Find out what life is really like at Durham University

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So, what are Durham’s Colleges all about?

‘College’ is definitely a term I remember as confusing when I was applying to Durham University, but once arriving here it becomes so integrated into our lives that we often forget to explain it. In this blog, I’ll try and fix that by giving you a rundown of the collegiate system and what a Durham college actually is!

Accommodation plus!

Durham colleges are a set of 16 undergraduate, and one specifically postgraduate, communities which typically provide accommodation in your first year, so in some ways, they are a little bit like halls of accommodation at other universities. If you ‘live in’ at your college in your first year (meaning you choose to live there rather than find private accommodation), then this is where you will sleep, eat, shower, cook, etc.

My first year room at Van Mildert

In the second and third years, most people tend to move out of college into rented accommodation in the city (if you don’t want to do this, you can apply to live in college again but first years will be given priority). However, this is where the collegiate system differs from typical halls of accommodation, even in the second and third years when you’re living out you remain part of your college community. Each college will run their own events, such as formal dinners (three course meals you dress up for), a summer and winter ball, quiz nights, college days, music performances and more, all for their college community across all the years (including post-graduates) rather than just for those living in.

Great facilities

Each college also has its own bar and social space, and often sports facilities such as a gym or tennis courts. This means each college also has its own sports teams and societies, which are more beginner friendly than Team Durham’s competitive sports, so you can join to put a social event in your week or if you want lower commitment levels. College sports compete against each other, which often gets really competitive and brings a great home crowd to come and watch – one of my favourites is the inter-collegiate cheer-leading competition at the sports and wellbeing park each year.

Van Mildert netball team 2019

Great support

The collegiate system at Durham can initially be confusing and gives you an extra decision to make on top of picking a university, but it’s also a highly effective system. The college system, including the allocation of my own college (Van Mildert), is probably my favourite thing about Durham as it provides so many more opportunities to meet people, as well as an extra level of collegiate pastoral support.

Within your college, you get an informal student support network, as well as a college wellbeing service who work in liaison with your department for any issues going on personally or academically. There’s also a family system, where you can opt to have a ‘parent’ second or third year in your subject to offer student advice on academics and tell you more about Durham. When you get into the second year, you can choose to ‘marry’ a spouse and have children of your own to tutor!

Meeting my ‘parents’ and brother for the first time at a ‘Back2School’ Social in college

How do you choose?

So, colleges sound pretty great, you get all these extra sports and facilities in each one: but now the next important question, how do you choose one? If you receive an offer from Durham, you will be asked to rank colleges based on preference, with the aim that you will receive one of your top choices. So it’s important to think about the differences between colleges. For example, some are self-catered (you cook for yourself), whereas some offer a catered food option (three meals cooked for you, seven days a week – made my first-year life *so much less stressful*). Additionally, the bathroom situations are different: in some colleges you are more likely to get an ensuite, but others have sharing bathrooms. Some of the smaller colleges ask you to share a room, so you need to think about if you want a roommate or not!

Finally, some are older, located on the historic ‘Bailey’ in the city, whereas others are more modern, situated nearer the Science Site and Business School up the ‘Hill’. Although, it’s worth mentioning that nothing in Durham is too far away, so the colleges are all within walking distance of departments and university facilities.

Once you start narrowing down these options (there’s a helpful comparison table here: Our Colleges – Durham University) then you should have some you may want to nominate as your top few choices, and some you want to put at the bottom. I also can’t recommend highly enough coming to one of our open days and getting inside a college to get a feel for the place – but if you can’t get to Durham, there are lots of individual online college resources so do some web surfing for specific college content!

I hope this has shed a little more light on what Durham colleges are and how the system works. Definitely check out the comparison table if you’re considering which college to choose, or book on to an open day if you can!

Discover more

If you have any questions for our students, you can contact them on our Unibuddy chat platform. You can also reach out to our students on The Student Room

Learn more about the collegiate system at Durham in Mia’s video here

Download our latest prospectus and college guide here.

Follow our students on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

Ruby Tomlinson

Hi, my name is Ruby, a final year English student at Van Mildert College. Whilst I'm in Durham I love getting outside to see the beauty spots the city has to offer, so you'll see many of my blogs offer recommendations! I take part in lots of extra-curriculars such as ball planning, sailing, dance and charity work, so I'm looking forward to sharing my experience and I hope you find it useful. Feel free to get in touch over Unibuddy if you have any questions.  

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