Why I chose my college

 First of all I would like to clarify that I did not choose St Benet's Hall. Almost nobody does and the intake each year that actually put Benet's down as their college of choice is often just one at best. Some people pick it because it's small and homely with a real sense of community, others because it is actively Catholic and they want somewhere they feel fully at home to practice their faith. All these reasons are perfectly fine. But none of these were my reasons.

Brasenose was in fact my college of choice. I chose it because of its very central location. You are quite literally on the doorstep of the Rad Cam and other libraries and amenities. It was very beautiful and was the thesis of the 'Oxford college'. I did however also choose it because it's battels (monthly fees like rent etc) were about in the middle with graded rooms from A to E depending on budget and the possibility of accommodation for all three years. Living out was of great concern to me with the exorbitant Oxford prices. 

I didn't really know that much about how the colleges worked. For example I didn't realise that;

  • Some colleges are particularly oversubscribed and for particular subjects 
  • Some colleges take in a greater number of state school applicants (Mansfield)
  • The battels for colleges range significantly 
  • As does the financial help they can offer through travel and book grants, decreased vac residency etc 
St Benet's Hall on a nice clear October day

I was unable to take any of those important factors into account because I was not aware of them as someone who applied from a state school with no one in my immediate vicinity who had been to Oxford and could provide me with those inside details. For some the financial side of college is of less importance but for me it really does matter.

Benet's is significantly poorer than most if not all the other colleges and that has a direct impact on student experience. For example last year we had a one off donation that allowed everyone a £150 book grant, but this is not a recurring gift. We don't have the funds for travel grants and our battels are extremely high. In contrast, St Johns Colleges, one, if not the, richest can offer their students a £500 book grant a year, guaranteed. There is a clear difference therefore in comfort and help afforded to these students which has a direct impact on the lives they lead in terms of financial concerns. 

Sports and other activities can also be an issue. In other colleges there are a wide range of sports teams with different divisions for different abilities. And that's something I wish I could access more easily. Benet's sport is still quite restricted through numbers and not having our own sports facilities often leaves us scrounging round other colleges. I certainly feel like I might have missed out on trying new and picking up old sports because of the limited options of my college. 

Now this all sounds rather doom and gloom and like a big rant. In some ways it is, but not really about St Benet's. My upset is focused more on the Oxford system. You often hear the phrase that college doesn't matter in Oxford because you're still at Oxford. But this just simply isn't true. The university takes on their students under false pretences and often places them in colleges they didn't apply for (they often applied for their chosen college with good reason) and I think it seems unfair to place students somewhere else for which they couldn't anticipate or plan. 

Whilst in lots of ways I think I would really have flourished at a bigger college and expanded myself and my activities, I have enjoyed my time at Benet's so far. This may be a case of the grass is always greener on the other side, and of course I'll never know whether I would have preferred Brasenose, but in some ways I still feel somewhat robbed. I certainly took a considerable pause before accepting an interview initiation at Benet's because I knew nothing about it and wasn't expecting to be placed somewhere different. I have enjoyed St Benet's and am glad of the people I've met and the opportunities I've had so far, but I think I am one of many, dissatisfied with the college placing and pooling system.   


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