Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oxford College Choice

A friend just asked me for advice for a friend of his on picking Oxford colleges. I thought I'd post my reply (slightly modified) here, since a) it may bring me traffic via Google searches and b) may then help someone (see, Adam Smith may have been right about the benefits of self-interest):

College choice is a tough one. It certainly *does* matter, they're not just halls of residence.

In terms of the Norrington table, the fact that some colleges do consistently well is probably due in part to having good applicants to choose from and in part to better facilities. At the poorer colleges, you may find you get more teaching from graduate students, or even fewer tutorials - not to mention the college library probably won't be as well-stocked and you're unlikely to be able to get as much money off the college.

It's worth considering things like not only the college's overall place but their reputation in the specific subject - e.g. Jesus (my college) seems to have been consistently good at chemistry in the time I've been here - and who the tutors are/what their interests are (though perhaps consider that a top professor won't necessarily spend his/her time teaching the undergrads even in their own college). Since teaching and admissions are mostly college-based, the tutors and their interests can be very important.

And also, don't just think academically. Think about the general atmosphere of the college - Do you want to be surrounded by public school boys? Rowers? Union hacks? (Or are you one of these people?) Would you prefer a larger college or a smaller one (which can be a friendly family or claustrophobic, depending on your attitude)?

In my case, the fact I looked at Jesus first was totally random really. It looked ok though, and crucially offered three years of accommodation. I did compare it to some others - some of which also offered accommodation - but none seemed clearly better, so here I am.

Finance-wise, it's good to consider not only availability of accommodation, but price, recent rent increases, amount of scholarships, any grants (even undergrads in Jesus can get money for books, travel and sport - don't know how it compares to elsewhere), food, etc.

I hope that's some help. At the end of the day though, while it certainly matters (makes a difference), almost everyone ends up happy wherever they end up (even 2nd choice colleges), so if you're unsure it probably isn't worth agonizing over - these are just things to take into account.

(Related link: my advice for getting into Oxbridge, admissions and interviews here)


  1. Anonymous2:58 pm

    Unable to think of anything else to write about, I have stolen your idea.

    I chose my college because it looked like it was in the centre of town and the Wikipedia writeup seemed good.

  2. Just one point: I doubt college wealth and library provision are correlated, at least not significantly. Some very rich colleges can also be very stingy on practical things (loo roll included), and vice versa.