Somerville College

| University of Oxford

Somerville College, Oxford

Somerville College, Oxford was founded in 1879. It teaches in the region of 342 undergraduate students and 104 graduates. The college is ranked in position 27 of 30 in the Norrington Table of academic results for the year 2014 (where 1 is the top possible score). It is located around 0.83 km from the centre of town.

Courses offered [ + ] Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular | Biological Sciences | Chemistry | Classical Archaeology and Ancient History | Classics | Computer Science | Engineering Science | English | European and Middle Eastern Languages | History | History (Ancient and Modern) | History and English | Law | Mathematics | Mathematics and Computer Science | Mathematics and Philosophy | Mathematics and Statistics | Medicine (A100) | Medicine (graduate entry - A101) | Music | Philosopy, Politics and Economics (PPE) | Physics | Physics and Philosophy | Psychology (Experimental) | (additional courses are often available to post-graduate students and many colleges offer complex arrangements of modern languages - please see our courses page for details )

College Scorecard (averages out of five calculated from 14 impressions)
Study (3), Music (3), Sport (3), Smugness (3), Artiness (3) Facilities (3), Accommodation (3) | locate on map


Study (2), Artiness (2), Sport (5), Music (4), Facilities (3), Accommodation (3), Smugness (4)

Review by Undisclosed - Student (August 4, 2009) - add your impression

Somerville is a more recent college, being an ex-women's college (since 1994). Consisting of a mixture of red brick and stone, it has two quads and a relatively simple circular layout. The college is self-contained, situated on Woodstock Road, opposite St Anne's and nearby to St Hugh's and Keble colleges.
The old Radcliffe Hospital next door is currently being converted into a university building site, shifting the focus of the university northward and leaving Somerville in prime position for access to several new departments. New accommodation is also being built onto Somerville, and a further road between Walton Street and Woodstock Road added.
From the college, it is 7 minutes' walk to the top of Cornmarket Street (the town centre), and 35 minutes' walk to Iffley Road Sports Centre. There is a post office/tabacconist outside the college, a coop behind it on Walton Street and two Sainsbury's within fifteen minutes' walk.

College accommodation is mixed, from the spacious double apartments of Dorothy Hodgkin to the non-sound-proof bleakness of Vaughan, the horrible 60s block of which most colleges have one, and which traditionally fills up with first year undergraduates. Showers and bathrooms are shared, although personally I never once had to wait for a shower when I was living in Darbishire during my first year. Kitchen qualities vary - Darbishire has a microwave, several kettles, a sink, an oven, a toaster, two fridges, but no freezer... Other buildings have freezers, but some only have the the hobs for an oven, and no oven itself... On the other hand, it is very easy to go and cook in another building, if yours does not offer the facilities you require.
One advantage of Somerville accommodation is that it is all in or surrounding college, so everybody is near their friends and the college facilities. Some colleges (e.g. Magdalen, Univ) don't have enough undergraduate accommodation on site, and subsequently own student blocks, sometimes at considerable distance from the college itself, e.g. in Summertown (North Oxford). On the other hand, in the second year, most Somerville students are required to live out (unless you opt in and are lucky enough to get a room). Myself, I do not at all think this is a disadvantage; living out is a fun experience, and also means you don't need to cart every item of your stuff to and from college at the start and end of every term; if you travel by train, as I do, this can make life considerably easier. It is also considerably cheaper, allowing you to catch cheap trains, rather than whatever is available on the Saturday that college throw you out. Although you pay for your living out all year round, you can be in Oxford whenever you like, and the "nightly" cost works out at around £11 rather than £16-20 for typical college prices (Somerville being the lower end for Battels).
When living in college, 3 boxes per student who signs up are available for storage over the vacation if you can't fit everything in your case. Typically, I store my printer, my bedding and all my cooking kit, and as many books and clothes as I can store. Each storage box is about 50cm cubed.

