How to Choose a Cambridge College: The Ultimate Guide

So you've come to apply for a place at Cambridge and UCAS asks you "which Cambridge college?" So, to help you better understand the strange Cambridge college system, I've put together a list of things to consider when choosing the right college for you.

Last Updated: 2nd August 2020

Author: Rob Needleman

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So, you’ve come to apply for Cambridge, and UCAS asks you, “which Cambridge college?”. Understanding how to choose a Cambridge college can be a daunting task.

To help you better understand the unusual college system here at Cambridge, we’ve created this guide to explain everything you need to know when choosing the right college for you, including an overview of all 31 colleges currently active at the university. 

How does the cambridge college system work?

Firstly, it’s important to understand what we mean when we talk about colleges. Essentially, the Cambridge colleges are like mini-universities within the University of Cambridge. Each of them is independent of the other, but they are all affiliated with the university. Students will be attached to a college, so will be housed and looked after by that specific college.

However, when it comes to studying, the subject content will be taught in the subject department, where the college is irrelevant; all students of that course will attend the lectures together.


Does it really matter what college I choose?

There is no need to panic as each of these colleges works in a similar way to the others, so the decision isn’t THAT important. The differences between them are mainly niche traditions, locations and ‘how pretty they look’!

BUT there are a few colleges I will just signpost as being especially different;

  • Wolfson
  • Hughes Hall
  • St.Edmund’s

These are all for mature students only, meaning if you are under 21, don’t apply to these.

Then, there are the female-only colleges;

  • Newnham
  • Murray Edwards

These only accept female students, so make sure you think carefully – if you’re a woman – if this is something you would prefer.

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Also, there are some colleges that are not located in close proximity to the centre of Cambridge, which means a bike will definitely come in handy. This also means you won’t be near the centre of life in Cambridge.

Whilst that can be quite nice, it can also be isolating, so bear this in mind. The colleges that are located outside the centre are;

  • Fitzwilliam
  • Murray Edwards
  • Churchill
  • Selwyn
  • And, furthest away, Girton

There are also some colleges that don’t do particular subjects, so make sure to double-check whether or not the course you have picked is done at your college. In effect, no, it doesn’t matter what college you pick, you just need to bear in mind some have specific criteria for applicants, and some are deceptively far from the town centre.

With the basics of Cambridge colleges out of the way, let’s next take a look at all of your options for where to apply to.

All Cambridge Colleges (A - Z)

Cambridge University, like Oxford, has hundreds of years of history and traditions, with the oldest college, Peterhouse, founded in 1284. With such history, Cambridge has seen many famous alumni grace its colleges, with more recent names including David Attenborough and Prince Charles, and those who made discoveries that shape what we know today like Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Isaac Newton. 

By understanding what each of these 31 colleges offers, or which ones are relevant to you, you should be able to make your decision much easier. Let’s begin with Christ’s College:

College Living:

Christ’s has student accommodation throughout the college with cheaper rooms available but also more pricey sixteenth-century rooms for scholars. The college has a café style hall called Upper hall and Formal Hall occurs six times a week. The location of the college is very central so it is close to the shopping centres, libraries and some of the university science buildings.

Sports and Reputation:

Christ’s has a reputation for being very academic and it often sits at the top of the Tompkins Table. Gowns are required for all Formal Halls and chapel services too. The college is situated near its boat club which is great for early morning training. The college also has a variety of sports on offer including water polo, badminton, volleyball and cricket.

College Living:

Rooms at Churchill have a large window seat and en-suite rooms are available. The new court (Cowan Court) has more modern rooms with double beds and en-suites which cost around £1,800 but cheaper rooms are available. The college bar is located in the buttery and is said to have a good range of drinks and food. The kitchens cater well for vegetarians/vegans and students say that the chefs are happy to entertain food requests from students.

Sports and Reputation:

Churchill is known for being a strongly STEM subject college which is also why the chapel is not seen as so important by the students. The college motto ‘Forward’ is from one of Churchill’s speeches. Regarded as being one of the least formal colleges in Cambridge, gowns are not necessary for Formal Hall and the college takes in the highest proportion of state school students. Unlike most other colleges, Churchill has its own playing fields – football pitches, cricket wicket, rugby pitch, tennis and squash courts and a gym. The football team has had a great deal of success and in the past, they have retained the league 1 division title.

