Colleges in the University of York

The Collegiate system has been one of the key features of the University of York since its foundation. Setting York aside from many other universities, a college provides students and staff with the local community that give this world-class and expanding University a personal feel.

View of Wentworth and James colleges

Each York student is assigned to one of the eight colleges upon registering with the university and remains the member of this college throughout their degree. For students living on campus, the college membership is determined by the residence. However, there is much more to being a member of a college than merely location of the accommodation. With their unique characteristics and atmosphere, colleges are centres of student social life and are a place where most of York students make lifelong friendships. Each college has its own sports teams, volunteering groups and student organisations that shape college’s community.

Each college is headed by the Provost who is supported by the Dean, College Administrator and a team of College Tutors. Together this college team forms another layer of the welfare network in the University, providing students with a friendly advice, support and guidance in a familiar setting.

Overall, Colleges provide the University of York students with skills and experiences that shape their lives and careers. Above all else, colleges are geared towards ensuring that York students make most of their time in the University.

Choosing a College

The choice of college is inherently personal. In practice, it is often based on a combination of objective considerations, intuition and a good measure of guesswork. Remember, that by choosing a college you are choosing a place to live (at least for a year) and a community to be a part of for your time at the University. Whilst it is difficult to give much advice on such personal matters, here are some questions that prospective students often ask us and our (unavoidably, personal) views.

Should I choose a college that is nearest to my academic department?

Not necessarily. The University of York campus is very compact and, with exception of Kings Manor, you will be able to reach any department from any college (including Halifax) within 5-10 minutes on a bike. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk from Halifax College to the main University Campus. If you don’t feel like walking or cycling, there is a free bus that can take you to Heslington East and West in a matter of minutes. For most students those distances are hardly worth considering.

More importantly, Colleges are intended to complement your academic experience in York and to provide cross-disciplinary and diverse communities that help our students to broaden their horizons and experiences. Late evening discussions – whether in kitchens, common room or nearby pubs – with housemates from different walks of life, with different interests and pursuing different degrees is part of what makes living in the college so enjoyable and fun.

Should I choose a college based on accommodation it provides?

If you have decided to live on campus, the choice of accommodation that the college provides is likely to affect your choice of college. Whilst it is important to stress that colleges are much more than merely rooms, kitchens, flats and buildings, you need to consider carefully what accommodation suits you best before entering a legally binding contract.

Financially, you need to consider two issues: the cost of accommodation per week and the duration of the let. By signing the contract for your accommodation you will be committing to these two parameters and it may be difficult to change them ‘mid-contract’.

From a communal living perspective, you then need to ask yourself what type of accommodation suits your character best. We find that en suite rooms (i.e. rooms with private toilet and shower, such as those in Ainsty and Hickleton Courts in Halifax College) are increasingly popular with our students. However, bear in mind that this type of accommodation creates fewer opportunities for everyday interaction with your housemates – sometimes it is just too easy to stay in your room most of the evenings. To many students, small houses with shared bathrooms (e.g. in Ingram, Irwin, Lindley, Wood and Younger Courts of our College) provide a better balance between individual privacy and enjoying the company of your friends. If you enjoy spending most of your time in the company of others and would enjoy being always able to find others to chat to, then larger corridors or houses (such as those in St Lawrence Court) are probably the right model for you.

Other questions to consider are:

  • Whether you would like to cook for yourself most of the days or whether you would prefer catered accommodation?
  • Would you like to live in the thick of student activities and events or would you prefer to have more control over when to engage with others and when to have some ‘quiet time’?

Whilst these questions are quite personal, many students find them more “objective” than considering the character of the College. You may find it useful to use your accommodation preferences to ‘short list’ three or four colleges. You will probably want to browse college’s websites and use your ‘gut feeling’ to make the final selection. Remember – there is much more to colleges than accommodation!

What things, apart from accommodation, should I consider?

