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Which Oxford college?

Which Oxford College Should I Apply To?

20 or 30 beautiful sandy-coloured buildings and a few pretty red and black ones too. But how do you choose the Oxford college for you? And will your choice determine whether you get in or not?

When it comes to something as immersive as university, your choice should always be a positive one: choose the college you like. It’s not any easier to get into one college than another.

Here is our best advice on how to choose an Oxford college.

Choose on subject

Oxford colleges tend to offer most, but not all, courses. The first thing to do is narrow down your choices to the group of colleges you can apply to.

Here is a complete list of courses and the colleges that offer them.

Choose on tutor

Consider the elements of your chosen subject that interest you the most. Is it extremophile bacteria? Dark matter? The English Civil War? What better way to spend your university years than with direct access to one of the world’s greatest experts in the very thing that most fascinates you?

Use college and university department websites to read about the tutors and professors who teach your course. Google them. Whose brains would you most like to pick? Which colleges are they affiliated to? Mention your specific interest in your application.

Applications do not need to demonstrate a specific interest in the tutor’s specialism if that isn’t the reason you have chosen the college. And do remember that any tutor may be on sabbatical leave or have left the college by the time you come to study there.

Choose on location

Oxford colleges are mainly concentrated in the middle of the city, with a few located along main roads leading out of town. It is worth looking up where your lectures and tutorials might take place, particularly if you have mobility needs. A college close to your main subject department could well save you time in the morning, but if you’re going to use a bike it’s perhaps not such an important consideration.

You might wish to be closer to city nightlife and shops, or you may prefer somewhere a little quieter. Use Google Streetview to check out the environment around each college.

Remember too that your college – while being a place where you spend a lot of time – might not be where you actually sleep…


Choose on living space type, location, and costs

It’s important to know every cost you might face at university. This information is available on each college’s website.

Some colleges provide their own accommodation throughout the course. With others you may need to find your own accommodation in a shared house or choose between college or private housing. All colleges offer accommodation for some of the course. Some college accommodation buildings are shiny and new, others are perhaps in need of renovation. It’s generally cheaper to live in college-owned housing as you generally only pay six months’ rent.

Look into the location of any accommodation you’re likely to be offered. There’s no point applying to the college next door to your department if your bedroom is two miles out of town and you’ve got no bike.

On the other hand, a quick bike ride in the morning could be exactly what’s needed to kick your brain into gear.

Choose on some other meaningful connection

Did someone from your school go to that college last year and recommend it to you? Does the college have links with your area of the country?

Please note that you’ll never actually be asked why you chose a particular college at interview so there’s no need to demonstrate any research in this area.

Choose the one that makes you happiest

Decisions are fundamentally emotional. It may not feel like it when there’s an internet full of facts and figures on which to base your choices, but often what really drives a decision is your subconscious estimation of how this choice will make you feel.

Which college would make you happiest?

This could be something as simple as the college being – to you – the most beautiful building you’ve ever seen. It could be that when you visited on an open day, you were met by kind people who helped you feel relaxed and welcome.


You may hear a lot about how your chance of securing a place at Oxford is dependent on your choice of college. This is simply not the case. The most important consideration for you is how your choice will affect your daily life and your future education. Our best advice is to research the colleges and tutors and look for other pointers to help you make your choice, then follow your instincts.

And, if you really flounder, make an open application and leave it in the lap of the gods. This will mean that your application will be assigned to a college or hall that has relatively fewer applications for your course in the particular year you apply. Tutors have no preference for direct or open applications: they are looking for the best applicants for their course.