When I was considering to study abroad at Oxford University, I was surprised to learn that I had to choose and apply to a single college within the university. Although Oxford consists of over forty different colleges, applying through IFSA-Butler does help narrow down the options to seven colleges: Hertford, Lady Margaret Hall, Mansfield, St. Anne’s, St. Catherine’s, St. Edmund, and Worcester. A large portion of my decision was influenced by the information on the IFSA-Butler page describing each college. As a student who double majors in public health and philosophy with a minor in entrepreneurship & management, I recognized that I was not the typical Oxford student. A typical student studies one subject or two closely related subjects, and they have been studying these topics for years even prior to attending Oxford. A key defining feature of St. Catherine’s is that it is a very new Oxford college and also one of the most flexible with regards to tutorials and available subjects. As a student who wanted to take tutorials in philosophy and management (and despite my convincing argument that the two are in fact very related), I figured that such an accommodating atmosphere would be a good fit for me.
Now that I have been at Catz for about five weeks, I am completely happy with my decision and I have no regrets. However, once I arrived I realized there are some factors to consider that I completely did not think of during the application process.
- Location: I had no idea where Catz was located within Oxford until I arrived. During the application process, I completely did not consider how the location of a college could affect my study abroad experience. St. Catz is located in the very eastern part of Oxford, so my walks to my tutorial, the grocery store, food, city center, pubs, and other colleges are all decently far. On the minimum my walks are about 10-15 minutes while going across the city can near 30 minutes. St. Catz, St. Annes, and especially Lady Margaret Hall are all farther from the central Oxford hub, whereas St. Edmund Hall, Worcester, and Hertford are all much more central. A college’s location is largely influential of the time you need to allot to transportation, the potential need for a bike, your diet, and the accessibility of certain resources. For example, I utilize books in the library much more than I do back in the U.S. (where I usually buy my books for the term), so being closer to the library is actually very important. I know some St. Catz students actually chose Catz because we are very close to the Social Sciences Library and as someone who is studying a social science, it was extremely valuable to be near this resource. I am not saying location should be the most important factor; however, I do recommend looking up the college you’re considering on a map. Doing so will help you conceptualize where you will be located within the Oxford community and establish realistic expectations for how much walking you will be doing over the term.
- Physical Buildings: Oxford is a large tourist attraction and people love the beautiful architecture. It is no secret that many scenes of Harry Potter were filmed in Oxford. With that being said, some study abroad students want the “Hogwarts” experience and if that is a priority, then it is important to google the college your considering to see what it looks like. St. Catz was built in 1962 and it has a very modern appearance. It is not important for me to live in a Hogwarts castle; however, I do know that some students were slightly disappointed. It seems like such a simple, intuitive thing to do, but it is important to be honest and reflective about what you want to see when you look out your dorm window.
- Size: Colleges vary in size and it really influences the culture and environment of the college. Although the range of undergraduate students at the college does not vary as much as they do in the U.S., it is still something to consider. There is not really any college that is massive; the largest college is Catz with almost 500 undergrad students. The smallest college in terms of undergraduate population (that you can apply to via IFSA-Butler) is Mansfield with just over 200 undergraduates. One of my friends comes from a very large university back in the U.S. and she specifically wanted to experience the small college feel. On the reverse, I liked the fact that Catz is the largest college because I figured that I could continue to meet new people up until my time was up.
Choosing which college to apply to can seem daunting; however, I do not think there is a bad choice. Do your research, try to find people who have studied there and ask them about their experiences, and then make the most of your time once you arrive! On that note, if any of you are considering St. Catz and want to ask me questions about my experience, don’t hesitate to e-mail me: email@example.com