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St Hilda’s Oxford, hiding just over Magdalen Bridge from the rest of the town, is a college often missed and overlooked on Oxford University open days. However, the vibrant and diverse history and student body of the college makes it, in my (perhaps biased) opinion, the best Oxford college. Here are 3 reasons you may have never considered before as to why you should apply to St Hilda’s College Oxford.

Reason 1: Becoming part of an incredible history

St Hilda’s College Oxford was founded in 1893, by Dorothea Beale, as an Oxford college for women. Despite St Hilda’s being founded 27 years earlier, women were only allowed to become full members of the university (i.e. be awarded degrees) in 1920!

Introduction to St Hilda’s College video.

St Hilda’s has a rich history of enabling women to be educated. This has benefited the college in terms of facilities today: we now have a large, well-stocked and beautiful library, due to women not originally being able to access the university’s main Bodleian Library (in case they were distracted by all the men…)

dreaming spires st hilda's college oxford
The dreaming spires of Oxford, which St Hilda’s college gave women the ability to access.

It also means that, if you are interested in feminist history and perspectives, St Hilda’s is definitely the college for you. Due to our incredible history we now have a thriving feminist society, as well as a week long feminist festival in Hilary (spring) term.

St Hilda’s also pioneered women’s sport, particularly rowing, being the first Oxford college to put a women’s VIII on the river in 1911. It was a St Hilda’s student who founded OUWBC (Oxford University Women’s Boat Club) and in 1969 the St Hilda’s crew were the first ever female team to compete in Summer Eights (a famous Oxford University rowing competition).

It was the last college to turn co-educational, in 2008, and now has an equal number of men and women. However, in the dining hall where the portraits of all the female principles of the college line the walls, and throughout the buildings, the rich traditions and past of St Hilda’s echo.

matriculation St Hilda's college Oxford
Me and my friends matriculating to St Hilda’s college in 2017. Women were not able to matriculate into the University until 1920.

It is also a highly academic college, with 98% of St Hilda’s students in 2018 obtaining a 2.1 or higher in their final examinations, placing us at 13/30 in terms of college rankings.

Reason 2: The friendly, welcoming and sociable atmosphere

St Hilda’s is a also a lot of fun. We have brilliant social facilities and events that help you feel integrated into college life.

  • Our College Bar: Our College Bar is entirely student-run, offering cheap drinks, including our college drink: the Rhino. Plus, lots of themed nights such as a mulled wine night at Christmas, and Thursday Night Live once a term where live musicians from within college play. Unlike lots of Oxford college bars, ours is always very well attended. Whether you are going there before an event, for an event, or just for a sociable drink after you’ve finished your work, it is open every day of the week and there will always be someone there to talk to.
bar St Hilda's college Oxford
St Hilda’s College Bar
  • Academic events. We have lots of academic talks on offer in college every week. There are two large rooms (The Lady Brodie Room, and the Vernon Harcourt Room) where many societies host their events and talks. St Hilda’s is not short on interesting speakers and alumni.
  • BOPs: St Hilda’s Entz Team host 3 bops a term, with a different theme for each one. Everyone dresses up, and then it is basically a big party in our college bar. This is a really nice way to socialise with other St Hilda’s students, and integrate between year groups.
  • College Families: Although this is universally done across the Oxford colleges, it is taken extra seriously at St Hilda’s. As an incoming student, you are assigned two older students as ‘college parents’, who are responsible for welcoming and introducing you to St Hilda’s, and for providing friendly advice. This also means you have college brothers and sisters (i.e. other students with the same college parents as you). We have lots of family events, and opportunities to get to know our parents, siblings, and children.
  • Formals: We have ‘formal hall’ (i.e. a dinner for which you’re expected to dress up) every Wednesday evening. Some of these are just formal dinners that you can sign yourself up to, but we also have a charity formal every term which is themed and collects money towards our chosen college charities. We also have family formal in 5th week where everyone sits with their college families.
  • Active JCR Committee: We have a very active JCR Committee, meaning lots of people can be involved in the JCR and the college and get a say in decisions made. I am on the JCR Committee, as a Freshers’ and Finalists’ Officer with my friend Jake, and our job involved organising Freshers’ Week this year. We also organise lots of fun and relaxing events for the Finalists in Trinity.
freshers week St Hilda's college Oxford
Me and my friend Jake welcoming new Freshers in Freshers’ Week.

All of these factors piece together to form a college environment that is welcoming and rich, allowing you to form great friendships at St Hilda’s and have a brilliant time.

Reason 3: Location

Although not one of the most central Oxford colleges, St Hilda’s is in a great location, for numerous reasons:

It’s still very close to everything.

As Oxford is a very small city, everything is very accessible. Central Oxford is only a 5 minute cycle or 15 minute walk from college, and even the more distant faculties, like Maths and Geography, are still only a 10 minute cycle from college.

“As Oxford is a very small city, everything is very accessible”

You get the best of both worlds.

Not only are you very close to central Oxford at St Hilda’s College, you are also just on the cusp of Cowley, a whole different dimension to the rest of Oxford. St Hilda’s students definitely know Cowley best. It is rich in:

  • Good value restaurants, such as Pomegranate, Cafe Coco, Atomic Burger and the Oxford blue
  • Lovely bars, such as Kazbah (great for tapas too), Cafe Tarifa, and pubs such as the Rusty Bicycle and Cowley Retreat
  • A huge Tesco, which is very useful and has great discounts in the evening
  • Cycle repair shops – Cycle King is the best in my opinion
  • Charity shops full of useful things, especially if, like me, you don’t have access to a college kitchen in your second year.

It feels like you’re coming home.

Going back to college at the end of a day means that you feel like you’re going home. Crossing the river and returning to college, slightly separate from the hullabaloo of central Oxford is calm and welcoming.

The riverside charm of St Hilda’s…

… means we get the best views and sunsets! We also have college-owned punts, so you can go punting whenever you want for free in Trinity term.

sunset St Hilda's college Oxford
The sort of sunset you grow accustomed to at St Hilda’s!

And one reason why it might not be the college for you: ‘That’ Oxford Experience

If you’re applying to Oxford because you didn’t get the letter from Hogwarts, and you’re looking for the Harry Potter experience, then St Hilda’s isn’t for you.

Although St Hilda’s is steeped in history and not short of its own traditions, it does not have the same cloisters, huge chapel, and perfectly manicured quads as some of the other colleges. It is a beautiful site, but it stands out from the typical imposing and grand buildings you become accustomed to at Oxford.

If ‘that’ age-old Oxford college experience is what you’re desperate for, then St Hilda’s perhaps isn’t the college for you! Although our facilities are beautiful, such as the dining hall and library, the grandness of our college is on a somewhat smaller, but more intimate scale, compared to other Oxford colleges.

grass St Hilda's college oxford
My friend sitting on the grass, something you can’t do at most colleges. It makes for a sociable space where we have drinks and BBQs in the summer.


St Hilda’s is a wonderful college, different to many of the other Oxford colleges, and filling its own unique niche. I would recommend applying to St Hilda’s College for its:

  • Amazing history – something you really do feel proud of when studying there.
  • Friendly and sociable atmosphere – there is always someone around to talk to, and so many events to enjoy.
  • Location – you get the best of both central Oxford and Cowley.

However, although every Oxford experience has that element of mysticism, St Hilda’s is a lot more down to earth than other colleges, so bear that in mind when applying.