If you’ve picked up a prospectus, browsed the website or visited on an open day, you’ll have discovered that Lancaster is one of the few universities in the country that is home to a collegiate system. If you’re anything like I was this time last year, you’ll likely have a few questions. Perhaps you want to know what the college system actually is, and how it differs from the accommodation offered at other universities. Alternatively, you may want to know how being part of a college will affect your university experience, or, as I know I was, you’ll be concerned with making sure that you pick the college that is right for you.
Hopefully, I can alleviate some of these anxieties in my blog post.
As an undergraduate, when you receive your offer of accommodation at Lancaster, you’ll automatically become a member of one of eight of our undergraduate colleges – Bowland, Lonsdale, Pendle, Furness, Fylde, Grizedale, County and Cartmel. This means that rather than just being placed into an accommodation block as is often the case at other universities, you become part of a community which, as well as housing, also has facilities such as a bar and study area. As part of your college, you have access to dedicated pastoral support services and can take part in a whole host of unique opportunities.
But enough of the prospectus spiel! Time for the reality.
I’ll admit that I when I first read that Lancaster was a collegiate university, two images sprung to mind. The first (and decidedly more sensible one!) was that of Oxbridge. The second I’m ashamed – but also kind of nerdily proud – to admit was the concept of the Hogwarts house system.
However, the Lancaster college system isn’t like either of those things. Despite what you might be worried about, the colleges at Lancaster are not divided by interests, reputation or character à la Hogwarts. I can assure you that regardless of the college that you pick, you will not end up as the only musician amongst a group of sports stars – or as a hapless Hufflepuff living amongst a nest of Slytherins! There is no sorting hat or personality quiz to fill in before you arrive at uni. Rather, the colleges are made up of a diverse range of students, with a whole host of different hobbies and passions.
Instead, the strength of Lancaster’s collegiate system lies in its ability to create a strong sense of community and belonging, linked to the accommodation in which you are housed.
One of the main ways that the colleges create this sense of community is through the events that they hold. This begins in Fresher’s Week, which is organised by each individual college, rather than the university as a whole. A personal highlight from my Fresher’s Week at Cartmel, for example, was attempting German folk dancing with my housemates during our college’s German Beer Festival, whilst a friend sampled Flamenco at a Spanish night and others channelled their inner Miss Marple during a murder mystery evening. Breaking down into smaller groups means that events are on offer which would simply be too difficult to execute on a university-wide basis. Similarly, attending smaller-scale college-based events during Fresher’s week makes the whole experience a lot less overwhelming. Plus, you’re more likely to win a prize in the quiz if you’re competing against forty teams rather than a couple of hundred! And there’s no denying that attempting a bar crawl en-masse with members of your entire college is also tonnes of fun.
Colleges continue to host their own events well past Fresher’s Week, but now they are open to everyone. Regular events ranging from comedy nights, crafternoons, bake offs and quizzes, to bar crawls, battle of the bands, and big nights out mean that a wider range of tastes can be catered for – and can lead to a busy social calendar! For geeks like me, it means that there’s an opportunity to attend a different quiz every night of the week, if you so desire. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little livelier, you have the option to experience the nightlife of Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham, with each college organising a trip to a different city.
As mentioned previously, each college also has its own bar, which means there’s always somewhere to go and socialise and make friends. Tips from a native…Fylde’s the place to be if you enjoy live sports, while if it’s a good laugh you’re after, County’s comedy nights are always fab. For those who love Indie or live music, I’d recommend Pendle’s bar, whilst Lonsdale bar’s huge dance floor and DJ booth mean it’s a great place for chart fans. Hands down, the best place for drinks, meanwhile, is Grizedale’s bar; home to an amazing selection of cocktails and mocktails – as well as its legendary alcoholic milkshakes! However, I must concede that Furness recently proved a worthy challenger with its Gin Festival. If you’re a more of a coffee connoisseur, on the other hand, Cartmel’s Barker House has its own Starbucks, whilst Grad Bar is the haunt of real ale lovers. As well as regular events, at the end of every year, each college also hosts is own huge themed party, complete with live music and entertainment. What’s not to love?
Away from the entertainment, however, the college system also opens up access to a whole host of opportunities. Unlike with larger universities, with the college system, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to get involved in a sports team. Instead you can represent your college in the college league, competing to win the Carter Shield at the end of the year. This means that if you loved football or netball at school, you can continue to play competitively and recreationally whilst a uni. You can also try your hand at bar sports like pool, dominoes or darts. Having failed to even hit the board on my first few attempts, however, I think it’s safe to say that darts was not for me!
It doesn’t matter if you’re not sporty though. There are also plenty of opportunities to give back to society – and increase your employability at the same time. Every year, each college hosts their own charity challenge, where teams compete to see who can raise the most money for a nominated charity. This means you can try your hand at fundraising, events management and planning, promotion or finance – as well as having a whole lot of fun with your friends and making a difference to people’s lives!
Equally, instead of opportunities to take part in student politics being limited to the Students Union, you also have the chance to run for a role as part of your college’s Junior Common Room committee. This committee is the group of people responsible for representing the interests of college members – as well as planning and managing all of the amazing events and sports teams. You might choose to run for a role as a welfare officer, an events technician, a social secretary – or even take your chances at becoming college president!
The JCR also plays an important role in providing pastoral support, an area in which the college system excels. Each college’s system is set up slightly differently, but rather than having to try and navigate the larger university support system, a dedicated team means that there’s always someone to turn to if you need some help and advice. At Cartmel, the advisor team can liaise with your academic department if you’re having difficulties, help you sort out issues with flatmates or other personal problems, and even help you keep your finances in check. The wellbeing officer, meanwhile, provides 1:1 sessions on a regular basis for those who are particularly struggling – and can also ensure a speedy referral to the university counselling team. If there’s issues that you feel uncomfortable talking about with staff, you can also chat to the JCR wellbeing team, who hold regular drop-ins. This smaller scale system means that staff can get to know you personally, and also means that getting help with any issue, regardless of how trivial, is a lot less daunting. On one occasion when I was feeling particularly homesick, an impromptu visit to a college advisors’ office ensured I was provided with a milky cup of tea, a couple of Hobnobs and a shoulder to cry on – exactly what I needed to feel better.
But enough of the serious stuff! I know that what you really want to know is which college is the best one for you. Ultimately, there is no one answer to that question. Regardless of which college you pick, you are guaranteed to make friends and have a good time: the wealth of opportunities, events – and amazing students of course! – will make sure of that.