What Is a Collegiate University?

3 Jul, 2023 | University Preparation

Applying to university can often seem overwhelming. For the majority of students, the application process is a new one, and it’s not uncommon to feel confused by the range of options available.

In preparing for university, you might have encountered the term “collegiate university”, so we’ve prepared a guide to help you better understand what a collegiate university actually is and how it’s different from a traditional one.

What is a collegiate university?

A collegiate university is divided into individual colleges where students live and study. There are many collegiate universities in the UK including Durham, York, Oxford, Lancaster, Cambridge and Roehampton. Some collegiate universities have many different colleges, like Oxford or Cambridge, which are both home to over thirty different colleges. Other universities opt for fewer – Roehampton has four colleges, whilst Kent keeps to eight.

How does the college system work?

In many collegiate universities, undergraduate lectures are delivered by university-wide departments whilst smaller tutorial-style teaching is conducted by tutors within the colleges, where many students will also live. 

At a collegiate university, each student belongs to a college in addition to being a member of the overall university. Rather than distributing students across a campus, colleges divide university life into smaller communities where students live and learn. 

Colleges help to develop vibrant communities of students across a range of subjects, encouraging active communication and collaboration.

The collegiate system also gives students access to a variety of academic and pastoral support, as each college has its own team of tutors, porters, college deans, chefs, nurses and welfare staff dedicated to supporting students.

How are classes organised at a collegiate university?

Studying at a collegiate university can provide students with a personalised learning experience not typically offered in traditional university systems. The opportunity to participate in small-group tutorials provides students with the chance to discuss their work in detail with their teachers, and engage in in-depth conversations with their peers. 

OxBright’s online summer school teaching is inspired by the collegiate university tutorial system. Our students are split into small groups and are led in tutorial-style online sessions by an expert tutor. 

The tutorial system provides students with a range of benefits. The smaller group discussions allow students to improve their critical thinking skills and practise debating ideas in a formal setting, promoting intellectual growth and boosting confidence. The close interaction between students and academics also facilitates mentorship and personalised guidance.

What’s campus life like?

Collegiate universities offer a vibrant and unique campus life. Colleges can be a hub of social activity, hosting different societies and events. There are also university-wide teams and groups, and even inter-collegiate competitions! 

College-specific societies are a great way to socialise in a small group, whilst university societies are a great opportunity to meet people from other colleges in a larger setting.

The college system allows for diverse and inclusive communities and a sense of unity amongst a range of people studying in different fields, so students’ social lives are hardly ever limited by their subject!

Group of Oxford Scholastica Academy students sitting outside.

How do I apply to a collegiate university?

When applying to a collegiate university, it’s important to research specific colleges as well as the university courses. Each college offers a unique student experience so it’s useful to work out which college is right for you. Reflect on your priorities and what you value most as part of your university experience — think about the types of rooms on offer, the food options, the grounds, the range of societies, and the individual quirks that make each college unique. 

During the undergraduate admissions process, a student’s application is usually reviewed by the students’ preferred college. Each college will have different requirements, so it’s important to research your choices before applying.

Sometimes students prefer not to pick a specific college to apply to, and in this case they can opt for an open application for a spot in any college. It’s also completely normal to be interviewed or admitted by a different college to the one you originally applied for. Even if students end up in a different college to the one they’d expected, it’s very easy to settle into the college community once everyone arrives on campus.

With their unique educational model and close-knit communities, collegiate universities are a great choice for many students. We hope you understand a little more about the collegiate university system now, and feel more equipped to make the right decision for you!

For more information and resources to help you prepare for university, explore the OxBright website for career and study tips.


By Jessica Mason

Jessica is currently studying a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, and has a particular interest in Early Modern theatre. She enjoys writing articles and has lots of experience in student journalism.
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