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Help me understand the Oxford College system
64

beansandsosages · 26/09/2020 22:12

DS has just started year 12 and may want to apply for Oxford next year, to do maths, engineering or computing. We know students have to apply to a specific college, but don't understand how that works. For example, if there are 180 maths places across the whole university, are they evenly divided between the 45 colleges (4 each)? I guess not, so how do I find out which ones have the most maths places? Does he have more chance of getting in by applying to a college that has, say, 30 maths places than another that only has 15? What happens if he applies to the college that he likes the look of, does well in the admissions exam/interview, but they don't have any maths places left, do they pass his application to another college instead? Can you list colleges in order of preference? And where is all this explained (as I feel like the only person in the world who doesn't understand it)?

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Palavah · 26/09/2020 22:19

Most colleges will have places proportionate to their overall size, but you might find that colleges that dont have a particular reputation for a subject are less heavily subscribed than those that have a particular reputation.

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grenlei · 26/09/2020 22:24

Based on my experience with Cambridge colleges (which I imagine is broadly similar), generally speaking the larger the college the greater number of places in a particular subject, albeit some colleges may also have a slight bias towards a specific area ( However the chance of getting in will depend more on the number of applications, ratio of applicants to offers and in turn offers to places. I know that in Cambridge certain colleges attract many more applicants (Trinity/ St Johns because they are the largest, Kings also because it is so well known) and as such getting an offer there may be harder than at other less popular colleges. Also the ratio of offers to places - some colleges are almost 1:1 whereas others are tougher.

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FrankJ · 26/09/2020 22:56

This link

public.tableau.com/views/UniversityofOxford-CollegeSuccessRates2019/CollegeSuccessRates?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&:showTabs=y&:showVizHome=no

gives full details of applications and admissions by course and college.

Also you don't have to choose a college, you can always make an open application

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Feetupteashot · 26/09/2020 22:58

Try and go to some open days or a day trip and see where maths department is and look around a few colleges, some big some small. Might help put the prospectus into context.

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Guymere · 26/09/2020 23:01

You do need to apply to a college that offers your subject. Then apply to one you like. The Oxford web site gives a snap shot of each one. There’s very old, newer, large, small and ones with certain characteristics and ones that are very beautiful! Book an open day to get some idea (if available of course). Keep checking the web site. If not, go and have a look around Oxford if you can to get a feel for the place.

I don’t think choosing a college is a precise art - more a feeling of belonging. Don’t forget that if the interview panel likes a candidate at the initial choice of college, but the candidate is, in effect, first reserve, they can put the student forward to another college.

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minipie · 26/09/2020 23:25

www.maths.ox.ac.uk/study-here/undergraduate-study/which-college I imagine there are similar web pages for other degree subjects.

However, this page doesn’t show statistics on how many applicants there are per place - although college X has a few more places than college Y, it may have triple the applicants, so isn’t necessarily easier to get in.

If you apply to a college with, say, 5 places and they think you’re good but you’re not one of their top 5, they may send your name to a different college which hasn’t found enough good applicants for its places. This can sometimes be one of the Permanent Private Halls (teeny weeny colleges with a strong religious angle - a very different experience).

I would suggest looking at the geography of Oxford a bit - for example the Maths institute is in the north part of central Oxford so a college in that direction (Somerville, Keble for example) may be more convenient.

The colleges also have different characters - some small, some big, some more public school dominated, some more sporty, some have very ambitious students busy with University level drama/politics etc whereas others are more laid back. this may help though obviously it’s all subjective.

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loveisagirlnameddaisy · 26/09/2020 23:37

I went to Durham which operates a collegiate system although I don't know if it runs in the same way as Oxford. When I went in the 90s, your college was just where you lived / received pastoral care and had very little to do with your academic life. In my college I lived with people who were studying a variety of subjects and only one or two the same as me.

A couple of the colleges were popular with law students but only because they were located near to the law department. No other reason.

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loveisagirlnameddaisy · 26/09/2020 23:40

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Guymere · 26/09/2020 23:51

No. Durham isn’t the same as Oxford. As I said earlier, not all colleges at Oxford offer all subjects. Therefore it does matter where you apply. This is not the situation at Durham.

Playing the game of applicants vs places is a hard one. It’s better to look at the overall stats for successful applicants for the subjects you are interested in. If you don’t tick enough of the boxes, then it won’t matter where you apply, you won’t get in.