Clare College Cambridge Natural Sciences

College Living:

Clare College first-years live in Memorial Court which has rooms that suit different budgets. In second or third year, if you get a bad room, it will be reversed the next year to keep it fair. Students (who are clearly highly biased) say that Clare has one of the best bars (Clare Cellars) in Cambridge and it is in the crypt below the church. Clare has come first in many inter-collegiate catering competitions so Formals serve amazing food that costs around £7.50.

Sports and Reputation:

Clare is known for being a friendly college with a sense of community. It is one of the older colleges and it is also known for its music society and famous choir which you can sometimes hear on the radio, especially around Christmas time. The sports teams are generally more relaxed and therefore the ability levels are not as high as some other colleges and the rowing club is a great place for beginners. There are lots of societies on offer too for those that do not just fancy sports including the Whiston Society, which is one of the largest college science societies at Cambridge. 

College Living:

Clare Hall offers single and double bedrooms and the accommodation has a large common room. There is a new bar which students have said is becoming a more popular venue for grad students from other colleges too. There is a large party there every term.

Sports and Reputation:

Clare Hall has a reputation for being very informal, and without any undergrads, fellows and students mix together without needing gowns and there is no high table. The college has a fantastic multigym with an indoor pool and tennis courts nearby. Sport at the college is becoming more popular each year and there are some very active clubs, including running, cricket, yoga and boat clubs.


College Living:

Corpus Christi’s accommodation is said to be really nice, especially as it is so close to the main college facilities like the bar, common room, library and Hall. The extremely popular brunch is served on a Saturday and it is an absolute college favourite. The menus tend to be quite diverse with multiple options available for each lunch and dinner. Formal Hall occurs twice weekly.

Sports and Reputation:

The college has a reputation for being good at sport and punching way above its weight. Although open to all beginners and abilities, the college is still very competitive and competes in a variety of sports including netball, lacrosse, football, rowing and tennis. There is also the annual ‘Corpus Challenge’ where both Corpus Christi Oxford and Cambridge go head-to-head at a number of sporting events (Cambridge usually wins).

College Living:

Accommodation is reported to be really nice but also fairly expensive as Darwin doesn’t subsidise as much as the older colleges. It’s actually quite common for people to live off-site. There are 282 college rooms at the main site and also accommodation for couples and families. Darwin’s catering team strive to reduce the college’s environmental impact and cook plant-based dishes every day. Formal Hall occurs most Wednesdays and Fridays.

Sports and Reputation:

Darwin is known for being the first graduate-only college in Cambridge and also for not being very formal. The college is situated over the river next to the water meadows and the punting station, and the college has its own island where students have a BBQ in the summer months. The college offers many sports and societies such as beekeeping, Cuban salsa, robotics and Raspberry Pi and also cycling, cricket and running clubs.

College Living:

Students say that Downing accommodation is incredibly nice. Rooms are allocated in first year based on the price band students select and many of the rooms have double beds and en-suites. The food at Downing is said to be really good and Hall is very sociable. There are vegetarian options for every meal and Formal Hall occurs three times a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Downing has a solid reputation for being competitive at sports. There are strong teams for pretty much every sport on offer such as rowing, football and frisbee. The college also has the largest open green space and you can find students sat outside on grass together throughout the warmer months.

College Living:

Emmanuel’s (Emma) first-year accommodation is either in North or South Court. Third years rooms are in a 17th-century building that has an impressive exterior. The bar is one of the last student-run bars remaining in Cambridge and so it has some of the cheapest prices. The food is decent and the kitchens serve a variety of meals. Students say that Formals at Emma are great for celebrating birthdays.

Sports and Reputation:

Formality is fairly formal – gowns are required at Formals and there’s Latin Grace and a high table in Hall. However, you can still walk on the grass and there’s a lido – swimming costumes are not very formal so that is saying something. The College Dean is famous for defying the ban on blessing same-sex partnerships nearly twenty years ago. The college has tennis courts and a croquet lawn in the Paddock in the Easter term. Emmanuel also owns a sports ground which is only a few minutes away from the college site. 

