How to choose a college

Meal time at Queens

So, you’re thinking about colleges. Hooray! Each college is different, with its own quirks and traditions.

Here’s a few things you should think about to make sure you choose a college that suits you.

1. Size really does matter

The number of students at a college makes a huge difference to student living. Think about whether you want to have breakfast with a new group of people everyday, or if you’d prefer to munch your weetbix with a smaller, more familiar group each morning. For me personally, the idea of living with 300 people is pretty intimidating, but for others, it’s really fun.

Size also changes the various ways you can be involved at college. For example, at a larger college, there might be 50 people who want to be on the rowing team. This means if you’re just looking to have a go at a new sport, you might not get a chance to play.

However, if sport is something you’re pretty serious about, you’ll likely be on a competitive team with like-minded people. At a small college, you’re more likely to make the team, but the team might include people who have never played that sport before. Neither of these scenarios is better than the other, but one is probably better for you.

2. Have a squiz at the websites

Each college has a fancy website for you to peruse. Use these to get a bit of a feel for each college and try to narrow down your options a bit. While the websites are pretty useful, nothing beats actually going in person so….

3. Make sure you visit…twice

If you can, head along to a few colleges on Open Day (16/08 this year). There’s music, information packs, free pens…and, more seriously, the opportunity to speak to current students, walk through the halls, and try to picture yourself actually living there.

Bear in mind the colleges are ‘on show’ during Open Day so you might like to to arrange a second tour for a different day. The colleges are happy to show people around and you’ll get a good feel for the culture on a less-hectic day.

4. Religion

Most of the colleges have a religious affiliation – the websites are very useful for this information. If this is something is important to you, definitely ask staff and students practical questions on Open Day – when the chapel is open, whether attendance is required, whether there is a grace before dinner etc.

5. Culture

Why are you investigating college life? Do you want to take advantage of extra tutorials? Do you want more dress-up parties? Do you just want a nice place to make friends?

Have a think about what you want to get out of college life, and ask as many people as you can which college they think provides that, though visiting is always going to be the best way to understand what each college is really about.

One specific thing to consider is formal hall/high table. Basically, this is a dinner where the whole college enters and eats together, rather than people popping in and out. This is something that varies a great deal between colleges, but is a good indication of culture.

Some colleges require academic gowns be worn, some have high table four times a week, some only twice. Pay attention to the way students describe formal hall – it tells you a lot about the college.

6. Graduate Students

If you’re applying as a postgraduate student, you should ask about the opportunities available for postgraduate students. Being a postgrad student won’t preclude you from activities with undergrad students, but often comes with its own perks.

Are there separate living areas for postgrad students? Is that something you want? Are there many postgraduate students? What resources are available? Are you able to move in early if your classes start before regular term begins?

Try to talk to a few current postgrad students to gauge their involvement and if it matches your interest.

7. Activities and Amenities

If you just want to go to class and study, college is going to be a wasted opportunity. There is so much going on! All the time! While there’s a bunch of intercollegiate activities open to all the colleges (sports, music, quidditch), some are more specific. If, for instance, you really want to sing in a serious choral capacity, you might want to look at Newman or Trinity who both have amazing choirs.

On your tour, ask about clubs, and what activities are run throughout the year. If sport is really your thing, ask about the teams (firsts? Seconds?). Try to get an idea of how much you can participate.

In terms of amenities, there’s quite a lot of variation amongst the colleges and it’s worth figuring what’s important to you. If you’re a musician, make sure you see the practice rooms. If you’re a budding thespian, ask about the plays/musicals. Some colleges include Melbourne Uni Sport membership so you can access the uni gym, others have gyms within the grounds. If you’re big on food, ask about the food (on open day, you can usually sample some – win!).

8. Scholarships

By this point, you’ve probably figured out that college can be pricey. If this is going to be problematic for you, be upfront about it – ask about scholarships. There are heaps of scholarships available for all kinds of students.

Some are merit based, most are needs based, some are both. If you are, Indigenous, from a rural area, the first in your family to attend university, involved in social services, studying theology, sing in choirs, or just plain smart, there’s something available for you. All the colleges work very hard to try and ensure those willing to contribute to college life are not excluded because of their financial situation.

There are also heaps bursaries available on the basis of need – again, if this is important to you, make sure you mention it in the application process. These are different from scholarships as they are all needs based, and 100% confidential.

The colleges are also generally pretty understanding when it comes to making payments – talk to the bursar (or equivalent) about your options for paying in smaller installments if that would suit you better. Finances should never deter you from applying. At the end of the day, if you want to go to college, and a college wants you, it will happen.

9. Non-Res

If you’re not sure about living on campus, but college still sounds pretty awesome, have a look into non-residential programs. This basically means you’re a member of the student club, and still get a lot of the perks of being at college (extra tutorials, for example), but you don’t actually live there.

These programs vary a lot around the crescent so make sure you know exactly what’s included if you’re thinking about applying. Non-res is also a good option if you miss out on a place at college. It’s quite common to be non-res for a while until a place opens up (usually mid-year).

TL;DR ask ALL the questions.

If you have any questions you’d like answered, I’m really happy to help out. Send me an email at j.oulton[at]student.unimelb.edu.au and I’ll get back to you.

– Jacky

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