How to choose a Cambridge College

Cambridge is a collegiate university, and all of its colleges are different. Whilst they are multidisciplinary, not all colleges offer all courses. From history to size, acceptance rates and ranking, there’s a lot to consider when choosing your college. 

In fact, you might even opt not to choose, because Cambridge allows you to apply to one specific college or apply through an open application. However, there’s a lot to consider with this option too.

So, this article runs through everything you need to know about Cambridge’s colleges, as well as how to choose one and how the Cambridge college application system works. It’s important that you have all the information to hand when making a decision that could affect your chances of getting an offer and shape your time at Cambridge.

Wondering why you should listen to us? Well, The Profs have proven themselves to be Oxbridge experts. We have plenty of team members who are Cambridge alumni and/or have sat on Cambridge’s admissions committees. 

Accordingly, our Oxbridge acceptance rate is 55%; that’s 3x the national average! From navigating Oxbridge to getting you your offer, we’ve got your back. Contact our expert Oxbridge admissions team for tailored support.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our other articles: How to get into Cambridge, Cambridge’s acceptance rates, Cambridge’s courses and entry requirements and what to do if you don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements.

Content:

How many Cambridge colleges are there?

Cambridge has 31 colleges. So, you’re certainly spoilt for choice. It’s a luxury to have so many options but it can also be overwhelming. You might be wondering how to choose the perfect college for you or what the most diplomatic option is. 

Well, we can help you with this process. Let’s whiz through all the factors you should consider to reach a decision. Oh, and if you want to fast-track the decision-making process and make it super easy – contact our expert Oxbridge admissions team.

Firstly, check out the list of Cambridge colleges below.

Cambridge colleges list

Here’s a list of all the colleges at Cambridge:

  • Christ’s College
  • Churchill College
  • Clare College
  • Clare Hall
  • Corpus Christi
  • Darwin College
  • Downing College
  • Emmanuel College
  • Fitzwilliam College
  • Girton College
  • Gonville & Caius College
  • Homerton College
  • Hughes Hall
  • Jesus College
  • King’s College
  • Lucy Cavendish College
  • Magdalene College
  • Murray Edwards College
  • New Hall/Newnham College
  • Pembroke College
  • Peterhouse
  • Queens’ College
  • Robinson College
  • Selwyn College
  • Sidney Sussex College
  • St Catharine’s College
  • St Edmund’s College
  • St John’s College
  • Trinity College
  • Trinity Hall
  • Wolfson College

Links to each of the colleges’ websites can be found here. Please note that college options can differ depending on whether you’re an undergraduate or postgraduate student. 

Cambridge has one college page for undergraduates and one for postgraduates.

Feeling overwhelmed? Let an expert take the lead. We offer guidance tailored to your goals.

How the Cambridge College system works

You can choose a specific college to apply to or, if you don’t have a preference, you can join the 40% of students who make open applications. 

Your college choice carries weight regarding your eligibility as Cambridge will consider your suitability for this college as well as your chosen course.

However, an open application does not mean that your application is sent to all colleges. Cambridge will assign you one and your application will be processed through them. Therefore, an open application will not offer you a greater chance of being admitted. 

In fact, showing clear knowledge of a college as well as a keen interest in joining their community might give you a better chance as this will show you have genuine enthusiasm rather than handing in a generalised application. Cambridge could also assign you the most competitive college for your course, so it might be better to take the reins yourself. 

Colleges vary in that some are recognised as the most prestigious for particular disciplines and have tighter acceptance rates. Similarly, some have larger student bodies and therefore can accept more students. Officially, Cambridge states that choosing a college that attracts fewer applications will not increase your chance of being made an offer, but it is definitely worth your time to consider not aiming for the college with the most admissions if your application is lacking in some areas.

If you’re trying to make up for weak points regarding your application, it could be a good idea to invest a lot of time into researching a college that suits you as a person, as well as your learning style, and academic interests. Maybe the college hosts competitions or societies that are relevant to your experiences and passions. Or maybe you could contribute to the college’s existing research or participation in a project. If you construct a convincing argument as to why you’re the perfect candidate for that particular college, you’ll increase your chances.