College Living:

Fitzwilliam or Fitz provides accommodation to all years on their main site. Undergraduate rent costs have been around £108-170. The Fitz Bar is open every evening and it hosts many events each term including bops and pub quizzes. Lunch at the weekend is a full-English breakfast and Tuesday dinner is usually a special theme-night meal.

Sports and Reputation:

Fitz has a reputation for being a welcoming and friendly college and fairly forward-thinking too. The college is highly regarded for its outreach which emanates from historically allowing students who could not afford college membership to access Cambridge education. Fitz has 20 sports teams with success in football and cricket. There is also an on-site gym which is free to use along with squash and badminton courts.  

College Living:

Girton guarantees accommodation for students of all study years. A standard room usually costs around £172 per week and an en-suite room is around £180. All meals are served from Monday-Friday in the Cafeteria and there is also brunch at the weekends. As Girton is fairly out of the centre, students can also purchase food from Downing and Robinson College for a student price for those who need to go to more central departments.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is known for being the first college to admit women in Cambridge and this shapes their values today (pro-inclusion, equality and diversity). As mentioned above, Girton is not a central college and it is technically separate from Cambridge City itself. It takes about 20 minutes to cycle into the centre of town. Girton’s main site is said to have the best on-site sports facilities in Cambridge. The college has football, rugby and cricket pitches and courts for tennis, netball and basketball outside. There is also a squash court and a multi-gym.

Life in Cambridge

College Living:

Students say that Caius has some of the best accommodation available for undergrads. Freshers live in the Stephen Hawking Building or Harvey Court which are newly refurbished buildings. They have common rooms with table tennis tables and gyms. Unfortunately, the college has a ‘no-hobs’ policy which means that no student kitchens have hobs. There are still microwaves to use. College food tends to be hit and miss but students say that it is improving.

Sports and Reputation:

Caius has a reputation for being the best place to study Medicine in the world with a strong history of famous science-related alumni including Watson and Crick, and William Harvey. The college is also very traditional and Grace is said before every Formal. The college has a very well-funded rowing club which has Olympic level boats and there is also a strong badminton, football and rugby team.

College Living:

Homerton accommodation is mostly en-suite and all first years are guaranteed an en-suite room. Even with the en-suite room, the accommodation is still one of the cheapest halls among the Cambridge Colleges. The college has two different bars which are both great places to socialise and relax in the evenings. Like the accommodation, the college bar drinks are also a good price. Formals are held once a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Although many colleges say they are, Homerton was actually voted as ‘Cambridge’s Friendliest College’ and the staff and students are known for maintaining a strong student community. Like Caius, Homerton invests heavily in sports, especially rowing. Students are also encouraged to set up new teams if a sport is not already offered and funding is available to start new clubs.

College Living:

Accommodation at Hughes really varies in age and location. The college bar is very popular and the MCR frequently holds themed bops on Friday and Saturday nights. Formal Hall food is decent but otherwise, the college food is said to vary in quality.

Sports and Reputation:

Hughes is known for having a good community where you can find debates and discussions around every corner which makes life very interesting for the students. It is also one of several ‘mature colleges’ at Cambridge and it has a large number of sportsmen and women. There is the option of being really competitive or just having some fun and the college usually has one or two crew members in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race each year.

College Living:

Students report that accommodation at Jesus is really good and there are rooms available for all years of study. If you would like to live off-site, Jesus has houses on the surrounding streets so students are always in the heart of the college. The college bar (JBar) is said to have a great selection of drinks and a nice place to relax with friends. College food is a high standard and priced cheaply (£2-4 for a main meal and sides). Formals occur five times a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Jesus has a reputation for being incredibly sporty. The college is unusual as it has all sports fields on-site including lawn tennis, a lacrosse pitch, cricket pitch and rugby and football pitches. Having such easy access to sports grounds makes participation a lot stronger so the sports teams are well attended making the social events really good fun. Backing up the sports grounds, the inside facilities are also great with a well-equipped (and free) college gym.


