Mansfield College, Oxford - The college entrance. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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‘What Oxford College Should I Apply To’ Guide

Mansfield College, Oxford - The college entrance. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

When you submit your graduate application to join Oxford University, you have the option to indicate a preference for one of their colleges or request assistance in selecting one. In fact, about 40% of applicants do not state their choice — and if you do, it’s no guarantee you will get a place there. Still, it can be a good idea to be aware of what the different colleges offer!

While Oxford’s colleges encompass a variety of disciplines, not every course may be available at each college. The ‘College preference’ tab on each course page outlines the colleges that will consider applications for that specific course. Alternatively, the courses offered by each college are listed on their respective college pages.

The University offers a detailed Application Guide that has plenty of information on the process and the college place. However, if you want the simplified version, read on.

Does it Matter Which Oxford College I Choose?

As a graduate student, your course structure, content, teaching, and supervision will be coordinated by your University department, and this remains consistent regardless of your college affiliation.

While Oxford’s colleges share many similarities, each possesses its own distinct character, contributing to the unique Oxford experience. Despite selecting a different college as their preference, most graduate students readily adapt and appreciate their assigned college.

How to Choose an Oxford College - Beginner Tips

If you are considering indicating a college preference, you can explore the individual college pages on this website, which provide essential information about each college. Additionally, each college has its own dedicated website where you can learn more about its community, characteristics, and amenities.

For research course applicants, it is important to note that being assigned to the same college as your proposed supervisor is not a requirement.

When selecting your preferred college from the available options for your course, you may wish to take into account some of these considerations:

College Size

Colleges vary significantly in physical size and the number of staff and students they accommodate. Student numbers for each college are available on their respective pages.

For example, St John’s College is one of the largest colleges in Oxford, both in terms of physical size and the number of students and staff it accommodates. It has extensive grounds and buildings, including multiple quads and gardens.

On the other hand, Green Templeton College is a graduate-only college (focusing on health and social sciences) and one of the smallest. The student body here, though, fosters a close-knit community and allows for more personalized academic support.

Oxford University - St John's College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.
St John's College is huge in terms of structure and students and has multiple quads and gardens.

College Location

Oxford is a compact city, and all colleges are within walking distance of the city center and main University buildings like the Bodleian Library

Some colleges, like Exeter College and Jesus College, are located in the heart of Oxford’s historic city center. These colleges provide students with easy access to the University’s main buildings, libraries, and amenities. Other colleges, such as St Catherine’s College and St Hilda’s College, are situated in suburban areas slightly removed from the city center. These colleges offer a quieter and more residential environment, with spacious grounds and modern facilities. 

A few colleges, like Magdalen College and St Edmund Hall, are located along the banks of the River Cherwell or the River Thames. Living in a riverside college offers a serene and picturesque setting, ideal for relaxation and outdoor activities. Lastly, some have multiple sites across Oxford, known as annexes, which have options for accommodation and study spaces in different parts of the city.

Punting on the Cherwell River
Some colleges are located along the banks of the river, offering more opportunities for relaxation.

College Facilities

All colleges provide essential facilities such as dining halls, lending libraries, laundry facilities, tutors’ teaching rooms, music rooms, and common rooms for graduate students. Some colleges may offer additional amenities like sports grounds or on-site nurseries. University facilities are accessible to all graduate students.

Most colleges provide on-site accommodation for students, including undergraduate and graduate rooms, as well as flats and houses for families. Each college also typically has a dining hall where students can enjoy meals together. Dining halls often serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and some colleges offer formal hall dinners, which are special dining events with a formal dress code.

Most colleges maintain their own libraries, too, which house collections of books, journals, and study materials and may have common rooms or junior common rooms (JCRs) where students can relax, socialize, and participate in college events and activities. 

Many colleges also have sports facilities, including sports fields, gyms, and squash courts, where students can participate in a variety of sports and recreational activities. Colleges may also have sports teams and clubs for students to join. 

Lastly, on-site laundry facilities are available at most colleges, equipped with washing machines and dryers for students to use at their convenience and some colleges have chapels or prayer rooms where students can attend religious services, meditation sessions, or quiet reflection. For example, St. Antony’s College, known for its focus on international relations and global affairs, provides a dedicated prayer room for students of various faiths. 

The Dining Hall at Balliol College, Oxford University. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Some colleges are located along the banks of the river, offering more opportunities for relaxation.
The senior common room at Keble College, Oxford University. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Some colleges are located along the banks of the river, offering more opportunities for relaxation.


While most colleges have facilities and accommodations for disabled students, the age of the buildings may result in some areas being inaccessible to students with mobility issues. Please contact the Disability Advisory Service for guidance.


In addition to University-provided funding, you may want to consider the grants and other financial assistance offered by the college.

Four Questions to Help You Pick

While all colleges boast outstanding amenities such as comprehensive libraries, dining halls, and picturesque surroundings, they each possess unique characteristics. Consider pondering the following inquiries to determine what holds significance for you:

  • Question #1: Do you prioritize having access to a library that operates round-the-clock?
  • Question #2: Are you seeking accommodation in the heart of Oxford?
  • Question #3: Are you inclined to reside within college premises throughout your entire tenure, or do you prefer the option to live off-campus at some stage?
  • Question #4: Do you prefer a college with a sizable student population, or a more intimate one?

Oxford Scholarship Considerations

The majority of college scholarships do not necessitate selecting the college as your preference. In these instances, each college evaluates all eligible applicants who meet the deadline, irrespective of any specified college preference. Should you be chosen for one of these scholarships, your application will be transferred to the appropriate college.

Oxford scholarships valued at £1,000 or more, which encompass college scholarships, are incorporated in the Uni’s Fees, Funding, and Scholarship Search. This tool enables you to identify the limited number of college scholarships that mandate an additional application.

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