New college ranking system: a worthwhile change?


Whether you’re a college ‘keano’ or couldn’t care less about their individual goings-on, it’s difficult to deny that the collegiate system is a central part of the Durham University experience. As prospective students, we are introduced to the collegiate system from the moment we fill out our UCAS applications, being offered the possibility to either apply to a specific college or make an open application.

For those who selected a college, there were two outcomes: you either got allocated to that college or reallocated somewhere else randomly if the quota for your subject at the college to which you applied was surpassed.  I fell into the latter category and was re-allocated from St Mary’s College to Grey College. 

Funnily enough, I’d almost applied to Grey and would have put it as my second choice if I had been given the opportunity to do so.  As such, I counted myself extremely lucky. The chance of me being reallocated to Grey, as opposed to any other college, was much lower than simply being allocated to St Mary’s in the first place. 

I’ve always been of the opinion that if people are going to be reallocated, then they may as well be reallocated to a college that appeals to them.  This is especially relevant where people apply to a college for a specific reason, such as to be self-catered or to minimise their chances of sharing a room. Within the previous system, it was pure chance whether you were reallocated to a college with similar qualities to the one to which you originally applied.

This problem should now be a thing of the past with the new college ranking system

However, this problem should now be a thing of the past with the new college ranking system, which I personally think is a brilliant idea.  Now, as a way of making sure that people are more likely to be content with their college allocation, there is a new system where prospective students can rank all the colleges in order of preference, once they’ve been offered a place. This means that if they aren’t allocated to their first-choice college, then the ensuing college choice is not completely random. They still have the option of making an open application, should they wish to do so.

The only thing the University needs to be cautious about is not reinforcing the misconception that the college you attend dramatically affects how much you enjoy your time at Durham.  While your college will determine the people you meet, who will have an undeniable impact on your University experience, the colleges themselves have a lot more similarities than differences.  Sure, they vary in age, size, formality and each has its own traditions, but fundamentally they’re all offering the same thing: a smaller community within the wider University.

Due to these similarities, I imagine that it is difficult for prospective applicants to rank the colleges. Many will take to the internet to aid their decision, where genuine information about colleges is often jumbled up with unhelpful stereotypes. As a student at Grey, I’ve heard the phrase ‘Grey by name, grey by nature’ many times.  If you go to Grey, you’ll appreciate that this is nothing more than a bit of harmless banter. 

It’s very important that Durham provides prospective applicants with not only detailed, factual information on each college, but also, accounts from people who actually go there. 

However, it is difficult for prospective students to know what is true and what isn’t. Therefore, it’s very important that Durham provides prospective applicants with not only detailed, factual information on each college but also, accounts from people who actually go there. 

If people want to rank their colleges as opposed to making an open application, then they should have the opportunity to make their decision based on truth rather than on stereotypes. Although accounts from students are subjective by nature, at least they are ‘true’ in the sense that they are the lived experience of someone who goes to the college. At the end of the day, we can’t really speak for what any other college than our own is like.

Fundamentally, the new college ranking system is a force for good.  However, for students going through the process, it’s important to bear in mind the cheesy-but-true line that ‘it’s not where you go, but the friends that you make and the memories that you create’.  As cringey as that cliché is, it is these things that will determine how you look back on your time at Durham, rather than the specifics of each individual college.

Illustration: Siobhan Gardner

One thought on “New college ranking system: a worthwhile change?

  • As a parent of a 2021 applicant, the ranking system seemed a good idea but it was introduced well after application and offer – my son didn’t even see it in time ! Fortunately, he got his first choice college anyway.
    It was particularly difficult for students to make college selections last year with no ‘in person’ open days. It is always better to visit and get a ‘gut feeling’ about a place.


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