Unlike Oxford, Cambridge has not signed up to a Common Framework for admissions. Hence, the application process for your course is not necessarily the same at every college. For example, some colleges ask for different admissions tests and submit work or higher A level/IB grade requirements than others. Some colleges also have niche preferences for particular courses e.g. being part of the UK Maths Olympiad team massively heightens your chances of studying Maths at Cambridge, particularly at Trinity College. 

Please note: Cambridge states “Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant that applied to another College, than a weaker applicant who applied to them directly or was allocated to them.” Accordingly, it has a system called ‘pooling’. The admissions tutor may send your application to other colleges if they think you’re a strong candidate but the college has filled its places or already has sufficient numbers of applicants from your subject area. So, you could receive an offer from a college that is different to the one you applied for.

The pooling process spans four days in January, allowing Admissions Tutors and Directors of Studies to review all pooled applications. Colleges needing more applicants in specific subjects can offer places based on these reviews without conducting further interviews.

Insider tip: Due to pooling, once you’ve completed your college interview on the interview day you could be sent for more interviews for different colleges. This could happen whether you’ve submitted an open application or not. Possible reasons for this are:

  • Your college thinks you’re an excellent candidate and wants to show you off.
  • Your college thinks you’re a very good applicant and wants to give you ample opportunity with more colleges than just this one.
  • Your college thinks you might be better suited to another college.
  • Your college is concerned that they have too many applicants from your course or generally but think you have another shot elsewhere.

The different reasons are endless. There’s no reason to stress – it could be a good thing! Similarly, if you aren’t asked to attend any interviews with alternate colleges to your selected one, this is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no set algorithm to determine whether callbacks are a positive or negative sign. 

So, remain calm and optimistic and do your best. If you are not asked to go to another interview, go home, unwind, recharge, and stay hopeful. If you are, try to approach this as a great opportunity.

Want to maximise your chances of receiving an offer from the University of Cambridge? Get bespoke support from an experienced Cambridge admissions consultant. Take control of your future!

What to consider when choosing a Cambridge college

It’s a good idea to research Cambridge’s colleges and decide which individual college you are most suited to. When choosing a college, be aware of the subjects your college offers as well as what departments it specialises in. Is this college suited to your academic and personal interests? Can it facilitate your goals? 

Other relevant factors you should consider when choosing your college include the age limit of who they accept (undergraduate or postgraduate etc), fellows in the college, and more. 

Here are some further important considerations:

  • Academic reputation: Consider the academic reputation of the college, including its performance in your chosen subject area and any particular strengths or specialisations.
  • Size and community: Think about the size of the college and the type of community you prefer. Some colleges are larger and more diverse, while others are smaller and more intimate.
  • Location: Consider the location of the college within Cambridge, including its proximity to departments, libraries, and other facilities you may need.
  • Accommodation: Look into the accommodation options offered by the college, including availability, quality, and cost.
  • Facilities: Consider the facilities available at the college, such as libraries, laboratories, sports facilities, and social spaces.
  • Tutorial system: Investigate the tutorial system at the college, including the frequency and format of tutorials, and how it aligns with your learning preferences.
  • Extracurricular activities: Explore the extracurricular activities available at the college, such as sports teams, societies, and cultural events.
  • History and tradition: Consider the history and tradition of the college, including its architecture, famous alumni, and cultural heritage.
  • Financial support: Look into the financial support available at the college, including scholarships, grants, and bursaries.
  • Network: Look at the fellows and academics associated with your college. These people are likely to interview you or teach you when studying at Cambridge so picking a college with faculty members that align with your interests is a plus.
  • Gut feeling: Trust your instincts and choose a college where you feel comfortable and at home.
  • Acceptance rates: While looking at acceptance rates by subject and college can provide insight, you are unlikely to be able to win a place as a weaker candidate by picking a college where the odds are more ‘in your favour’.

You can find out about all of Cambridge’s colleges here

What are the college requirements for your course?

Once you know what course you’d like to study at Cambridge, ensure that you don’t stop at checking Cambridge’s standard entry requirements. 

It is imperative that you also check your chosen college’s requirements as they can differ e.g. some colleges ask for an A* in a specific subject. Consequently, you might want to check the requirements for your course alongside each college that offers it and see which entry requirements you fulfil or are willing to fulfil.

