Choosing a Cambridge College

At the University of Cambridge, we have 29 undergraduate Colleges – so there are lots of options to choose from when you’re applying. This article will explain what Colleges are and what you should consider when applying.

The College system 

Cambridge is a collegiate university, which means it comprises University faculties and departments in different academic subjects, and a number of Colleges. Colleges are responsible for admitting students, pastoral care, and organising small group tuition – ‘supervisions’. Whilst undergraduates are at Cambridge, they live in College accommodation and use the range of facilities on offer within their College. 

Your College will be your home away from home, and you’ll be a part of a community of students studying a variety of subjects. Typically, there are lots of opportunities for you to study alongside and socialise with students from other Colleges within your faculty/department, and to meet people through University-wide societies and clubs.

How to narrow down your list 

Everyone’s reasons for choosing a particular College differ. It usually comes down to personal preference, and finding the College that ‘feels right’ to you. With so many Colleges to choose from, it may take a while to research every College. There are a number of different elements that you can consider initially to help you narrow down your list.

Course availability: Start by checking which Colleges accept students for your chosen course – some Colleges don’t offer places for particular courses.  You should also check the subject requirements for your chosen course at the College you’re thinking of applying to. Check your course’s profile on the Undergraduate Study website to find out which Colleges offer your course and what subjects are required.

Age and gender: Three of our Colleges (Hughes Hall, St Edmund's and Wolfson) only accept mature students (over 21 years old), and two of our Colleges (Murray Edwards and Newnham) only accept applications from female students, so keep in mind whether you’re eligible for these Colleges when deciding.

Accommodation and facilities

The next thing to do is to start thinking about where you want to live. Would you like to be part of a larger College community? Do you want to be at a College with sports facilities on-site? Do you prefer Colleges with historic buildings? Whether you’re looking for the picturesque gardens or manicured lawns of some Colleges such as Clare, Newnham, and Sidney Sussex, or the modern architecture and open spaces of Colleges such as Churchill, Murray Edwards and Fitzwilliam, you’ll find a College that suits you. 

You should think about where you'll be living. Some Colleges offer accommodation on the main College site, whilst others have College owned buildings dotted around central Cambridge, or additional sites in other parts of the city.

There’s a variety of catering facilities, ranging from cafeterias, to butteries and formal halls (three-course dinners usually held in the main College dining hall). Usually there are also additional self-catering facilities, ranging from fully equipped kitchens to areas with microwaves and kettles. You should explore what’s on offer at the Colleges you’re interested in applying to.

Colleges also have many different societies and facilities on offer, with some Colleges having their own sports facilities such as tennis courts, sports pitches and gyms alongside other facilities such as theatre spaces and music rooms.  

Each College has its own charm and perks, so do spend some time visiting the College websites and the Cambridge Virtual Tour to get a feel for what they're like.

Don't agonise over choosing a College. The Colleges are more alike than they are different and you may be offered a place at another College that you did not apply to directly. No matter which College you end up at, it will become your home at Cambridge, and you’ll make some amazing memories along the way.

How not to choose a College 

There are lots of different factors that can help you choose which College to apply to, but it’s also worth knowing what shouldn’t affect your application.  

Age of College: Our Colleges range in age – from the oldest, Peterhouse, which was founded in 1284, to the newer Colleges such as Robinson, founded in 1977.  All provide the facilities you’d expect and each College has their own history and traditions - your student experience isn’t dependent on the age of your College.

College Fellows: You should keep in mind that you are not guaranteed to be supervised by any particular Fellows, and you may attend supervisions at a different College if that's where your relevant subject expert is based. 

Applications statistics: The number of applications a College gets, or how many undergraduate students they accept each year, shouldn’t affect your College choice. Remember, Colleges can also accept students that applied to a different College through the pool system. Strong applicants who’ve been squeezed out by the competition at their original College can be made an offer by another College through the pool. Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant from the pool than a weaker applicant who applied directly to them.

Do I have to choose a College?

If you find that you don't mind which College you're a part of, you can decide to make an open application. This means that you will be allocated to any of the Colleges you are eligible for, instead of you choosing one for yourself. If you’re an applicant with a mobility and/or sensory impairment, or have other considerations that require particular support, it's advised that you choose a College that best suits your needs, instead of making an open application. You can find more information about this by visiting our support pages.

You can read more about choosing a College on our Undergraduate Study site.

The information on this page is correct at the time of publishing. It’s very important that prospective students check the Undergraduate Study Website and College websites (listed on each College profile) regularly for up-to-date information before submitting an application and again before accepting an offer to study.

Last reviewed December 2021.