A college is far more than just place where you will live. Each University of York College has a unique character and is developing some distinct key themes. The choice of a college will influence who you will be living next to, who will become your friends and what will you learn from them through informal interactions (over a dinner, while walking to your lectures or just on a night out). As employers increasingly consider students' skills and experiences beyond academic attainment, the choice of a College in York may have a lasting influence on your future career (let alone social life).

Here are some things to think about:

  • How large is the College membership?
    Larger colleges provide more networking opportunities and you are more likely to find friends who share your interests. Smaller colleges usually have more tightly-knit communities and, thus, may facilitate more close relationships with others.
    [Halifax College is the largest college of the University of York]
  • What is a make-up of the College membership?
    More diverse colleges expose their members to students with a wider variety of backgrounds and experience, they give their new members a broader outlook on the world around them. Being a member of a more homegenous college means that people around you will have similar life experiences and you may find it easier to bond with them. It is really a question of how much effort are you willing to invest?
    [Halifax College, with its postgraduate and undergraduate members of all ages from all over the world, is one of the more diverse colleges in the University of York]
  • What are the themes of the College and what are their events like?
    Make sure that the themes of the college, the oppotunities it offers and its social life appeal to you. Not only will it mean that you will find your college life more enjoyable, but it will be easier for you to become an active part of the College comunity. Also ask yourself whether you would be more happy in an older college with well-established traditions or in a younger college where you can have more freedom and support in proposing and doing new things and leaving your mark. Organising - or being an active participant of - college activities will give you the skills that are sought by employers worldwide and will be invaluable in your future life. If college themes and character agree with you then you are likely to gain these skills without feeling like you are working for it! Try to choose a college where you feel you can play an active role and not be just a 'passenger'.
    [The themes that we are developing in Halifax College are Sport, Internationalisation and Employability & Enterprise. These are intentionally left wide to allow more of our students to participate. Being the youngest College of the University we offer students an opportunity to try new and different things in a safe environment. In Halifax each of our members has a real chance to leave a mark on the college character.]
  • Does the college offer a co-curricular programme that you will benefit from?
    In addition to social life and welfare provision, many of York's colleges are starting to offer programmes of co-curricular activities that complement and support their students' programmes of academic studies. The focus of these programmes will vary from college to college. Many colleges - including Halifax - are looking into investing more effort and resources into such programmes.
    [Halifax College Team is in the process of designing a new college programme. Whilst details are still being negotiated with our partners around the University and are not yet finalised, we are putting employability into the centre of the programme. We are hoping to provide a number of events and activities that will help our students to understand what employers are looking for and how to develop and 'sell' particular skills and experiences. The programme will aslo support our students in finding part-time and vacation jobs, internships & volunteering opportunities both in the UK and abroad. We are hoping to supplement this with some study skills activities to help new students to adjust to more independent learning environment of the University]

My friend is coming to York at the same time as me, should we choose the same college?

This is one of the more personal choices you would have to make. On the one hand, it is only natural to want to live close to your friends. On the other hand, excitement and experience of meeting new people and making new friends is important part of the university experience as a whole. Unless you or your friend are particularly anxious about moving to the university, we wouldn’t normally advice trying to live in the same house or flat in the first year. With colleges and the university being very compact, living in different houses (or, indeed, in different colleges) may allow you both to maintain the friendship while casting a wider net for new friends (your friend’s housemates may become your friends and vice versa). Whatever you decide, make sure that you don’t exclude yourselves from the crucial flat, college and university activities in the first couple of weeks when many students meet most of their friends.

Where do I find more about colleges?

Imagine that you were asked to write a website that explains what it is like to live in Britain and what makes this country unique. This task is not dissimilar to describing a College in the University of York: to a large extent, to understand a College spirit – you need to be part of it.

However, each college tries their best to describe itself on the university website and this is, probably, the best place to start. Why not also check-out a short movie about the colleges filmed by our students at York Student Television (YSTV)?

But remember that you choice of the college is unlikely to be fully objective. Having shortlisted colleges based on factual information and having browsed through theier websites, close your eyes and ask yourself: “will I be happy there?”

Then – take a plunge and embrace the excitement of moving to the new and unknown place.

