Common Cambridge Myths Answered
In this article, a former Cambridge student unpicks some common Cambridge myths and misconceptions. As well as answer those burning questions you’ve all been asking about your Cambridge application.
CAMBRIDGE MYTHS – No. 1: You should pick your college based on the Tompkins Table
This is arguably one of the most damaging Cambridge myths. On student forums online, you might come across a league table known as the ‘Tompkins Table’. What this table does is simply rank colleges based on the number of ‘first’ class grades (attaining over 70% in exams) received by each student.
What this does NOT tell you, however, is a number of other crucial factors such as:
- The top sporting, music, theatre, and creative societies offered by the college.
- The types of facilities the college has.
- some colleges, such as Robinson, have a fully-fledged theatre on-site;
- others, like Churchill, have impressive sporting and gym facilities;
- some are known for their impressive libraries – Trinity Hall College, for example, has a beautiful library overlooking the River Cam;
- Certain colleges are female-only or for mature students (over 21);
- The proximity of the college to the centre of town – some colleges, like Girton and Homerton, are miles away from the city centre, but are known for their friendly atmosphere:
- The type of accommodation the college offers for the three years of your undergraduate degree:
- Gonville and Caius College, for example, have accommodation where all the first-year students live together; other colleges have accommodation where students from all years mix; certain colleges are known for offering lots of en-suites;
- The travel, academic, arts or science scholarships available for students;
How do you choose a Cambridge college? The best way to pick your college is to do your research online on the features that are important to you, and arrange visits to see them in-person on open days! Colleges are where students live, socialise, and spend a lot of time studying. Hence, the question you have to ask yourself is: what sort of community and atmosphere do I want to live in during my time at Cambridge?
(Note: It is also a possibility for you to get ‘pooled’ after the interview, and this means that the university will select a college for you to live in at random. Most people end up loving whichever college they end up going to, so have a think, do a bit of research, but ultimately, do not worry too much about it!).
CAMBRIDGE MYTHS – No. 2: Everyone is constantly studying and there is no time for any fun
The fact that Cambridge students work hard is true (that part is not one of the internet’s Cambridge myths).
However, if you manage your time well with efficient planning and organisation, you can create free time in the evenings after your lectures, supervisions, and the library to pursue your extracurricular projects and goals. Plenty of students become actively involved in student theatre, comedy, charity, journalism, debating or sport outside of their colleges. This is often a great chance to make new friends outside of your college circle.
At the end of the academic year, students also get the chance to attend ‘May Balls’, where you dance all night, watch fireworks and famous bands perform, eat delicious food, and celebrate the end of a year’s worth of work!
CAMBRIDGE MYTHS – No. 3: You are forced to dress formally in fancy clothes for every meal
One of the common Cambridge myths circulating on the internet is that Cambridge forces you to go to a formal hall – where students wear an academic dress called a gown, and enjoy multiple courses of food – for every meal.
This is not true at all!
Cambridge town is home to multiple supermarkets, restaurants and takeaway options. While there are a couple of specific colleges like Gonville and Caius that do indeed require you to eat a certain number of formal meals on-site, many students say that this is a way to bond with your fellow students at the end of a long day!
Dressing up can be fun, but apart from special occasions like graduation and matriculation (a dinner to celebrate you becoming a member of your college), formal dinners are never compulsory. Students choose to go to them if they like the atmosphere and food.
CAMBRIDGE MYTHS – No. 4: The architecture feels ancient everywhere
Another one of the frequently circulated Cambridge myths concerns the city’s architecture. While it is true that more traditional colleges like St John’s and Trinity College are known for their ancient architecture, plenty of colleges and libraries like Homerton, Churchill, and Robinson were built fairly recently, and have more modern-style facilities and atmospheres.
CAMBRIDGE MYTHS – No. 5: Everyone is ridiculously smart and I won’t fit in
This is one of the Cambridge myths that exists even for successful applicants beginning their course of study at the university.
Cambridge is home to so many types of students. People work in various ways – some like the comfort of working long hours, others prefer to work efficiently for a few. Every student will want different things out of their Cambridge experience;
- Some people want to develop organisation and business skills by starting new societies.
- Other people are there to meet world leaders in their field and network.
- Some are there to become good at a sport or art, and many students simply seek to enjoy their subject and make new friends.
Read the experiences of a year in the life of a Cambridge Geography first-year student to see for yourself.
Although Cambridge students are united by their drive to learn, finding diversity by joining societies and attending events full of like-minded people, is also essential to your university experience!
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