Being open minded about open applications to Oxbridge


27th September 2016

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To make an open college application or not to make an open college application, that is the question. It’s a good job Shakespeare only had to deal with the pox and covens of cackling witches, because we all know that the single toughest thing anybody can ever do is sort out their Oxbridge application, and at the heart of that is the dilemma about what college to apply to. Get it wrong and the whole world might end.

OK, so perhaps I’m erring on the side of exaggeration a little. None-the-less, college choices do plague people’s dreams (or more accurately, nightmares) in the run up to application submission.

Open applications

First things first, what is meant by an open application? Well, to take a – clearly superior – example, Oxford has 38 colleges and six permanent private halls (Ed. – can we have a little less Oxford bias here please?). Rather than being campus based, Oxford and Cambridge are spread out around the city, and whilst you will often need to go to your faculty for lectures, the majority of your academic and pastoral welfare will be dealt with in college. This is where you eat, sleep, get ratted at the college bar, fall asleep in the library and struggle valiantly to try and convince your professor that you did do all the reading for your weekly tute (tutorial) (Ed. –yet more Oxford bias, Cambridge call them supervisions). Moreover, as a result it is not the university that chooses to select you, but your college.

With the college constituting such a fundamental core of your next three or four years of university life, it understandably feels like getting the right college can be a matter of life or death. But, with 38 (Ed. – or 31)  to pick from it can be also be an overwhelming and intimidating decision. An open application allows you to circumvent this and have the university select a college to which you will apply.

However, only one-fifth of students take this approach. Common fears that are voiced are that making an open application might seem ‘flakey’ – like you haven’t done your research. On the other hand, maybe an open application will help you to increase your chances of admission, since surely they’ll assign you to an undersubscribed college and your statistical chances of entry will go up? But… then you’ll be at a college that nobody wants to go to… What’s wrong with it? Oh no! And now you’re back at square one.

Would you believe me if I told you it really doesn’t matter? Really, I promise. Oxbridge do their absolute best to ensure that candidates which they think are suitable will receive a place. The system isn’t perfect and some candidates who would have been ideal slip through the net. But none-the-less, whether you made an open application or applied to the right college or the wrong college, those won’t be the things that swing it. Even if you apply to a specific college, there’s a good chance of being assigned to a different college for interviews, and even then of receiving an offer from a completely different college altogether.

‘Unpopular’ Colleges

So then we have to tackle issue two – what if you end up at an ‘unpopular’ college? I’m not going to deny for a second, college rivalry is rife. The only thing we like to do more than mock other colleges is to mock the dirty Tabs (Ed. – that’s derisory Oxford slang for Cambridge students, and anyway I thought I told you to knock it off with the Cambridge bashing). Differences do exist between colleges. Some colleges have a left-wing bent, some right. Some are more sciency, others more humanities orientated.  Some are geeky, others full of hacks (i.e have ambitions within the sphere of university politics), whilst a few are known as ‘party’ colleges (in-so-far as you can be ‘party’ when you constitute some of the brightest minds in the UK and have 50 hours of reading to get through, plus morning lectures). Some have beautiful old buildings and elegant quads, and others were constructed in a period where good taste and common sense seem to have completely deserted the minds of architects and city planners. Moreover, whilst Oxford have eliminated female-only colleges, Cambridge have retained three.

Despite this though – and I really can’t stress this enough – there’s a place for everyone at any one of them. Your college is your home not because of how well you fit its mould, but because of how well it shapes to fit you. There’s far more that brings you together than divides you within your college, and the sense of belonging you feel (and aforementioned college rivalry) comes naturally and without reserve. There might be a perceived prestige for landing yourself a place at Kings, Christ Church or Magdalen (pronounced Maudlyn) (Ed. – Yes, and spelt with an extra ‘e’ on the end at Cambridge) but ultimately this is Oxbridge for goodness sake, and how does the size of your spire on the number of deer in your park really grant you any special status anyway?

Focus on your application

As such, the entire point of this blog entry is really to stress to you that whilst there are certainly a lot of things that might be stressing you out about your Oxbridge application, college choice really needn’t be one of them (Ed – really? Because it seemed to me that the entire point of this entry was just to get a couple of digs in at Cambridge…). As such, with just one week to go until your application is due in, we suggest that you close down the 38 google tabs you have open allowing you to scrutinise and compare the colleges, open up Word and start typing. Or at the very least send us an email here at Oxbridge Personal Statements to see how we can help craft the perfect statement for you… regardless of which college you picked – or whether you had the misfortunate to pick Cambridge (Ed – right, that’s it, you’re off the job. Apologies to our readers, next week we promise to find someone to write you a blog who is as much ‘bridge as they are Ox).