College Living:

King’s accommodation is loved by many students for the rooms that look out across the river or with views over the town. The college food is quite good and there are many options available for each meal. There are Formals once a week which is said to have amazing food. The bar has a good range of drinks and there is access to the college wine cellar.

Sports and Reputation:

King’s is famous for its chapel and the choir who are popular around the world. The location of the college is very central and it is a place where tourists flock to for photo opportunities. King’s has a reputation for being very liberal and has active vocal societies in support of the LGBTQ+ community, the environment, worker’s rights, feminism and more. There are many sports teams that students can get involved with including lacrosse, hockey, kayaking and mountaineering. 

College Living:

Lucy Cavendish guarantees accommodation for all students for all degree years. There’s the option of en-suites and some rooms have living rooms. The accommodation kitchens are really good and have hobs, ovens and freezers which is very rare for Oxbridge colleges. The food in Hall is said to be quite nice and there are some vegetarian options too.

Sports and Reputation:

Lucy is known for being fairly casual and relaxed and as a newer college, it is located further outside of town which can be slightly annoying for students wanting to have quick access to the centre of town. It has its perks though as it means that tourists are less abundant and the majority of the students feel that as they are all over 21, they are mature enough to cope with a brief cycle ride into town. The college has an art society, a successful boat club, two choirs, sewing & knitting society, a student magazine and teams for badminton, football and netball.


College Living:

Accommodation at Magdalene is all close together and is guaranteed for all three or four years (depending on the course). Food is said to be quite good and there are always three or more options which include vegetarian and vegan food. Brunch is very popular at the weekends and Formal Hall is held in a candlelit 16th-century hall, for only £6.50.

Sports and Reputation:

The college is famous for the Pepys Library which holds Samuel Pepys’s papers and books. It was also the last all-male college in Cambridge. Magdalene has brilliant facilities for a wide range of sports, and for musical and dramatic productions, and a large number of active societies. The college shares outdoor facilities with St John’s which includes a large playing field and AstroTurf.

College Living:

Murray Edwards accommodation offers a range of room options and some are really nice with en-suites and balconies. There are also college-owned houses available that have their own gardens. Food at Murray Edwards is served in the Dome and is said to be quite tasty. There is always a meat, fish and vegetarian option and there are themed days throughout the week too. The college also has a popular brunch which has been voted as the best in Cambridge.

Sports and Reputation:

Murray Edwards has a reputation for being a welcoming college with a relaxed (but hard-working) environment. You can tell it’s relaxed when students are encouraged to “hop, skip, and jump” on the lawns, which is very strange for Cambridge. Murray Edwards has an on-site gym and many sports teams available such as squash, tennis and netball. The college has a strong Music Society too.

newnham-college-cambridge exterior

College Living:

Accommodation at Newnham is highly rated overall and students say there aren’t any ‘ugly’ buildings. The college is very good at providing access for disabilities and other access requirements. All students who live in college have access to a kitchen with a hob and oven. The college bar functions as a café during the day and is run by external staff. The bar itself is not really popular except when there is an event on. Formal Hall is held once a week which costs £12.50 but the food varies in quality.

Sports and Reputation:

Newnham’s reputation mainly comes from being one of two all-female colleges. The college is very liberal and progressive which makes students feel comfortable, whatever the political background a student has. Newnham has one of the most highly rated boat clubs in Cambridge and a joint hockey club with St John’s. It also has its own sports ground on site.

College Living:

Pembroke guarantees live in accommodation to all first years. Students have the choice of older or more modern rooms but both types are spacious with fair rent prices. The college bar is linked to the JP (common room) which is said to be a great place to relax and meet for gatherings in the evening. The bar also hosts bi-termly bops which are always packed. The college food is loved by Pembroke students and Formals food is reported to be ‘delicious’. Other stand out events are subject dinners, boat club dinners and Tutor Tea.  

