College is Just Uni, Right?

Lady Margaret Hall is my college

Some of the freshers I’ve met here have expressed confusion about college versus university. “So when you say go to college,” they asked, “you really just mean uni? Like, what’s the difference?” And while we Americans gave them a sufficient explanation (a university includes a graduate school while a college does not), it got me thinking about different definitions. Oxford’s college system is completely unlike anything found in the states — it’s not just a matter of what you call your higher education institute.

Cornell, like plenty of other schools, has different Colleges under the umbrella of the University: the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, etc. This is more or less universal in the states: colleges are grouped by subjects, and students generally identify more with the university than the college.

At Oxford, the colleges are actually mini-institutions themselves. There are almost 40 of them, and though they range in size, they are mostly small. Lady Margaret Hall, for instance, only has about 400 undergraduates. And furthermore, the colleges include basically every course; they are like microcosms of the university, not just departments. There isn’t a college strictly for humanities, or engineering, or hospitality — you can study pretty much anything in any college.

My semi-English breakfast in the LMH dining hall

The closest approximations we have in the states are Rice, Yale, and Harvard (whose systems were modeled on Oxbridge), where students of all different majors coexist, yet the colleges are pretty much just residence halls. Your Oxford college is way more than just where you live — the 40 some-odd colleges are all totally different entities. Each college has its own library, faculty, administration, meal payment system, bursary, principal, and so on. And to top it all off, the colleges are very spread out and also mostly contained — some of them are physically walled in, and almost every college has just one or two points of entry. Though they are all part of Oxford University, the colleges more or less run themselves.

Oxford is my uni (Picture taken in the central, Old Bodleian complex)

Because I chose to go to a large university, I missed the chance to have the small school experience. Even the College of Arts & Sciences is too big and broad for me to feel any real affinity with other people in CAS. But here at Lady Margaret Hall, it truly feels like I’m at a tiny liberal arts college. After being on campus for about two weeks, I already recognize a good number of faces when I walk around. That’s something that I will never get at school in the states, and while I don’t regret choosing Cornell one bit, I really like the sense of community at LMH.

By spending my year at a small school that’s part of a large one, I have the best of both worlds: I can go to the dining hall alone and find a good number of people I know, then head to a reading room in the Bodleian and take advantage of the University-wide facilities. What’s also exciting is that I can join LMH-specific clubs or societies open to all of Oxford. It’s a fantastic system, if you ask me (and many others, I’m sure)!

Before I go, here’s a quick recap of my week:


But minus the adorable dancing. I had my first tutorial on Monday, then almost immediately (I’ll admit, I did dawdle a little) began reading for my next paper. Notable excursions include watching the second presidential debate with the Democrats Abroad in Oxford group, seeing the Weasley twins (scroll down for a mediocre picture!) speak at the Oxford Union, and poking around in basically all of the central Bodleian reading rooms. I also went to the first meetings of the Oxford Society of Bibliophiles and the LMH Cheese (and Wine?) Society — they really do have a society for everything! The forecast for this week appears to be the same gif shown above, but hopefully with more cloud cover.


Bonus British Bit: Going on a lash means, as my floor-mate put it, “going out with the intention of getting pissed.” Therefore, Matriculash (a party following freshers’ Matriculation, which happened yesterday) is a very clever play on words that will at first go over the heads of most Americans, even the tall ones.

Waiting for the Weasleys!
Donuts and Chai: A Very American Tea Time
We could pretty much only see them when they stood up. But after the talk, they went to the Union Bar to read some pub quiz questions, and we were up close and personal that time!

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