It’s fair to say there’s a range of responses people give when you ask them about their college experience. Some people are strong defenders, shutting down all complaints about their halls, whether they actually get on with their roommate, and declaring they absolutely love college meals (unless, of course, you are self-catered – this bodes a slightly different story). Others act as half-hearted college reps amidst the ongoing question of which college really is the best.
Undoubtedly, the college system is often one of the main draws for people applying to Durham. But why is this? If I was to create a montage of my first year experience, the majority of my reflections would revolve around a central point: living in college. From moving into my college room for the first time, meeting flatmates and the myriad of events that followed, college really does become a home that intertwines itself into the very core of the Durham experience. It forms, shapes and determines the student experience whether you’re living in college now, looking to return next year or even living out.
So what works about it? What doesn’t? Can we say that it is ‘perfectly flawed’?
Firstly, for those in catered colleges there’s a certain comfort in knowing that you’re cooked for. No last minute dash to the shops or stress about cooking, and the chance to socialise with your friends is basically already scheduled into your day. It can help to foster a real community spirit, and many people in the throes of cooking for themselves when living out for the first time yearn for the days when they rolled out of bed and a meal was waiting for them. However, last year the Palatinate released a disconcerting report about the state of reheated food in St Aidan’s College that didn’t cast the catering experience in the best light, and arguably the liberty that many self-catered students have of cooking at any time of the day or night is somewhat compromised for catered students who adhere to a fairly narrow window of food times.
Despite this, when living out the ease of college life is realised. You don’t have to worry about heating, the washing machine breaking (again) or dealing with any major issues yourself. Everything is there for you! Of course, as is with every experience, it’s unique to the person – but this ease can help with stress and further cements the college system as a great way to help new students settle into life by themselves. College acts, in some ways, as a safety net.
This extends to the fact that colleges facilitate a close community of students. As feelings of loneliness occur at high rates across the student population, the college system becomes pivotal in ensuring students have a space in which they feel connected in. This begs the following question: does the college system help abate feelings of loneliness at university?
Some people would argue that the collegiate system creates feelings of separation from other colleges, making it harder for people to meet others outside of their immediate circle forged by their college experience. However, the other side of this is that living in college means events are right on your doorstep, offering the opportunity to interact and form connections with others in an easier way. Also, the relatively small sizes of the colleges help to create a tight-knit atmosphere that really feels like home.
So, the college system is certainly not flawlessly perfect; Durham is currently 57th in the UK for accommodation in a recent survey (indicating the greater housing issue students are confronted with), and the student experience differs from college to college, year to year.
However, the college system here at Durham deserves to have its roots so firmly in the student experience; for many, it is perfectly flawed.