Sports and Reputation:

Pembroke’s reputation is based on its quality food, stunning buildings, great location and very friendly people. There are students from all backgrounds so the atmosphere feels very open and non-judgmental. This means that students often find themselves involved in interesting discussions covering all topics. The Men and Women’s Football Teams have a lot of success in the intercollege leagues and the Boat Club also has success in May Bumps.

College Living:

Students say that Peterhouse has amazing accommodation and it is mostly housed on-site. All first years are housed together and en-suites are available for all three years. The college bar is very popular after Formal Hall and before nights out. All college meals are provided in a 13th-century hall and it costs around £2-3 (there are always vegetarian and vegan options). Formal Hall happens daily in Full Term and it costs around £6.50.

Sports and Reputation:

Peterhouse is known for being fairly conservative and traditional, but this does not necessarily relate to how the students are today. It is far more diverse now with students from various backgrounds attending each year. Peterhouse is also known for being the oldest college in Cambridge. College sport is quite low-key so it is not the best for those wanting to be very competitive and compete at a high level, whereas for those wanting a more chilled college sporting career, it is perfect. For example, most teams do not train during the weekend.

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College Living:

Queens’ offers on-site accommodation to all years of students’ degrees. Students can choose accommodation that is self-catered or catered for and none of the small kitchens in the Queens’ accommodation has an oven or freezer. Evening meals cost £3.50 and the Queens’ weekend brunch is extremely popular.

Sports and Reputation:

Queens’ is famous for its popular tourist spot for punters and land sightseers – the Mathematical Bridge. Legend has it that Newton built it without nails using maths alone. The college is known for being very laid-back and welcoming and there are some strong inter-college sports teams including rugby, football, lacrosse and tennis. Queen’s also has a good squash court for all college students to use.

College Living:

Robinson’s accommodation tends to be more on the pricy side but their rooms have the same amenities and style, unlike other colleges where you may pay the same amount of rent and get a fairly small and less comfortable room as someone who has a large and really nice room. All rooms are also close to each other, so you are never more than a 5-minute walk away from your friends. The college bar (the ‘Red Brick Café Bar’) serve bar food every day and has a fantastic range of drinks too. The college food is one of the college’s strong points as the food is of high quality with many options available. Formals are also held twice a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Robinson is known for being fairly liberal, a close community and LGBTQ+ friendly. The nickname is the ‘red brick college’ and the college chapel has a world-renowned Frobenius organ, a harpsichord by David Rubio and a Steinway piano. Robinson has a croquet lawn open in the summer and lots of sports teams to get involved with. The college is also right next to the University Sports Centre.

College Living:

Selwyn accommodation is all en-suite for first years and all rooms are high quality and well-maintained. Students say that the college bar is ‘gorgeous’ with a good range of drinks. The College food is also nice and tends to be more affordable than other colleges.

Sports and Reputation:

Selwyn has a reputation for being liberal with a left-wing slant and also very friendly and welcoming. There are some traditions that are enforced, such as wearing gowns during all formal events but in general, the college is not too formal and students can walk on most lawns. The rowing club has had a good deal of success and there has been a few Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race crew members come from the college. The is also a very active rugby club which is situated next to Cambridge University’s rugby stadium.  

College Living:

Sidney Sussex accommodation is offered to all undergrads across all years of study. The rent at Sidney is amongst the cheapest at Cambridge, with the average room at about £130 a week. The college bar is very busy during the evening where students come to socialise and relax. It is one of the cheapest bars in Cambridge and there is a pool table, darts and foosball table available to use. A meal in Hall costs around £4 and Formal Hall occurs three times a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Sidney is known for being a welcoming college with a non-judgemental atmosphere. Students say you will bump into people from all different backgrounds and areas of the UK and World. Gowns are worn to formals and you cannot walk on the grass in the front courts, but Sidney has large gardens at the back of the college for students to walk as they please. Sidney provides a great deal of financial support to the sports teams and societies. Music, drama and choir are well funded too. All sports are played at the college as well.