One of the disadvantages of Somerville is its obsessive security. In St Hugh's college, Somerville's security policy was used as an example of "taking it too far". There is a card system for all the doors in the college which operates 24 hours a day, and in the evenings the front door is closed and locked, so students returning for a night out need to use their "Late Key". The Late Key also opens the back gate and side gate (Vaughan Gate) to college. This is not particularly a problem being a student in Somerville unless you are very, very forgetful, but it does mean that visiting friends are held hostage in the lodge (where there is only one specific spot with good phone signal) until you come and collect them. By contrast, other colleges have such low security that you can simply wander in during the daytime and tour around without anybody asking any questions. You can even go and have a shower there.

I haven't eaten a lot in hall, except for formals, so I don't know too much about the food. During the time I was helping run interviews and eating college food continuously, I did put on a lot of weight, but this could equally be due to the portion sizes as the contents.
During formals, Somerville likes to be creative, and we have had many interesting species on the menu including crocodile and camel.
The vegetarian food is sporadically excellent, and otherwise only acceptable. Somerville is very fond on squash, and puts it in as many dishes as possible. Usually mixed vegetable pastries and risottos are excellent, but I warn you that the beans will always be overcooked and soggy, and that the courgette is seldom noticeably cooked at all. Again, this is not that unusual between colleges, and at least Somerville is obsessed with a more exotic vegetable than, say, mushrooms...

Another disappointment in Somerville is the college bar. It is very small and so seldom used, except after formals or events when it tends to be packed so full breathing becomes an issue. Due to its size, bops can't occur in the bar, and instead take place in the Flora Anderson hall (a somewhat depressed room in the West of the College leading onto the quad, with slit windows and the concrete monstrosity of Wolfson above it). This means there is no proper bar during bops, and drinks tend to be restricted to "bop juice" - usually vodka mixers at £1 each (all college food and drink is student subsidised). The lack of anywhere but the dance floor to chill out and enjoy the bop is somewhat disappointing, but Somerville simply doesn't have the available space. Consequently, towards the end of the night, students tend to spill onto the quad where they stand around talking. Which leads me onto another good point about Somerville - you can walk on the grass. This not only makes it pleasanter in summer, but also aids the mad hurried dashes to the library you will necessarily find yourself making at some point or other.

Someville library is one of the bigger college libraries, containing at least one copy of most desired texts. I usually find I can get whatever I need there - as a chemist, the text books on the relevant topics as well as the blockbuster main texts on the subject, and for the supplementary subject I did last year, books on history and philosophy. Occasionally there is need to swap books with students at other colleges, or visit the Radcliffe Science Library (a horrible, dingy, underground place where you lose all track of time and season), but usually Somerville suffices. Students in smaller colleges frequently find themselves struggling to get hold of the relevant texts.

Somerville also has a gym underneath Vaughan. Unfortunately you have to pay for it, and annoyingly you have to have a new induction every year to be told how to use equipment you have been using for the last year - but at least it isn't compulsory. Also, whilst it isn't very big, Somerville gym has a mix of facilities, including treadmill, cycling machine, stepping machine, leg weights, and is not just designed for rowers, with hand weights and ergs, as many college gyms will be.

One of the big pluses about Somerville is its friendly manner. One of the least snobbish colleges, Somerville has a more relaxed and cooperative feel. In a recent survey it was also listed as one of the most promiscuous, but it continues to house a very hardworking proportion. The male/female ratio is also about 50:50, with a slight dominance of female students in my year. There are a large number of state school applicants and students (I am one of them), and Somerville currently sits on the borderline of the target percentage.

Study (4), Artiness (5), Sport (3), Music (3), Facilities (4), Accommodation (3), Smugness (3)

Review by Rowena - Undergraduate, MChem Chemistry (August 4, 2009) - add your impression

Location - It's just off Woodstock Road, north of the centre, between Keble and St Annes. Borders Little Clarendon Street on one side (great for drinking, not so great when they empty their bins at 2am), Walton Street on another (takeaway heaven, and a Co-Op). Far enough north to avoid the tourists, but an easy walk to the centre of town.

