Skip to content


The Collegiate System

The collegiate system is completely unique to Oxford and Cambridge, and a big part of what makes these universities so special. You live and socialise within your college and most students find that the majority of their friendships are formed here. The undergraduate college community is centred around the JCR (Junior Combination Room at Cambridge and Junior Common Room at Oxford), with second year students tending to take up roles on the JCR committee. Beyond this, the colleges offer a wide range of clubs and societies, and well as more general social activities: rowing clubs, JCR magazines, bops (think school discos, but more fun!), and balls. Intercollegiate rivalry is fierce and students often express their loyalty by wearing “stash” of some kind. Different colleges boast a variety of reputations, ranging from sporting prowess to time spent in the library! Your college also plays a key role in shaping your academic experience. Colleges are annually ranked according to their undergraduates’ exam performance in the Norrington Table (at Oxford) and the Topkins Table (at Cambridge). While course content and teaching is provided by the academic faculties, your classes and tutorials will often be taught and led by the subject specialists at your college. Students normally find that coursemates at the same college form their main support network, and at Cambridge you also have a college DoS (Director of Studies), who is responsible for your academic welfare.

You select which college you want to apply for when submitting your UCAS form and with so many options to pick from – Oxford has 33 undergraduate colleges and Cambridge has 29 – the choice can seem daunting. There is the option to make an “open” application, in which case your application is allocated to one of the colleges that has received the fewest applications that year. However, most prospective students find that the role played by the colleges is too integral to the Oxbridge experience for them not to express a preference. During the interview period, you will generally be invited to stay at the college you applied to, unless you interview is being conducted online. You will always be interviewed at your chosen college, although most subjects “pool” a number of their applicants. At Oxford, this means that candidates may be sent to interview at other colleges while they are staying in Oxford. At Cambridge, this process is known as the “winter pool,” and happens once applicants have returned home after their initial set of interviews. In some cases, candidates are invited back to interview, but often they will just receive an offer from another college without any further interviews taking place. However, on average over 70% of successful applicants at Oxford and 80% at Cambridge receive an offer from their first choice of college.

As well as playing a massive role in the experiences you have as a student at Oxford or Cambridge, your choice of college really does affect your chances of success. Some colleges consistently receive more applicants than others and some only have a limited number of spaces available for particular courses. Optimal Oxbridge offers you a list of possible colleges, tailored to your preferences regarding size, location, student population profile, etc. We use a range of different mathematical models to analyse and assess the competitiveness of each college for your subject, and rank them according to likelihood of getting an offer.

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; 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. Optimal Oxbridge only includes these college options where appropriate as the subjects they offer are limited. Regent’s Park does not offer 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, Theology, and Religion.

Sign Up and Start Learning