College Living:

St Catherine’s (Catz) offers first and third years accommodation in the college. Second years generally live in flats in a separate site that is close by to the college. College food is said to be quite good with at least one meat/fish option and two vegetarian dishes. Brunch on a Sunday is the most-loved meal of the week. There’s also a Formal Hall that is held three times a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Catz is known for upholding tradition but avoiding being stuffy. Gowns are required for all formal events but students can walk on most lawns. The college is also one of few colleges that serves a cheese course if that excites you. It is one of the smallest colleges and located in the centre of town so it can feel a little cramped. Catz boasts a wide variety of sports and societies, allowing everyone to get involved. As a known sporty college, Catz has many clubs available such as golf, lacrosse, skiing, water polo and climbing.

College Living:

St Edmund’s has newly built en-suite accommodation and rooms for couples which covers a lot of their student population, but not everyone. Some people may need to rent privately of find surplus rooms at other colleges. This is mostly for later years of undergraduate study. Formals occur several times each term and food is served in the dining hall every day except Sundays.

Sports and Reputation:

St Edmund’s is known for having a very unpretentious academic and social environment and Fellows, undergrads and postgrads socialise and eat together. The smaller college size also means that the college forms a close and caring community. The college has seen some great success in sports mainly due to a new wave of sporting enthusiasm and determination from students. The boat club has recently won the Mitchell Cup for the most successful performance in the May Bumps races.

Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

College Living:

St John’s offers accommodation for all degree years and the rooms are based either in or out of the college. The price varies but it is usually between £1,400-2,000 per term for a room. The college bar is busy and is open until 11pm all week and 12pm on Fridays and Saturdays. College food is said to be very good and costs around £3-5 for a meal. Formals are held daily except on Saturdays.

Sports and Reputation:

The college has a reputation for being uptight and conservative which does not represent the college at all. The students are fairly diverse and clearly not all political. There are limited formalities including gowns for Formals. When it comes to sport, St John’s is known for being one of the best colleges to attend for sporty students. There is a large number of teams to choose from and the standards are high for the first teams. The most active and popular sports include rowing, rugby and football, which are all at the top or near the top of the College leagues.


College Living:

Trinity accommodation massively varies from en-suites and great kitchens, to shared bathrooms and few cooking appliances. First years are randomly allocated a room. Some rooms are sets, which means you get a living room as well as a bedroom, and double sets mean there is the opportunity to live with a friend and share a living room. The college bar has recently been renovated and is now said to be ‘gorgeous’. Students say that the college food is usually quite good, with three hot options a day including vegetarian and vegan food. Formal Hall is held three times a week which has a great atmosphere but the food is hit and miss.

Sports and Reputation:

Trinity is known for being the richest college in Cambridge and Oxford with an endowment of over £1B. The college has performed well on the Tompkins Table and has a reputation for producing famous alumni including Royalty, Nobel Prize winners, Fields Medal winners and multiple Prime Ministers. The college also is known for the Great Court Run, where it is thought that Seb Coe managed to complete the run and beat Steve Cram in 1988. Trinity has good sporting facilities including a large gym and sports fields for rugby, football and cricket. The college has entered Henley and other regattas with their rowing team.

College Living:

Trinity Hall offers rooms to all first years at the central site, right in the centre of Cambridge. Rooms cost between £70 to £140 a week and they do vary in quality. Students say that the college food is good, fairly low in price, but a little repetitive. Second and third year students have access to better-equipped kitchens so they tend to do a lot of cooking themselves. Formals are held twice a week.

Sports and Reputation:

Trinity Hall is known for having famous alumni like Stephen Hawking and David Thouless, along with famous politicians too. Students say that the college library has beautiful views over the river and the gardens are stunning. Trinity Hall has many different sports teams and the college is well set up for beginners who would just like to try out a new sport.

College Living:

Wolfson accommodation is quite modern with all en-suite rooms on-site at the college. The bar has been recently refurbished and students say that it is really the centre of college social life. There isn’t a chapel which is fairly unusual and the food is highly rated by students.

Sports and Reputation:

Wolfson is a mature college and it is known for having the most diverse, international, and cosmopolitan student population. The College gardens are famous for their exotic plants from across the globe. Wolfson offers a variety of sports and societies including rugby, squash, rock climbing, public speaking and LGBTQ+ and BAME societies.