Some colleges or courses at Cambridge might deem it essential that you’ve studied X or Y subjects. In other cases, they might strongly recommend or encourage specific subjects. Beyond what is mandatory or advised, it’s important that your subject choices convey a genuine interest in your chosen degree, as well as applicable knowledge, and relevant capability.

Colleges go beyond having differing grade and subject requirements to one another; some even have varying admissions tests and submitted work. Your chosen college might ask you to submit one or multiple written works prior to your interview. You can double-check this with the college admissions office to be sure as this can vary depending on your chosen college or individual circumstances.

Usually, the written work will be recent examples of your writing around a subject relevant to your course, however, it’s always important to check this with your course department and college as this can differ. You can also check out our previous blog on all of Cambridge’s admissions tests.

Also, note that English language conditions are at the discretion of the Cambridge college that makes you an offer.

All in all, you will be able to select a college preference as part of your application, so you shouldn’t waste this opportunity. It could also demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in Cambridge, have researched it, and are thinking ahead. Need help? Chat with our expert Cambridge admissions team.

What are the prettiest Cambridge colleges?

Cambridge is home to some of the most picturesque colleges in the UK.

  • King’s College is famous for its stunning chapel, which is a central landmark in Cambridge. Its rich history and beautiful architecture make it a must-see.
  • St. John’s College features the iconic Bridge of Sighs, one of the city’s most photographed spots. Even Queen Victoria praised its picturesque setting. The New Court’s central cupola, known as the ‘wedding cake’ building, adds to its charm.
  • Jesus College has expansive grounds that include pristine football pitches, grass tennis courts, and a nature walk. You’ll also find an impressive collection of sculptures, like Barry Flanagan’s Bronze Horse.
  • Pembroke College boasts a chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren, his first architectural project. The college’s spring wisteria vines and “The Orchard” area make it especially appealing.
  • Selwyn College offers beautiful spring gardens that bloom with vibrant colours. The main court and gardens, especially Cherry Tree Avenue, are a highlight in mid-April with their spectacular floral displays.
  • Newnham College has well-kept gardens and striking architecture. It also features the second-longest continuous indoor corridor in Europe, designed to protect students from the English weather.

These are just a few of the popular choices!

What are the oldest colleges at Cambridge?

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. It is one of the world’s oldest universities and is the second oldest in the English-speaking world; Oxford precedes it by just over a century.

Cambridge’s 31 colleges were established over centuries from the 13th to the 20th. Cambridge’s first college, Peterhouse, was founded 75 years after its founding in 1284.

There’s a notable gap where no new colleges were formed between 1596 (Sidney Sussex College) and 1800 (Downing College). This creates a clear division between the 16 “old” colleges, which were founded between 1284 and 1596, and the 15 “new” colleges, founded between 1800 and 1977. 

The 16-17 old colleges are:

  1. Peterhouse
  2. King’s Hall
  3. Michael House
  4. Clare College
  5. Pembroke College
  6. Gonville Caius College
  7. Trinity Hall
  8. Corpus Christi
  9. St. Mary Magdalene
  10. King’s College
  11. Queen’s College
  12. St. Catherine’s College
  13. Jesus College
  14. St. John’s College
  15. Trinity College
  16. Emmanuel College
  17. Sidney Sussex College

The newest college is Robinson, established in 1977. Additionally, Homerton, originally an 18th-century dissenting academy and later a teacher training college, achieved full college status in 2010.

Which are the richest colleges at Cambridge? 

Trinity College stands out as the wealthiest college at Cambridge, boasting over £1.3 billion in its latest accounts. Hence, it is significantly richer than the other affluent colleges in the university. 

St John’s follows with assets amounting to £780.1 million, while King’s College holds £349.9 million. Jesus College and Peterhouse are close behind, with endowments of £327.0 million and £324.2 million. 

Gonville & Caius and Trinity Hall also feature prominently, with assets of £323.7 million and £276.2 million. Clare College, Emmanuel, and Corpus Christi complete the list of the top ten richest colleges, holding £262.2 million, £253.7 million, and £227.4 million in assets. 

