Walking around Oxford, it is difficult to get a sense of the scale of the collegiate university. This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I visited Worcester College at the invitation of Jane Gover, who amongst her many other roles serves as the College's admissions tutor.
I had walked past the entry to Worcester dozens of times on my way to and from the railway station, and like many Oxford Colleges, the impression that you receive from the front is of a reasonably imposing façade, but no real sense of the size of the operation behind the walls.
It was a very bright and crisp January morning when I reported to the porter's lodge. Jane showed me the main quad, with the medieval cottages that originally formed part of Gloucester College, a training seminary for Benedictine monks (which had occupied the site until the Dissolution of the Monasteries) and the dining hall, libraries and chapel, all of which conformed to my image of the usual Oxford college.I had assumed that we would then be heading indoors for a cup of coffee but she then led me through a short passage, and we emerged into a huge open space. It was at least half an hour later that we concluded the tour, and I felt justified in having the chocolate biscuit I was offered having walked for what seemed like miles.
Worcester College is vast (26 acres in fact) and the grounds include not only a lake, but sports pitches, tennis courts and a multi-gym. The College is engaged on a major building programme, and should be able to provide accommodation for all undergraduate students for the full duration of their degree course. Because of the screening however, a casual passer-by has no idea of any of this, nor can a website, prospectus or leaflet really capture how an individual college is as a place to live and study.
Worcester is not alone in concealing itself behind high walls, and all of the Colleges I have visited to date have much to recommend them that is not immediately obvious when you quickly peek through the gate at the lodge.
So - if you have an intention to apply to the University, a visit would be a very helpful part of the process. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities to come to Oxford, and the programme of 2007 open days and college and departmental visits has just gone live on the University website. Full details can be found at www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/opendays.
Hope to see you soon!