On this map, you will find all of the Cambridge Colleges. Take a look at the location of your options to ensure they are positioned somewhere that works for you. 

What should I consider when choosing a college?

Your student life will be strongly influenced by your College, simply because you will spend most of your time there. You will eat, sleep, be supervised, study and party in your College more often than you may plan to. Colleges are like families; and exactly as a family guides a child through childhood, a College guides a student through university life. 

There’s a lot that goes into making this decision. Although it isn’t game-changing for your time at Cambridge, it’s still well worth considering the following: 


Whilst all colleges will provide you with accommodation throughout your undergrad, it’s worth looking at where exactly this is. Just because you pick a central college doesn’t mean its rooms are all in the middle of town. A lot of second-year accommodation is a bit further out, so if location matters to you or if you’re not planning on cycling, this is worth investigating. Cambridge is a small place and pretty much everything is within walking distance, but a twenty-minute walk compared to a five-minute saunter can get annoying.

You should also look at how your chosen college ballots its rooms. Some colleges give priority to students who do well in exams, whereas others just use a random ballot system. Not all colleges price their rooms via the same system either – some offer more high-end options whereas others charge the same rate regardless of the quality of the room.


Emmanuel does your laundry for you. Girton has a pool. Clare has some of the prettiest grounds in Cambridge (I may be slightly biased on that one). The point is, you should think about what’s important to you in terms of your living experience. Not all colleges have a gym, and the ones that do vary a lot in quality, for example, so if that’s something you care a lot about then you should make sure you know what to expect from the college you choose.

Similarly, the self-catering facilities vary a lot from college to college, from “just a toaster and a kettle” to ovens. If you’re an aspiring Great British Bake Off candidate, or just don’t really see yourself eating in halls much, you want to make sure you’re not going to be disappointed.

Extra-Curricular Activities

Passionate about music, or a certain kind of sport? Whilst most colleges will cover the majority of bases, they do so with varying degrees of success. Some colleges are more musical whilst others are more sporty. It’s worth checking league tables and past results if you see yourself as being competitive at the college level in your sport, and similarly, if you want to do things like sing in your college choir, you should look up what the required standard is (though it is possible to join a college choir other than your own).


Some colleges are much richer than others, and whilst this doesn’t really impact your day-to-day experience at Cambridge, it can make a difference if you find your funds are running low. Academic prizes, sporting prizes and bursaries vary hugely between colleges. I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve been jealous of the awards my friends at other colleges have received!

College Size

It’s a fact: size matters. Both ‘small’ and ‘large’ Oxbridge colleges have their relative merits – by putting some thought into what you’d like to get out of your college environment, you can ensure that the benefits associated with each size meet your wishes best.

Cambridge college cohorts vary greatly in number – from those averaging 600-700 undergraduates across all three years to colleges of around 200, and this variation brings about important social implications, including ones you might not always expect before applying. There’s one misconception that you may hear when people talk about smaller colleges:

“If you are very shy, the best course of action is to join a small but friendly college.”

This isn’t as intuitive as it sounds. Whilst the atmosphere of these colleges might be more open and friendly in general, your goal is likely to be to find people who are on your page – who you’ll ‘click’ with. Going to a larger college will maximise your chances of meeting your ideal friends. Ultimately, in a very small group, there’s no guarantee you’ll get along with everyone, and casting the net as wide as possible might be no bad thing on your quest to meet your “friend soulmates” in college.

Largest Cambridge Colleges (includes visiting students)

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersTotal

Smallest Cambridge Colleges (includes visiting students)

CollegeUndergraduate Numbers Graduate NumbersTotal
Clare Hall0264264
Lucy Cavendish169373542

Admissions/Interview Process

If you excel at written assessments but are not so good at communicating clearly under pressure, it would be best to choose a College that has a test-based Interview process, like Trinity College for Engineering.

If you perform well on the spot and still prefer to be assessed by written tests, you can choose a College whose interviewers will ask maths questions during the interview giving you the chance to explain your thought process.

