One of the most enjoyable, distinctive and enriching aspects of going to Cambridge is joining a college.
There are 29 Colleges at Cambridge to which members often develop very strong – often lifelong – attachments. Truth be told, the differences in standards and student experience to any outsider tend to be difficult to see. Some are large, some are small. Some are for women only – Murray Edwards and Newnham – and some are for mature students only – Hughes Hall, St Edmund’s College and Wolfson. Some are close to the centre of town; some are a little way out. One dates from the thirteenth century (Peterhouse) and one from the 1970s (Robinson). However, they all offer the same very high levels of tuition and care, of social and sporting activities and of family feeling and a sense of belonging.
A college has to offer you a place before the University will accept you so you have to choose one or make an ‘open’ application and accept the allocation made by a computer. There is no great art to choosing, however. Colleges are different but it would be difficult and immensely contentious to rank them and say some are conspicuously better – or easier to get into – than others. As noted above, the experience, the quality of life and the educational standards will be of the same high quality across the board. Regardless of their College, all students on the same course, attend the same lectures, seminars and practicals, and sit the same exams.
You might know of someone who has been to Cambridge and has a recommendation. You may prefer larger to smaller or older to newer or riverside to town. Take your time to think about it but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get your first choice. As pointed out in the previous section, this is not nearly such an important decision as your choice of course.
Each College has its own web site; a list is given here. Each College also has its own outreach activities – for example webinar briefings and open days – and it is worth looking at the web sites to see what is on offer. Homerton and Pembroke have specific outreach responsibilities for Scotland although most activities at most Colleges are open to all.
The University offers some advice about how to choose a College and how not to choose a College here.
There may be slight differences across Colleges in their Entry Requirements for certain courses. Find your course web pages and check “Entry Requirements” and then “Subject Requirements and Typical Offer by College”.
The relationship between the University and the Colleges in terms of key responsibilities is summarised below.
The University v Colleges
|determines course content
|admits undergraduate students
|organises lectures, seminars, practicals and projects
|organises supervisions (individual and small-group teaching)
|sets and marks examinations
|offers accommodation, places to eat and recreational facilities
|provides pastoral and academic care