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HuaShan · 27/09/2020 07:14

Your DS should think about what's important to him, big/small, more/less students for his subject, catered/self catered. Then look at the tutors for his subject (profiles usually on each college website). Then try not to get too hung up! He might be reallocated before interview if there are a lot of applicants or have an offer from another. At Oxford the faculty have ths final say rather than college so if the faculty want you, they will find you a place.

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WildWaterSwimmer · 27/09/2020 07:38

Some other things to consider:

Some colleges offer accommodation for the whole of your course, others may require you to find a private rental for one or more years (very expensive in Oxford).

Would you prefer modern or traditional architecture, central or outskirts.

How traditional would you like your experience to be. Some colleges have formal dinner 6 days a week, others only once.

Google 'The Alternative Prospectus' for a lighthearted student written guide to the colleges.

Research the tutors whose expertise matches your interest and which college they are based at.

How near is the college to your subject department?

But don't get too hung up on choosing a college, you will be reallocated if you are a strong candidate.

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WinterAndRoughWeather · 27/09/2020 07:45

I’m a Cambridge grad but the system is the same.

One thing I would say is - despite all the emphasis the university places on finding the right college for you etc, I never met anyone who felt their college was wrong for them.

I didn’t know anything about the different colleges when I applied. Not many in my family had even gone to university. I felt that the one I went to was just perfect for me, but I probably would have felt that about any of them.

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sandieshaw · 27/09/2020 07:51

Besides choosing a college your DS really likes, also take a look at the Norrington table if you can.
It’s a league table of the Oxford colleges based on last year’s degree results.
Colleges that are consistently top of the table will be super picky on their intake in order to maintain their position so if he really wants to choose one of those, make sure has has a couple of lower colleges on this reserve list incase he gets pooled (if your first choice college likes you but doesn’t have space they put you in the pool for other, less full, colleges to look at).
No point putting three top-table colleges o the list as they’ll all be looking for the same thing.

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Fifthtimelucky · 27/09/2020 07:58

The university says that the college you apply to should not affect your chances of getting in, though I think many pupils still try to game the system by applying to less popular colleges.

If I remember rightly all applicants who are interviewed will be interviewed by at least two colleges.

My daughter applied for a subject with small numbers (60 in total) and the college to which she applied had only three spaces. They obviously thought she was worth an offer but she wasn't one of their top 3. So they sent her off to interviews with other colleges. She ended up being interviewed by four colleges in total.

I later saw from the published statistics that 15 people had applied to the same college for her course. 9 of the applicants were offered places in total: 3 of them by that college and 6 (including my daughter) by other colleges. In contrast there were some colleges who didn't make offers to any of the students who applied to them for that subject and who filled their spaces with those who had applied to other colleges.

Your son should apply for the college he likes the most but not worry if he gets an offer from another!

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MollyButton · 27/09/2020 08:08

I agree with all that has been said above (apart from the person talking about Durham - which is a very different set up). There was a useful quiz on the Oxford Admissions site which could help with choosing a college. I'd suggest you look around (virtually if necessary) a few different ones, maybe a mix of big and small, historic and modern. Compared to Cambridge they are more compact, St Hugh's is not as far from the main bunch of colleges as Girton is.
But it is crucial to be passionate about your subject - what really interests your son?

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grenlei · 27/09/2020 09:51

Choosing a college is important, looking back I honestly think I would have enjoyed my university experience more if I hadn't felt so isolated by being one of very few poor, working class state school educated students in my college. That said, if I'd applied to a different college I might not have got in...who knows? It's a tricky one.

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MarchingFrogs · 27/09/2020 11:51

@sandieshaw, I must admit that I thought that you either made an open application, or applied to a single named college, rather than putting down ranked preferences like on a school application CAF? And that whether you were pooled and if you were, to which college would be a decision for the university, not the applicant?

Isn't it odd, though, that for Oxford colleges, highest percentage firsts / 2:1s awarded (and at the top of the Norrington Table, high really is high) = good and to be desired, whereas for any other university (apart from Cambridge, presumably) high percentage of firsts / 2:1s awarded is part of a national scandal, which must be investigated and dealt with?

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Naem · 27/09/2020 12:16

btw a fairly lighthearted means of choosing, but DH says that if he had to choose again (he went to Cambridge and Trinity Hall), he would go to the one that was right opposite Sainsburys. Saves a lot of bicycle trips!

