Does Lancaster’s collegiate system work?

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When I was applying to university, Lancaster’s collegiate system was one of its biggest selling points. It pains me somewhat to say it, but had Lancaster not been collegiate I don’t think I would’ve applied here and, heaven forbid, I would’ve ended up at York.

Since joining Lancaster back in 2013, Furness College (and its healthy competition with Cartmel, no less) has played a large part in my university experience, ranging from participating in Patriots and being a Freshers’ Rep, to my current involvement with the JCR Exec.

I speak only from personal experience, but I’ve found that compared to friends’ universities there is seemingly much more of a community feel in Lancaster, which comes as a result of the collegiate system. Speaking to friends at the University, there’s an overriding agreement that the college system is really important – it makes you feel like you’re part of a smaller family. Whilst the initial thought of entering an existing college community can be a daunting one, for me it was much better than the thought of being an insignificant individual among an entire year group of strangers.

Naturally, the first port of call for friendship-making is getting to know the other people living in your part of halls, but then this is where I find the collegiate system has one of its biggest advantages; whereas at many universities this is where the ‘community’ seems to end, at Lancaster this extends to freshers in other buildings around your college. In essence, I found Furness halls to be like a very small neighbourhood, and it certainly helped my transition from living at home to living on campus. Many speak of the isolation that comes with moving to university – some end up spending the majority of their time in their rooms – but I feel the collegiate system offers a way to combat this through the existence of multiple college events each term (be it a pub quiz, movie marathon, or otherwise).

Although there is no one overall central ‘meeting point’ (apart from, I suppose, Sugarhouse) there are still the numerous college bars offering a variety of facilities for all students – not just members of that particular college. Having visted York for Roses, I realised how much I rely on these different college facilities. At York, the only college I was aware of with any sort of food/bar facility was Derwent College, the journey to which I can only compare to a walk from Furness to Cartmel (pretty far for a lazy person like myself). York, unlike Lancaster, does have a students’ union based on campus, but when imagining my fresher-self in a space like that, full of people I didn’t know versus a smaller college bar environment in Lancaster, I couldn’t help but think of how intimidating I would’ve found that on my first night away from home.

A recurring discussion about the collegiate system seems to be that of graduating in colleges versus graduating in classes, and is a conversation which seems to divide opinion. Having had the fortune to meet wonderful people both in my college and on my course, I would be grateful to graduate with either group. When speaking to others about this, there is a notable divide in views regarding how we should graduate, largely relating to whether they feel stronger friendships have been formed as a result of their course or college.

Whilst I understand that for some the collegiate system played an insignificant part in their choice to come to Lancaster (and has played an even less significant part in their university life beyond Freshers’ Week), the fact that the option to become an active member of your college exists provides a variety of brilliant opportunities that would otherwise not be available to students.

The collegiate system may not work for and appeal to everyone, but that’s totally okay. After all, you get out what you put in to the experience, and not everyone wants the same experience. That’s the beauty of university: you have the flexibility to choose how you use your time here. But if there’s one thing to say for certain about our collegiate system, it’s that Lancaster wouldn’t be Lancaster without it.

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