Atmosphere - it's a nice college, attracts an eclectic mix of students, and everyone tends to mingle and get along. There's no place in Somerville for snobbery or elitism - some idiot did organise a "state school v private school" football match at the end of last year, but that was about as well received as a dose of the clap.

Food - very middle of the road. Hall food is averagely priced, variable in quality, but even on bad days there's still sandwiches, salads, soup, baked potatoes etc to fall back on. It's no Trinity, but it's still miles ahead of the likes of Teddy Hall. Formal Hall (once a week only) is actually very good, and worthy of taking friends/parents along to. No dinner at weekends, but cooking facilities are generally better than other colleges (ie there are some!)

Accommodation - guaranteed for first and final years, but most people have to live out in at least their second year. Rooms vary - nearly all are a good size (you'd be very unlucky to get a box room), but can be a bit dingy. Nearly all rooms are on corridors, so it's a lot more open plan and friendly than staircase systems at other colleges. Living out generally means paying silly money to live in a dampish, place in Jericho just to be close to college - not great, but a learning experience.

Social - ranks averagely in terms of sporting and other clubs/societies; Somerville is famously apathetic about "getting involved" in anything, and instead people tend to make their own entertainment (which is often a whole lot more fun than anything regimented). Definitely a "less work, more play" culture compared to other colleges.

Beaurocracy - the security is high, cctv everywhere, but it's incredibly safe. The porters are helpful and friendly, the academic side are very kind, but the accommodation office are less than helpful. Student rooms are let to conference guests and summer schools all vacations, so it can be very difficult to stay in college outside of term time.

Overall - it's a nice place to be, and is about as close to "normal" as Oxford will ever get. If you want a first class degree, go to Merton. If you want to live amongst dreaming spires, go to Brasenose. If you want a blue, go to Teddy Hall. If you want to make a name for yourself, go to Christ Church. If you want to enjoy your time at uni, are content with "average" food/accommodation/prices/location, and want to be somewhere with a good atmosphere, then Somerville is a good option.

Study (1), Artiness (4), Sport (4), Music (2), Facilities (3), Accommodation (3), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - Graduate (August 5, 2009) - add your impression

I've spent three full years in the place, and loved it throughout.

1) One of the best points is that the attitude of the student body is generally pretty relaxed, and there's a distinct lack of cliques.
2) There are some extremely good tutors.
3) The college has very decent accommodation available for all but 2nd year, and it's convenient for the science area.
4) It's 'far out' from the centre, meaning 10-15 minutes walk.

1) there's less pressure than in some colleges, meaning you're less likely to get a First. Then again, you ARE more likely to enjoy yourself.
2) Some of your friends from more central colleges are likely to be too lazy to walk out to Somerville
3) Some of the college processes can be a little unhelpful and bureaucratic. Not sure how this compares with other colleges, but it can be a wee bit annoying.
4) The student body being relaxed and easy-going extends to politics, where it's more usually called 'apathetic'. Only likely to be an issue if you're a politico though...

Study (3), Artiness (4), Sport (4), Music (5), Facilities (4), Accommodation (4), Smugness (3)

Review by Guy - Engineering Student (September 1, 2009) - add your impression

Friendly, with very few stuck-up students or tutors. Amazing atmosphere for anyone not so keen on the stereotypical Oxford. Academically strong with amazing tutors and facilities.

Study (5), Artiness (4), Sport (3), Music (5), Facilities (5), Accommodation (5), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - current undergraduate (August 21, 2011) - add your impression

I would definately recommend somerville...i open apped and was allocated there but it is so friendly and relaxed that you almost forget you're in an institution with a reputation like oxford. I had initially been concerned that any students in any college would be stereotypical 'oxbridge' types. However, having been at somerville for even a few minutes it became apparent that my concerns were totally unfounded and that everyone was surprisingly normal. The work is manageable and handled in a fairly relaxed manner whilst socialising is actively encouraged as are extracurricular activities.