The affluence of Cambridge’s colleges reflects the historic wealth and resources available to students and faculty within these prestigious institutions.

Can you visit Cambridge’s colleges & when are they open to the public?

All of Cambridge’s colleges are available to visit. 

However, some have particular visiting hours, term times and/or days they’re open. Some require an appointment or recommend calling in advance. If you’re in a group, you might not gain entry if it’s over 6 people. 

Most of the colleges are free to visit, however, some have small fees. However, you might be able to get this waived if you can prove you’re a local or have an offer. 

Once you know which colleges you’d like to visit, you can visit Cambridge’s colleges page and select your choice for specific information.

An optimum way to work out the right college for you is to attend Cambridge’s open days where you can view the college and get a feel of it in person. You could even talk to existing students there.

Cambridge suggests you take virtual tours and contact your shortlisted colleges’ admissions offices to help you make a decision.

What different colleges offer

Firstly, the colleges depend on whether you’re an undergraduate or a postgraduate.

Secondly, all colleges offer different facilities, accommodation, social and cultural activities, academic support, courses and location. 

For instance, Jesus College boasts on-site amenities such as pristine football pitches and grass tennis courts, a nature walk, and an impressive collection of sculptures. 

Similarly, Magdalene College provides a range of well-stocked libraries, including the Pepys Library and Old Library for specialist history texts, and the New Library for general collections. 

Nuffield College offers support for students with children with access to sponsored nursery places, available for matriculated students. 

Many colleges feature their own unique facilities, including performance spaces, multi-faith prayer rooms, choirs, orchestras, chapel music rooms, and boathouses.

However, just because colleges have facilities does not necessarily mean they have space for you! It’s crucial to consider the availability of these facilities when selecting a college, especially if certain amenities, such as prayer spaces or gym facilities, are essential to your preferences and needs.

You can also have a look at Cambridge’s clubs and societies.

You might also choose to trial your college of interest through a course rather than a visitation day. Multiple colleges, like Corpus Christi, offer introductory level Summer Schools. Better yet, many of Cambridge’s colleges host essay prizes – most of which can be entered by UK students outside of Cambridge University. 

Making the right choice could make or break your experience at Cambridge University; your decision could also weigh heavily on whether you get an offer or not. So, ensure that you make the right choice and put your best foot forward. Chat with our expert Cambridge admissions team now.

Cambridge College’s rankings: Which are the best Cambridge colleges?

We used the latest Tompkins table (2022) to rank the top 15 Cambridge colleges based exclusively on exam grades.

  1. Christ’s
  2. Trinity
  3. St Catherine’s
  4. Jesus
  5. Pembroke
  6. St John’s
  7. Gonville and Caius
  8. Churchill
  9. Corpus Christi
  10. Queens’
  11. Emmanuel
  12. Clare
  13. Downing
  14. Selwyn
  15. Peterhouse

Unsure about your decision? Need some more insider information? Chat with our expert Cambridge admissions team now.

Acceptance rate: Which Cambridge colleges are easiest and hardest to get into?

Cambridge University is made up of 31 colleges, each with its own unique character and history. According to recent statistics, the college with the highest acceptance rate is Murray Edwards, with an acceptance rate of around 35%.

This is followed by Homerton and Robinson, both with acceptance rates above 30%. These colleges tend to be less well-known and less competitive than some of the more notable colleges. 

On the other hand, some of the more established colleges, such as Trinity, King’s, and St John’s, have lower acceptance rates, ranging from around 10% to 20%. These colleges are highly selective and receive a large number of applications each year. However, it’s important to acknowledge that acceptance rates can vary significantly by subject, and some colleges may be more competitive than others for certain subjects.

