutors are

If you’re applying to English at Merton and the English tutor there specialises in D H Lawrence but you hate early 20th century literature, then perhaps you would be better suited to another college. Not all of your tutorials will be with your college’s own tutor, particularly as you progress, but I find it is nice to have common interests with you tutors and it come in handy for interviews. If you and the tutors interviewing you are genuinely interested in the same topics then it is likely the interview will be a lot more natural and you will get on a lot better.


Lastly and most importantly, please please don’t stress about this decision. Yes, the college you end up at shapes a lot of your university experience and it is a very important choice. However you are likely to be very happy wherever you end up so you shouldn’t worry too much. During your interviews, you may well be called to another college as well and in the end you may not get your first choice.

If you applied for maths you automatically get interviewed at two colleges, for example. You can make a spreadsheet with all the different qualities of each college (don’t) or you can simply go with your gut and choose the one with all the Harry Potter filming locations 😉 (Christ Church!).

So there you have it, eight do’s and don’ts when choosing an Oxford college! I hope this has helped you decide which Oxford college to choose and you feel more confident making a choice now.

Eight Do's And Don'ts When Choosing An Oxford College

Good luck to all applicants! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or want any more Oxford application tips.

Did you consider applying to Oxford? Has this post been helpful for you? Let me know in the comments below!

For more posts about my time at Oxford, check out these Oxford University blog posts:

What Happened at my Oxford Interview for Modern Languages?
What is it like to study French at Oxford University?
How Many Books Did I Read For My French Degree At Oxford University?
10 Reasons to Apply to Christ Church
10 Most Beautiful Oxford Colleges
Inside 8 of Oxford University’s Most Beautiful Libraries
The Harry Potter Tour of Oxford University

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

Find me on: Web | Twitter



  1. 23rd September 2016 / 11:51 AM

    Fab post with super helpful tips. I wish I read a post like this years ago.

  2. 23rd September 2016 / 12:05 PM

    Hasn’t Oxford just become the first UK university to top a global poll of places to study? I’m sure I heard that on the news this week? Great tips – and particularly timely! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 23rd September 2016 / 2:45 PM

      Yes it has ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re right, I hadn’t even thought of that!

  3. Tania Potter
    23rd September 2016 / 1:16 PM

    This is such an exciting time of life! I look back now and wonder why on earth I wanted to be all grown up. Great tips by the way.

    • 23rd September 2016 / 2:46 PM

      Thanks Tania! I’m trying to avoid growing up as much as possible >.<

  4. Kelly
    23rd September 2016 / 2:55 PM

    This is all excellent advice. I absolutely loved university and wish I hadn’t wished it away so quickly!

  5. Julie
    23rd September 2016 / 3:15 PM

    This school is gorgeous! I love all of the advice you gave as well! Great blog.


  6. Tanya Things to do with kids S
    23rd September 2016 / 3:33 PM

    Phew- still lying ahead of me- hope this post gets updated regularly so I can refer back in a few years time:) Thx for sharing

  7. 23rd September 2016 / 5:18 PM

    Growing up in Kidlington I was adamant I would go to an Oxford Uni – sadly my life changed and it didn’t happen but I guess as they say that’s life. x

  8. 23rd September 2016 / 6:49 PM

    Some great advice for anyone choosing where they would like to study xx

  9. bc21578
    23rd September 2016 / 6:51 PM

    “Don’t stress” is an important one. College should be some of the best years of your life!

  10. Mellissa Williams
    23rd September 2016 / 6:54 PM

    I’ve been to Oxford and had a tour of the area by an ex Oxford graduate and that was very interesting. I never knew Lewis Caroll got his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland from an Oxford don’s daughter. This is really informative to those that are thinking of applying

  11. Evelina Vilke
    23rd September 2016 / 9:10 PM

    Great and very important tips! Research and visiting the place is essential.

  12. Little Steps
    23rd September 2016 / 9:36 PM

    I love going to Oxford on day-trips. I just love the bustling activity around, makes me actually miss learning! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Maybe it’s about time I should apply for post-grad? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Beautyqueenuk
    24th September 2016 / 11:40 AM

    So many good points and definitely visiting the place would be one of the first things I would do x

  14. 24th September 2016 / 11:43 AM

    Really valuable and useful tips to students, nicely done. I never knew about the ‘rumours’ but they’re definitely amusing. As you said don’t believe everything you hear and do lots of research. In the end you want to be in the choice most suited to what you like and will enjoy and get challenged at ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. 24th September 2016 / 11:47 AM

    I never even considered Oxford as even if I was smart enough to be accepted they wouldn’t have done the more liberal arts style course which I did. But great tips x

  16. Carrie Chady Rundhaug
    24th September 2016 / 5:19 PM

    These are great tips! When I was in University I got invited to do a summer program at Oxford but unfortunately was unable to go! I regret it to this day!

