What are Private Permanent Halls (PPHs)?

What is a PPH?

A PPH is a Permanent Private Hall, of which there are six in Oxford, although this may be about to reduce to five. These private halls are part of the wider university, but their primary differences from colleges include their size, source of funding and governance. PPHs are much smaller than colleges (both in student capacity and in physical size); they are self-funded and are not part of the University’s JRAM (joint resource allocation mechanism) that redistributes collegiate wealth; and they were founded by different Christian denominations (this does not mean that you have to be of that denomination/religion to apply and study in these halls). Currently, the PPHs that accept undergraduates are Regent’s Park College, St Stephen’s House, and Wycliffe Hall. Campion Hall and Blackfriars Hall are graduate-only. Regent’s Park offers many subjects, although no sciences. St Stephen’s offers Theology as its only course and its core purpose is ministerial formation. It’s a beautiful place but probably only of interest to a relatively limited number of students. Wycliffe Hall is another theological college, offering Philosophy & Theology and Theology and Religion. Optimal Oxbridge includes Regent’s Park, Wycliffe and St Stephen’s as college options where appropriate.

There is another PPH, St Benet’s Hall. Optimal Oxbridge does not offer St Benet’s Hall as a college option as the University announced, late last year, that is would not accept any undergraduates from St Benet’s because of the precarious nature of this PPH’s financial situation. St Benet’s has declared that it will not renew its license for this coming academic year and is, therefore, facing closure. Former PPHs (which have either achieved college status or are closed now) include St Peter’s Hall, Mansfield College, Manchester College, and Greyfriars.

PPHs are places of deep community spirit and a welcoming atmosphere. The small undergraduate pool – for example Regent’s Park College is the biggest PPH and yet it holds 115 undergrad students and 201 students overall – leads to a close-knit atmosphere and inter-year bonding. It is easy to feel a sense of belonging, and perhaps because the student pool is so small, making friends is easy. If anything, students get even bigger friend groups because everyone knows each other so well. Like in any other college, students take part in wider university clubs and societies, so they get a feel for the wider university community. These include sports, journalism, art, food and drink, politics, music, fashion and much more.

Something quite special about PPHs is that they also admit a large number of visiting students. These students are originally from different universities that come to study in Oxford from anywhere between one to three terms. This means that students looking to take part in this sort of program might end up in a PPH, or might seriously consider studying there. Not only is this beneficial for these students, but also for the PPHs themselves, as they are an important part of the community and add to the interesting variety of people a student at a PPH which meet.

PPH’s offer a limited range degrees, limited to Arts and Humanities subjects, or in some cases, solely Theology. They do offer, however, the same teaching and educational experience as any other college. In fact, students have tutors from outside of college quite regularly, as they are assigned specialists for the subject or specific topic that they are studying. This further adds to the varied set of experiences a PPH student has.

Overall, choosing a college can be a challenging task, and there are some great resources that help narrow down this process. It is important to keep all your options open, including considering PPHs.

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Ultimate Guide to Oxford and Cambridge Open Days

What are the Oxford and Cambridge Open Days? 

Open Days are one of the best ways to find out whether a university is for you. They are especially important if you are thinking of applying for either Oxford or Cambridge, as both universities are utterly unique and worth seeing for yourself. During Open Days, the universities welcome prospective students to look around different faculties and colleges, which run various talks, Q&A sessions, and tours. 

Oxford University – Friday, 16th September 2022​
Cambridge University – 15th Sept. & 16th Sept, 2022​

How do I make the most of my Open Days Visit?

Don't be afraid to ask
Decide on a virtual or in person visit

This year, Cambridge Open Days are retaining the online format that many universities adopted during the pandemic and is offering a hybrid programme of events that can be attended either online or in-person at its Open Days. The virtual option is great if you live further afield, but nothing really compares to experiencing the city first-hand. Oxford has discontinued its online Open Days.
Think about cost

Oxford offers a lot of support to prospective students that may struggle to attend otherwise, because of either financial pressures or issues of distance. KebleMagdalen, Christ Church, and Merton all have college travel schemes to help cover the cost of getting to Oxford for an Open Day, and several more let prospective students who have travelled from afar stay overnight. 
Book ahead if needed

University of Cambridge Open Days require booking, and timetables detailing the different events available at faculties and colleges are only available via email to those who have signed up in advance. 

