Unique to All Souls, all of its members automatically become Fellows, i.e., full members of the College's governing body. It has no undergraduate members.
Every year, the top finalists of the University in the humanities are invited to sit the examination in Classics, English, Economics, History, Law, Philosophy and Politics for fellowship of the College. About two are elected to fellowship each year. These Fellows are known as Prize Fellows, their term of office is seven years and roughly a dozen are at the college at any one time. Other categories of fellowship include Senior Research Fellows, Post-Doctoral Research Fellows, Fifty-Pound Fellows (open only to former Fellows no longer holding posts in Oxford) and Distinguished Fellows. There are also many Professorial Fellows who hold their fellowships by reason of their University post.
It is one of the wealthiest colleges with a financial endowment of £218m (2007) but because the College's only source of revenue is its endowment, it ranks nineteenth among Oxford colleges with respect to total income.
The College was founded by Henry VI of England and Henry Chichele (fellow of New College and Archbishop of Canterbury), in 1438. The Statutes provided for the Warden and forty fellows — all to take Holy Orders; twenty-four to study arts, philosophy and theology; and sixteen to study civil or canon law. The College's Codrington Library was built with the bequest of Christopher Codrington, sometime governor of the Leeward Islands. Today the College is primarily an academic research institution.
There are now no undergraduate members, but All Souls did once have them, especially around the early 17th century, introduced by Robert Hovenden (who was Warden of the college from 1571 to 1614) to provide servientes. The downside of this soon appeared, and the college decided to get along without them again, although four Bible Clerks remained on the foundation until 1924. One such was the Rev. Thomas Forster Rolfe (born 1855), an undergraduate at All Souls from 1874-1878.
Every hundred years there is a commemorative feast after which the fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a "Lord Mallard" who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built. The last mallard ceremony was in 2001 and the next will be held in 2101.