  17. Kara
    24th September 2016 / 6:09 PM

    We have a another year until we have to do this – thanks for the tips

  18. 24th September 2016 / 8:31 PM

    This is a really handy post, especially for students applying at the moment!

  19. fashion-mommy
    24th September 2016 / 10:34 PM

    You have to apply to Oxford much earlier than you apply to other uni’s don’t you. I was going to do the exam then decided against at the last minute.

  20. Hannah Heartss โ„๏ธโ›„๏ธ
    25th September 2016 / 10:08 AM

    It’s so important to do as much research as possible when picking a uni!

  21. Melanie Edjourian
    25th September 2016 / 1:35 PM

    I think talking to existing students is a good idea it gives you a feel for what it’s like for those at the college.

  22. 25th September 2016 / 3:53 PM

    I think it’s definitely valuable to visit anywhere before deciding where you want to go as you just know from the moment you step inside that it’s the right place for you. You have some great tips here xx

  23. Mai C.
    25th September 2016 / 4:25 PM

    It will always take careful research. College is a huge part of our lives and going to a school that doesn’t fit your needs will only end in disaster. The things on your list must really have to be considered.

  24. kerry norris
    25th September 2016 / 7:51 PM

    Great tips here. Don’t listen to stories is a great one. Lots are made up or most of the time people only share negative experiences

  25. Kira L Curtis
    25th September 2016 / 10:40 PM

    I would absolutely love to be able to go to Oxford, I have the grades but they don’t do a course that I would like, not even at masters level! But it is such a beautiful and prestigious place to be!

  26. RosieCorriette
    25th September 2016 / 10:49 PM

    Wow, this brings back memories. I remember starting year 13 and being introduced to our Oxbridge coordinator who talked us through the process; which was great as after being presented with all the facts, I decided to apply for a different uni.

  27. Anthea
    25th September 2016 / 10:54 PM

    Some great advice here for prospective students. It’s such a big decision and keeping a clear an open mind is so important. There’s a lot to be said for joining a college knowing you go against the stereotype.

  28. 26th September 2016 / 2:02 PM

    Getting recommendations is a great idea. THere are quite a few to choose from.

  29. Jessica
    26th September 2016 / 5:45 PM

    perfect points. you really have to find your own path and not just follow your friend’s choices of college.

  30. Postman Spotting
    26th September 2016 / 8:22 PM

    All good points. My eldest went through the arduous task of picking a Uni in Glasgow, or going further afield. She chose Glasgow Uni, which is incredible, and she is loving it!

  31. Eloise Maoudj Riley
    26th September 2016 / 9:21 PM

    great tips! don’t do what I did when I was applying (I followed my good friends to a college) I ended up transferring after my 1st semester to my preferred college and then I was happy : ) great tips you gave here!

  32. 26th September 2016 / 10:08 PM

    Ooh this post brings back memories – I was never likely to be able to go to Oxford but I do remember making the choices for the Ucas forms. Scary to think we will be doing it for our daughters in only a few years time.

  33. Clairejustineo
    27th September 2016 / 9:33 AM

    Great post and tips. I remember looking for Uni with my sons and the decisions you have to make. Got 2 more at home but a lots of time to study where they will be going ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. Anamika Ojha
    28th September 2016 / 2:27 AM

    Great tips! Visiting college before applying is must in order to get the clear picture! My nephew will be joining college next year. I will share your post with him!

  35. Suchitra Narayan
    30th September 2016 / 2:41 AM

    great tips for planning for your kids college! Thanks for sharing!

  36. Veethee Dixit
    30th September 2016 / 5:45 PM

    These tips are new for me and extremely useful! Thanks!

  37. 1st October 2016 / 8:01 AM

    I must admit I did have a stereotype thinking about Oxford (since I am from Cambridge lol). But these are some awesome tips.

  38. 4th September 2018 / 11:08 AM

    I didn’t actually realise that Oxford has THAT many different colleges!
    I think the way you picked yours is perfect. Going to a place and feeling what it feels like is the best way to choose when all the details for all of them are more or less the same by that point

    • 4th September 2018 / 9:33 PM

      A lot of people think Oxford is just one university and don’t realise that it’s actually made up of lots of small colleges that operate almost completely independently of each other!

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