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Naem · 27/09/2020 12:16

Don't know what is the Oxford equivalent

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WildWaterSwimmer · 27/09/2020 12:20

[quote MarchingFrogs]@sandieshaw, I must admit that I thought that you either made an open application, or applied to a single named college, rather than putting down ranked preferences like on a school application CAF? And that whether you were pooled and if you were, to which college would be a decision for the university, not the applicant?

Isn't it odd, though, that for Oxford colleges, highest percentage firsts / 2:1s awarded (and at the top of the Norrington Table, high really is high) = good and to be desired, whereas for any other university (apart from Cambridge, presumably) high percentage of firsts / 2:1s awarded is part of a national scandal, which must be investigated and dealt with?[/quote]
@MarchingFrogs
That is exactly correct. You apply to one college or submit an open application. If you are successful you will be offered a place at one college.

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CaraDuneRedux · 27/09/2020 12:21

@sandieshaw

Besides choosing a college your DS really likes, also take a look at the Norrington table if you can.
It’s a league table of the Oxford colleges based on last year’s degree results.
Colleges that are consistently top of the table will be super picky on their intake in order to maintain their position so if he really wants to choose one of those, make sure has has a couple of lower colleges on this reserve list incase he gets pooled (if your first choice college likes you but doesn’t have space they put you in the pool for other, less full, colleges to look at).
No point putting three top-table colleges o the list as they’ll all be looking for the same thing.

This is good advice.

Some colleges will be notiriously hard to get into. (Back in the day, St. Johns was very hard to get into).

Do not be put off by "not having a specialist tutor in ." Most colleges arrange swaps of expertise, so typically you may find yourself going outside your college for tutorials in certain subjects.
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CaraDuneRedux · 27/09/2020 12:25

Isn't it odd, though, that for Oxford colleges, highest percentage firsts / 2:1s awarded (and at the top of the Norrington Table, high really is high) = good and to be desired, whereas for any other university (apart from Cambridge, presumably) high percentage of firsts / 2:1s awarded is part of a national scandal, which must be investigated and dealt with?

Not really, because the exams are set and marked centrally. So if more people from College A get 1st/2.1s than from College B, in the same exam marked by the same people, then College A genuinely is doing better than College B.

Completely different from University A setting its own syllabus, setting its own exams, marking its own exams (subject to scrutiny from the external examiner who may be extremely diligent or utterly diletante - as an ex academic I have seen both) and giving a higher percentage of first than University B, also setting its own syllabus and exams and marking its own exams.

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Guymere · 27/09/2020 12:53

If all universities were the same, potential students wouldn’t bother with Oxbridge at all. One would expect hand picked super bright students to get 2:1 or 1sts. This doesn’t apply to the lowest ranking universities and the huge number of 2:1s and 1sts from them isn’t equivalent to an Oxbridge 1st etc. The fact they can award what they want to whom they want clearly doesn’t compare their students to Oxbridge students. So it’s all a bit apples and pears.

I would be aware that pre entry tests do sift out weaker candidates. The overall stats of who gets an interview and who gets in are available. PPE hard - Arch and Anth less hard etc. A college that has a surfeit of brilliant candidates will pool the tail of these. If they are better than candidates interviewed elsewhere, they go forward for interview at another college. None of it is an exact science though and it’s best not to get fixated on certain lecturers and specialisms. It’s an undergrad degree.

You don’t get a choice of reserve colleges either as far as I’m aware. Unless it’s changed recently.

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mateysmum · 27/09/2020 12:56

There is loads of info on the OX.ac site mentioned above and many colleges do alternative prospectuses. It's good to pick a college that you feel has the right "vibe" - old/new, accommodation type, but I wouldn't get hung up on location (apart from St Hugh's/St Hilda's Oxford colleges are pretty close) ofrparticular tutors - chances are you will have tutorials at various colleges depending on the topic.
That being said however, don't get too hung up on college choice.In recent times, Oxford has got much better at pooling candidates who are not accepted by their choice of college. This ensures that if you are good enough, they will find you a place. There is much more coordination at department and university level than in the past.
Much more important is that your DS researches what he needs to do to demonstrate his enthusiasm and ability in his chosen subject. Doing more than the syllabus or other activities around his course is important.
If your DS has questions that can't be answered onlne, colleges may have admissions or outreach people who can chat to you nd answer questions.

Good luck. The process really isn't as hard or opaque as it's made out to be. Honest!

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