Take a look at Cambridge’s colleges listed below, along with their acceptance rates and number of applicants (2020):

CollegeUG or PGNumber of applicantsAcceptance rate
Christ’s CollegeBoth1,13619.3%
Churchill CollegeBoth1,02825.9%
Clare CollegePG1,35222.9%
Corpus Christi CollegeBoth1,02120.2%
Darwin CollegePG1,09834.3%
Downing CollegeBoth1,15217.6%
Emmanuel CollegeBoth1,26718.3%
Fitzwilliam CollegeBoth1,697 22.2%
Girton CollegeBoth1,31322.5%
Gonville & Caius CollegeBoth1,158720.4%
Homerton CollegeBoth1,50231.3%
Hughes HallPG76240.2%
Jesus CollegeBoth1,62923.7%
King’s CollegeBoth2,26916.9%
Lucy Cavendish CollegeBoth58023.8%
Magdalene CollegeBoth1,23920.2%
Murray Edwards CollegeBoth1,09435.1%
Newnham CollegeBoth1,27624.5%
Pembroke CollegeBoth1,37920.7%
PeterhouseBoth754 16.4%
Queens’ CollegeBoth1,404 21.1% 
Robinson CollegeBoth1,24032.4%
St Catharine’s CollegeBoth1,43820.7%
St Edmund’s CollegePG1,09522.3%
St John’s CollegeBoth2,46715.4%
Selwyn CollegeBoth1,32718.6%
Sidney Sussex CollegeBoth1,224 18.9%
Trinity CollegeBoth3,15712.3%
Trinity HallBoth1,16716.2%
Wolfson CollegePG83125.7%
Homerton CollegeBoth1,09032.6%

Acceptance rates can vary from year to year and by subject; these figures are just a general indication of the acceptance rates for each college at the University of Cambridge. 

It’s worth noting that acceptance rates shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when choosing a college. Each college has its own unique culture, facilities, and resources, and it’s important to choose a college that feels like the right fit for you. Applicants should research the different colleges and their strengths, and consider factors such as location, accommodation, academic programmes, campus culture, and extracurricular activities when making their decision.

Want to beat the competitive acceptance rates and secure your offer? Get bespoke support from a seasoned Cambridge admissions expert!

Enlist support from a Cambridge admissions expert

Understand your options. Talk to one of our experts about Cambridge’s different colleges. Our experienced Oxbridge admissions consultants have insider knowledge; they can shed light on what colleges are the best fit for your needs, skills and interests. 

The admissions process doesn’t need to feel overwhelming or stressful. It can be super simple with our tailored guidance.

Better yet, enlist support from one of our seasoned professionals to help you secure your offer! As everyone knows, Cambridge is extremely competitive. Hence, getting an offer is never smooth sailing. Luckily for you, however, it’s our forte. 

55% of our students get Oxbridge offers, that’s 3x the national average!

If you need help nailing your A levels and meeting Cambridge’s entry requirements, or doing your absolute best in the admissions process, The Profs are here to help. We can guide you through getting top grades, writing an excellent personal statement, and even delivering a fantastic interview. The Profs can help you stand out to the admissions committee as well as continue to support you academically once you become a Cambridge student.

FAQs

Which Cambridge colleges are female-only?

Newnham College is the only female-only college at the University of Cambridge. Founded in 1871, it is the oldest college run by women, for women.

Which Cambridge colleges offer accommodation for three years?

Several Cambridge colleges provide accommodation for the entire duration of an undergraduate degree, typically three years. Examples include Churchill College, Emmanuel College, Fitzwilliam College, and Selwyn College.

Which Cambridge colleges offer my course?

Cambridge University offers a wide range of courses across various disciplines. To determine which colleges offer a specific course, applicants should consult the Cambridge University website or contact the admissions office of the respective department for guidance.

Which Cambridge colleges can you visit?

Many Cambridge colleges are open to visitors and/or prospective students during specified hours, allowing individuals to explore their historic buildings, gardens, and facilities. Popular colleges for visitors include King’s College, St. John’s College, Trinity College, and Clare College.

How do I apply to a specific college at Cambridge?

When applying to Cambridge University, you can specify a preferred college on your UCAS application, or submit an open application to be allocated to a college. Research each college’s strengths, facilities, and atmosphere to choose the best fit for your interests and needs.

What are the most prestigious colleges at Cambridge?

Some of the most prestigious colleges at Cambridge include Trinity College, King’s College, and St. John’s College, known for their historical significance, academic excellence, and notable alumni.

What are the richest colleges at Cambridge?

Trinity College is the richest college at Cambridge with assets worth over £1.3 billion. Other wealthy colleges include St John’s College (£780.1 million) and King’s College (£349.9 million).