Oxford’s timetables are available on their website and booking for the Open Days isn’t mandatory, but certain popular events do get booked up fast. 
Check faculty locations

If you want to check out more than one faculty, be sure to make enough time for everything. For those interested in applying for a Joint Honours course, it’s worth checking the timetables for each of the faculties that run the course and where they are in relation to each other. The English faculty is on the opposite side of Oxford from the History one, so getting from one to the other might require a bit more planning! 

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Do course oriented events

Whether you intend to visit more than one faculty or not, it’s worth prioritising course-oriented events above college ones. The colleges tend to be easier to visit on non-Open days. 
Check out all of the colleges

Open Days are, however, still a good opportunity to explore what sort of college might be the right fit for you, so try to fit a couple in. Maybe choose one that seems to tick all your boxes and one that you’ve never heard of before – you might be pleasantly surprised!
Visit on non-Open Days too

 It’s worth bearing in mind that if you are unable to make any of the Open Day dates or would rather have the opportunity to explore the cities and universities at your own pace, you can always choose to visit on a different day. Almost all of the colleges are happy to let prospective students look around and most will have prospectuses available in the Porter’s Lodge. This option does mean, however, that you won’t have the chance to attend the seminars and Q&As that are held on the Open Days, and you will probably struggle to have a look inside faculty buildings.
Revisit colleges if you can

What To Bring to Oxford and Cambridge Open Days

  • Dress appropriately: the weather in both cities can be unpredictable, so be sure to check the forecast beforehand and figure out whether suncream and a sunhat or a raincoat and umbrella is most appropriate. 
  • Comfortable shoes: you’ll be walking a lot and, in Oxford especially, the cobbled historic centre can be tough on the feet.
  •  A good supply of snacks: cafes and restaurants tend to get very busy, especially on Open Days, and you won’t necessarily have the time in your schedule to find food.
  • Companions: a parent or guardian is always a wise choice, but it can also be fun to go with friends, especially if there are people at your school who are interested in applying for the same course. Look out for the Optimal Oxbridge crew who will be around, giving you more information about the Optimizer and are available to give you directions and advice about the cities, faculties and colleges.
  • List of questions for students and tutors: perhaps most important of all is preparing what you want to ask of the students and tutors that you will meet at the Open Day. There’s no point in asking questions with answers that are already easily available online, so do a bit of a research to ensure that what you ask is really going to be valuable to your application.

Getting There

  • By Car: Neither city is remotely car-friendly, and if you are driving, it’s recommended that you use one of the park-and-ride schemes (£4 in Oxford and £3 in Cambridge), rather than try to find parking in the centre. 
  • By Coach: Coaches run to Oxford from Birmingham and London, as well as from most major airports in the South-East, and to Cambridge from London and Heathrow. This mode of transport tends to be more affordable than rail – the Oxford Tube, which runs from London Victoria, has £16 open returns for under-26s – but bear in mind that it takes a bit longer and is more susceptible to traffic delays! 
  • By Train: If you book train tickets well in advance, these can be surprisingly cheap, depending on your point of departure. Chiltern Railways, which runs from London Marylebone, tends to be much cheaper than GWR, which runs from Paddington, with tickets starting at just £5.40, and both are much cheaper if you book in advance – although the costs of tickets will rise during peak hours. Both universities have well-served train stations, which are about a fifteen-minute walk or ten-minute bus ride from the centre – although it’s definitely worth checking how long the travel time is from the station to the venue of your first talk.

Good luck and enjoy the Oxford and Cambridge Open Days! We hope they inspire you to apply to one of these beautiful universities.

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