However, if you are a confident speaker and prefer to go through a general interview before written assessments, you should consider choosing a College with general-based Interviews, like St John’s College. In essence, by choosing the way you want to be assessed, you enable yourself to perform in the best possible way.   

Choosing a College Strategically

Most people love their College and wouldn’t like to be in another. However, there are those who regret not taking a more strategic decision. For example, choosing a College that is not far away from the city centre can save you miles of cycling, or choosing a wealthy College can give you extra economic benefits and luxuries. 

It’s common knowledge at the University of Cambridge that some colleges receive more applications per place than others. But why? Well, some colleges simply appear more popular to applicants than others, and nervous candidates often try to work this to their advantage.

By applying to a college with fewer applicants per place, you maximise your chances of getting in, right? Theoretically, yes – but almost always in practice, no. All applicants to Cambridge are measured against various factors during admissions. The other applicants (your competition) to the college are a small and ultimately a minor part of this complex and large-scale comparison project.

There is no shortage of people willing to study at Cambridge, no matter which college they get allocated to. Due to the university’s reputation and quality of teaching, Cambridge will never be in a position where it needs to lower its standards when it comes to admissions.

The Cambridge ‘Winter Pool’

It’s important to know that when oversubscribed colleges can’t take every qualified applicant, they place the surplus in the “Winter Pool”. Colleges that haven’t filled their places after Interviews will “fish” some of these candidates out, and give them an offer.

However, if you thought the Winter Pool system is the last resort, mostly for colleges that can’t scrape together a healthy applicant to place ratio, and used infrequently, you’d be wrong. The Winter Pool is responsible for 25% of all offers made – and even colleges that are initially oversubscribed frequently utilise it to bolster their numbers after Interviews conclude.

Annually, hundreds of talented candidates pass through the Winter Pool. You’re not just up against the applicants to your college, but against a number of high-standard students that admissions tutors know they’ll find if they peruse the Winter Pool.

Therefore, applying to an under-subscribed college solely because it’s under-subscribed is a fruitless endeavour. It won’t improve your chances of getting in, and you may end up at a college that wouldn’t be your first choice. Moreover, you can in no way second-guess application behaviours year on year, making this tactic even more tentative. 

Top Tips on How to Choose a Cambridge College:


Check how close it is to your subject department.

Take a look at the Cambridge colleges map, the closer it is, the later you can wake up to get to lectures!


Check the location of their accommodation.

Some colleges don’t house students on site, and you can find yourself living nowhere near the college, so make sure you check this.


Check the quality of their accommodation.

Some colleges have really good accommodation, and some are known for having terrible accommodation. Make sure you thoroughly check out the accommodation on offer at the college by going on the college website.


Check the location of the college.

How close is it to a food shop? How close is it to Cambridge itself?


Go on the college websites.

Check out what the buildings are like, if you feel you like it etc. Trust your instincts!


Check out the societies at the college.

See if they take your fancy and if you would be interested in joining them.


Remember that it is possible you get placed into a pool.

This is where the college you applied to doesn’t accept you, but they think you should be at the university. As a result, it places you in a pool where other colleges can pick you out. Here’s one student’s experience of the winter pool.


Recommendations can be biased. 

The stereotype is true: almost everyone thinks that the college they end up attending is the best, and they wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you know someone who attends or has attended Cambridge, be wary that the college they chose may not be the best fit for you, so don’t make the choice soley off of a recommendation. 

So, hopefully, you feel a bit more comfortable and better equipped on how to choose a Cambridge college. Essentially, it doesn’t matter too much in the long run, you’re still going to get an Oxbridge quality education no matter where you choose. Have a good look at accommodation, location, and student support, but at the end of the day, it is your choice.

Nobody can, or indeed should, make the decision for you because this is where you are going to be living for the next 3 or 4 years. Just go with your instincts and trust me when I say that whatever college you decide upon, you will love it, so don’t worry!

So you’re set on studying at Cambridge but are you prepared for the Admissions Tests and Interviews? UniAdmissions will help you get there.

Our expert Cambridge tutors provide the support you need to gain your dream place. How? We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive Admissions Test score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Cambridge application.

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