Another plaintive request for information, although opinion would be fun too. I'm rather agonising over this. I'm aware that the two colleges are different in many respects, and it's difficult to know which one to forgo. I'd go for 'gut feeling', except that keeps changing. Chances are I won't get in to either, but that's by-the-by – I don't want to make a decision based on how likely I am to get in.
This is a fairly long post, so I'd ask for indulgence. Anything I've missed out, any comments, and any criteria for weighing up the various factors would be appreciated muchly.
If I was picking solely on evaluation of the tutors, certainly it'd be Balliol, where the reputation of the PPE departments seems well-deserved. I've been advised, however, that this would be a fairly weak basis for a decision. I know lectures are given centrally, and I was wondering how much emphasis I should place on the tutors. I don't know much about the Merton PPE department, although i've met a few of them.
If I was selecting on food-grounds, it'd have to be Merton. They have formal hall (although I gather Balliol has the odd formal dinner on special occasions), and, more importantly, eat in hall at breakfast. The idea of waking, walking through the beautiful grounds and sitting in hall under the eyes of distinguished alumni every day has a certain appeal. On the open day, the Balliol JCR seemed to be in a state of considerable disrepair, almost dingy. And there was a strange smell. I never had a chance to visit the Merton JCR (although, as a point of reference, I'd say that the Corpus JCR is a 'nice' one)
College societies-wise, I know nothing about Merton. Balliol describes its own, and they sound nice (the ancient Jowett Society, the exclusive Arnold and Brackenbery, the Cerberus subject society). Balliol students are allegedly all lefties, and would be fun to argue with. Merton has the academic reputation, but Balliol does well in the Norrington Table, so I doubt the students are at all lazy.
Merton is next to the Philosophy Library, Balliol closer to the Bodleian. I don't think there's much to choose between them there; Merton Street is nice and quiet, but Balliol seemed quiet. Aesthetically, I think Merton has the edge, but not much.
Oddly enough, the 'access to grass' policy is also important to me. Grass is good, and I'm not quite sure when/where you're allowed to sit in either college.
Some comparison between the libraries, particularly with relation to PPE, would also be appreciated. Good grief, I'm demanding, aren't I? Ah, well...