I am an international student, is there something else I should consider?

Many international students stay in the university accommodation over the vacations. As colleges that house predominantly UK undergraduate students can feel quite deserted in those parts of the year, look out for colleges that have significant postgraduate and international membership.

Even if you are planning to go home (or go travelling) for most of the university vacations, consider what will happen to your belongings. Most colleges have no storage space that can be used by students during the vacations and many international students favour colleges that offer 50/51 week lets. (However, remember that you will need to continue paying rent for the whole duration of your accommodation contract and that your contract will not permit to sub-let the room to other students).

Many international students prefer to cook for themselves (at least - occasionally), so you may wish to consider kitchen facilities offered by the particular type of accommodation. (Kitchens in all houses and flats of Halifax College are suitable for ‘full-scale’ cooking)

Finally, you should consider what the right balance between international and ‘home’ (UK) students in the college is for you. In colleges that have few international students, your country and culture may be a useful ‘tool’ for starting conversations and meeting new people. On the downside, you will have fewer students around you who are sharing experience of living far away from home and in a different culture. On the other hand, whilst being surrounded by predominantly international students may feel like an easy choice, by socialising with British students less you are may miss out on one of the most fun aspects of living in the UK as well as on the opportunities to improve your English.

What about mature students?

The circumstances and preferences of mature students are inherently unique. Whilst many prefer a degree of privacy, some – embrace the vibrant social life with passion.

Some of the questions that mature undergraduate students need to consider are:

  • Will you be living in your university accommodation over the holidays (especially – the summer)?

If yes – consider colleges that offer 51 week contracts and that have a significant international and postgraduate resident population.

  • Will you be cooking for yourself?

If yes – go for accommodation that has appropriate kitchens. If no – consider catered accommodation and make sure that the college has (or is near) a café, restaurant or canteen that serve food in the evenings and over the weekends. (Whilst all Halifax College accommodation is self-catered and the college does not have a canteen, we are only 10 minutes away from Heslington village with its two pubs).

  • How many people would you like to share a kitchen with? Do you mind sharing a bathroom with your housemates?

The advantage of sharing more facilities (or sharing with more people) is that there are more opportunities for little every day interactions that may help you to build relationships with other housemates. At the same time, some mature undergraduate students may have views on how many 18-21 year olds they are prepared to share a kitchen with.

  • Do you prefer to be in the thick of social activities throughout the year or would you prefer accommodation that would afford you more privacy?

We find that many mature students prefer smaller flats or houses. The court-based layout of Halifax College, that gives our students more control over the balance between privacy and social interactions, also tends to be popular among more mature students.

I am a care leaver…

Here in the University of York we very much appreciate that some students leaving care may, on occasion, need a bit of extra support and advice. This should not affect your choice of college – all colleges have strong, dedicated and friendly welfare teams that are there for you should you need assistance.

If you are anxious about starting your studies you may wish to consider approaching your college’s Dean, Provost or one of the College Tutors. Remember, you don’t have to have “a problem” to talk to your college team – they appreciate that sometimes students just want to have a chat or talk things through.

I am a postgrad, any advice?

Postgraduate students, typically, undertake very intensive programmes of study or research. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is about the balance between your studies and your social life. Postgraduate students often prefer colleges that give them more control over this. You may wish to consider whether a college accommodation will give you the privacy in more busy periods of the year while not isolating you from the social activities within the college and the university as a whole. The court-based layout of Halifax College and its location achieve exactly this and make us a popular choice.

As many taught and research postgraduate programmes continue throughout the vacations, another thing to consider is whether the college will feel deserted in those periods of the year. If you would like to live in the college that maintains social interactions throughout the whole academic year, look out for colleges with significant overseas and postgraduate membership.

You should also be considering what type of accommodation is right for you. Are you likely to cook? Would you like to share your house or a flat with a large number of people or would you prefer to share the kitchen with fewer housemates?

Some postgraduate programmes require students to undertake work experience. If you are pursuing one of such programmes and are planning to drive, you should investigate whether you will be able to park near the college.