Study (3), Artiness (3), Sport (3), Music (3), Facilities (3), Accommodation (3), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - history undergrad (August 4, 2009) - add your impression

The college is very nice. It has so many friendly students.

Study (4), Artiness (4), Sport (3), Music (3), Facilities (3), Accommodation (4), Smugness (3)

Review by Undisclosed - visiting Medical student (July 30, 2009) - add your impression

Somerville college is a very open and friendly college in all aspects. It's students, tutors, fellows, etc. are very friendly, sociable and outgoing. Somerville has many sport teams and all sorts of clubs and societies. It's facilities are, in my opinion, better when compared to other colleges I have seen during my time at Oxford. The library is very useful and provides all books that are needed for the course as well as some extra reading. Computer facilities are quite reliable. The food is of excellent quality and the price for food is reasonable. What I liked about Somerville the most was it's big quad where students could lie and read in the summer and "play" in the snow in winter (if there is any). There are no collection retakes if you fail (unless you keep failing repeatedly). This may be reflected in the Norrington table position of Somerville, but the results were not that bad and students at Somerville can organize their studying quite independently. The accomodation in college was not that good when compared to other colleges I have seen (such as no sinks in many rooms and the rooms themselves are pretty small), but I may have seen only the best rooms in other colleges so don't take my word for this. Overall, Somerville is a place where you would definitely find many friends and enjoy your time at Oxford to the full.

Study (2), Artiness (4), Sport (3), Music (4), Facilities (4), Accommodation (2), Smugness (3)

Review by Miroslav Provod - Physics student, graduated 2009 (August 30, 2009) - add your impression

For many, Somerville doesn't seem to be first choice and in some ways I can see why. It is viewed as being "out of town" when in fact, it is about 5 minutes brisk walking. It is hampered by being Margaret Thatcher's old college when in face it is now one of the more liberal colleges. It used to be an all girls college so is not as well established as some of the others. It does not have the creamy brick and dreaming spires which prospective students dream of. And it is certainly not a college where students glide around in gowns.

However, if you want a more 'normal' Oxford experience, with pretty 'normal', open minded and friendly people you should think about coming here. It is very pretty and green and you can sit on the grass! The food is not bad and even the porters are nice. In first year you might be stuck in Vaughan which is not the best and you have to live out in your first year.

I don't quite feel the college loyalty which seems to abound in other people here and in other colleges. However, if you do end up here, you will not regret and will enjoy it as much as any other.

Oh, and we also have a cat. So we win.

Study (3), Artiness (3), Sport (3), Music (3), Facilities (4), Accommodation (2), Smugness (3)

Review by Undisclosed - Modern Language Student (August 5, 2009) - add your impression

The college has a very friendly and laid back atmosphere, and there is a real sense of community. When I joined the college was primarily known for its extracurricular contributions to the arts, primarily theatre and journalism, but in recent years it has attracted many strong sportsmen and -women who have had great success on both the intercollegiate and university level. The choir is a big part of college life and is already recognised as a prestigious Oxford choir, but is still on the ascendant.

On the downside, Somerville charges its students to use its event facilities if a student wants to hold a function for a society for example. This is not true of all colleges.

The library is very well stocked and the location is much more central than it immediately appears on prospectus maps. It is particularly well-located for Linguists and Scientists/Engineers as it is very near their faculties and libraries.

The bar is often empty, but that is probably because college is surrounded by many of Oxford's best pubs, restaurants and cocktail bars (and right next to G&D's ice cream).

Most students will now be accommodated on-site due to the new accommodation block, but people living off-site can live right on the doorstep in Jericho. The proximity of this residential area to college gives Somerville a distinct advantage over many other colleges.

Study (3), Artiness (4), Sport (5), Music (5), Facilities (4), Accommodation (4), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - CML student, graduated 2011 (August 31, 2011) - add your impression

Gorgeous college. Everyone was so friendly and everything any student could possibly need was on hand and available all the time. Loved it!

