How Your Cambridge University College Affects Your Life

Once accepted to the University of Cambridge, your College defines your student life and may have an impact on your academic performance. Here are some considerations to bear in mind when choosing your college in Cambridge.

Author: Simon Meaden

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The importance of choosing your Cambridge University College is underrated and often overlooked. 

Once you are accepted to the University of Cambridge, your College defines your student life and can mildly affect your academic performance.

A common misconception amongst applicants to Oxford and Cambridge is that your college choice can have an impact on your success rate. This, in practice, is almost always untrue. Your college will, however, have an impact on you in ways you may not have expected. Here are a few considerations for you to make when choosing your Cambridge college.  

The Interview Processes of Cambridge University Colleges

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. Read through our guide on the most common Cambridge interview questions and how to answer them. 

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Cambridge University Trinity College Great Court, Cmglee, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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.   

General-based interviews are an effective way of stress relief and familiarising yourself with the new environment by asking questions before your written assessments. You can find the Interview style of each College on its website.

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Cambridge College Student Life

Your student life will be strongly influenced by your College, simply because you will spend most of your time there.

Most of your friends, especially in your first year, will be studying in the same College. This is due to the fact that you will be exposed to lots of College events when you first arrive (Freshers’ week). Also, having fun in your College is extremely easy and convenient; there’s always a fun gathering next door.

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. If you want to get involved in sports, you can even just compete for your own College. For example, Bumps runs each year, which is a rowing event with Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs, where you chase Colleges down to catch up with another boat or ‘bump’ them. 

clare-college-bumps-rowing
Clare Boat Club at Bumps (Credit: R Needleman)
Murray Edwards College - Accommodation at Buckingham Court
Murray Edwards College - Accommodation at Buckingham Court

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. We have a guide on How to Choose a Cambridge College which discusses how to make a decision in more detail.

Having studied at St John’s College for three years myself, I have indulged in numerous free formal dinners and have taken advantage of its generosity through various grants and awards.

Cambridge University College Academic Performance

This mostly applies to subjects that receive supervisions from the Colleges for the first couple of years. Although all supervisors will provide great guidance and tuition, some of them will be more experienced. For example, professors are more knowledgeable than PhD students.

How to get the most out of Cambridge Supervisions:

To get the most out of supervisions, you need to be well prepared; don’t just turn up and say “I couldn’t do question 3”. You need to show your working clearly to explain your thinking and you need to tell the supervisor exactly what you got stuck on. Make notes based on what the supervisor tells you and write them up as soon as you get home so that you have the perfect answer to an exam style question.

I advise ambitious students to use the Tompkins table as a College guide: it is an annual ranking that lists the Colleges of the University of Cambridge in order of their undergraduate students’ performances in that year’s examinations. 

What’s it like to study at Cambridge?

In this series, we ask current and past students to share what life is like studying at Cambridge:

Final words

Visiting the Colleges, talking with current students, or even contacting the Colleges to find out more about College life will help with making your important College decision. Look for useful information, such as location, facilities or even acceptance rates.

Your College will be the place where you will spend most of your time for the next three, four or more years, thus, giving it the appropriate emphasis.

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