Study (5), Artiness (4), Sport (5), Music (5), Facilities (5), Accommodation (5), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - current student at another college (April 21, 2011) - add your impression

Located in a perfect position (far enough out of town to avoid tourists, but only a 5-10 minute walk, and two minute cycle into town, plus in Jericho, a vibrant area full of cocktail bars, great pubs and interesting shops and cafes), Somerville has been an amazing place to study and make friends for me. The best thing about Somerville has been the people- because we are a lesser known, newer college, we have less people applying directly to us, and more people getting in from open applications. This is by no means a downside. It means that the college is less traditional, less formal, a lot more liberal and a lot more fun. The atmosphere is incredibly friendly. It means that there is a really high proportion of people from state schools relative to other colleges in Oxford and Cambridge and everybody, no matter what background they come from is really down to earth. The people tend to care less about the prestige of going to an old, grand college, and overall tend to be far less stuck up; they just care about getting an incredible education in a relaxed, but still very beautiful, college and having a lot of fun. You'll find barely anybody from the big public schools here, and the ones that do come here are the friendliest and most down to earth. It's a great community, and everyone fits in. We're just normal people who have been lucky enough to do well in school and really like our subjects. Our library's great, has one of the biggest collections of books of any college library, and is open 24/7. There's loads of space for playing music. Our quad's big and open and free for anybody to walk on! I've really loved my time at Somerville, and know loads of people who feel the same way.

Study (3), Artiness (4), Sport (3), Music (4), Facilities (4), Accommodation (4), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - Current student at Somerville (August 21, 2011) - add your impression

Study (5), Artiness (5), Sport (4), Music (5), Facilities (5), Accommodation (5), Smugness (1)

Review by Undisclosed - Current student at somerville (August 22, 2011) - add your impression

Somerville was not my first choice college, but I am very happy to have been "pooled" to here.

Much of what has been said previously covers what I would say, so I will just add a few 'updates':

Previously Somerville college bar has been mentioned as a disappointment, and the previous bar was a bit dingy and not particularly well attended. In Michaelmas 2013 the new college bar opened. The bar is huge and fairly well attended, with multiple TVs for sports matches, university challenge etc. It's also open during the day as a cafe, which is a great place to take a break from work, or if you're a caffeine addict like myself, a great place to work with a cup of coffee.

The college gym (a rarity in itself in Oxford) has recently been renovated with new machines. While still small and not particularly impressive in comparison with a 'normal' gym, it's great considering the number of people it services. 90% of the time you'll be one of less than 3 people in the gym, and with 2 treadmills, plenty of ergs (rowing machines) a bike, a multipurpose machine and plenty of weights that's not bad.

Given the gym and bar improvements I bump Somerville from a 4 to a 5 for facilities.

For accommodation, in 2011 Somerville opened the new ROQ accommodation for around 60-70 people. This means that unlike previous years, accommodation is available for around half of second year students in college, so most people who want to live in college for second year are able to. Also, the ROQ accommodation is all very modern with ensuites and individual room heating systems, so it ranks pretty well with the best accommodation available at other colleges. That said, Vaughan is still where many of the first years end up and it's still not great--thin walls and a lot of people make it far from ideal for light sleepers. For that reason I'd keep Somerville at a 4 for accommodation.

All-in-all: Facilities and accommodation-wise Somerville ranks with the best, with one of (if not the?) biggest college library in Oxford (which is also open 24 hours), a great bar and a good gym, as well as good accommodation. So don't count Somerville out for either of those reasons.

If you're looking for the full 'strutting about in formal gear' Oxford experience, Somerville might not be for you: we've got our weekly formals, but we don't make a huge deal of them (though they are well attended) and we pretty much never wear gowns. However if you're looking for a more normal, laid back time in Oxford, with a bunch of people with varied interests (our choir is one of the best in Oxford, our sports teams generally rank highly, and a lot of our students are involved in university newspapers, charitable and political societies)--then look no further.

Study (4), Artiness (4), Sport (4), Music (4), Facilities (5), Accommodation (4), Smugness (3)

Review by Undisclosed - Final Year PPE Student (January 3, 2014) - add your impression