Choosing a College
When it comes to selecting a College, you have two options - you can either choose a particular College to receive your application, or you can make an ‘open’ application and accept the allocation made by a computer program. In both cases, your UCAS application will be sent to a College, and that College will assess it.
In your UCAS application, as well as listing Cambridge (institution code CAM C05) as one of your options in the 'Choices' section, you'll need to enter a College (campus) code.
Are some Colleges better for certain subjects?
All students on the same course, regardless of their College, attend the same lectures, seminars and practicals together, and sit the same exams. So it's not the case that some are better for particular courses.
The key functions that the University (through the faculties and departments) and Colleges are responsible are outlined in Cambridge Explained.
How to Choose a College
‘How do I choose a College?’ is a very common question, but as everyone’s different there’s no single answer. It depends on you, and what you’re looking for from where you’ll be living while at Cambridge.
When considering the Colleges, we suggest that you consider the following points:
- course - some Colleges don’t take students in all subjects so check availability for the course you’re interested in
- your age - four Colleges are exclusively for mature students (aged 21 or over), and their facilities are geared accordingly
- your gender - three Colleges consider applications from female students only
- size - number of students
- location in the city
- appearance and type of accommodation (eg on-site or College-owned houses)
- particular facilities
- personal instinct - many students can’t explain why they were drawn to their College other than it just ‘felt right’ for them
The individual entries within this section introduce each College to give you an idea of what they’re like and have to offer. Once you've read the College profiles you may wish to:
1. shortlist around half a dozen
2. look at their websites to get more detailed information about the features, facilities and aspects that you feel are most important to you
3. get in touch with College admissions offices if you have any questions - the staff will be happy to answer your queries and advise you
4. visit a few Colleges so you can meet current students, talk to admissions and teaching staff, and see for yourself what it might be like to live and study there
Don’t agonise over choosing a College (see also the information below regarding open applications). They have many more similarities than differences and students quickly settle in and really enjoy their College, wherever they end up! Each year around 850 applicants are made an offer through the pool system by a different College from the one they originally applied to. This is about 25 per cent of all offers made.
How NOT to choose a College
We are aware that a small number of myths exist about ways of choosing a College, but you shouldn't base your decision on a misconception, such as those below.
- Based on application statistics. Some applicants think, or are advised, that choosing a College that attracts fewer applications or making an open application will increase their chance of being made an offer. In fact, careful ongoing analysis of our admissions statistics shows that, for equally well-qualified applicants, making an open application or applying directly to a College does not affect your chances of being made an offer of a place. This is because we have rigorous procedures in place to compare all applicants for each subject before selection decisions are finalised. 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.
- Travelling time. It’s worth remembering that Cambridge is a very compact city so, wherever you are, getting between your College and your department (on foot, by bike or by bus) isn’t difficult.
- Discounting single-sex Colleges. University teaching (lectures, practicals and seminars), is mixed and attended by students from all Colleges, and male friends are welcome in the women’s Colleges. Women may apply to any College but the women’s Colleges are able to provide an environment focused entirely on the needs and expectations of female students.
- Age of the College. The Cambridge Colleges range in age from over 700 to 30 years. No matter how old or young a College is, it has its own traditions and history. All Colleges provide the facilities that you’d expect to find, together with high quality supervision and support. In other words, the age (or youth!) of a College won’t affect your student experience.
- Specialisms of a College's Fellows. Contrary to what some people believe, the research specialisms of a College's Fellows won’t dictate what you can study. If a Fellow of your College is an expert in the aspects of the course you’ve chosen, you may be supervised by them. However, you'll attend supervisions at another College if that’s where the relevant subject expert is based. Teaching is a level playing field across the University and is not determined by the College you attend - the differences between the Colleges lie in the ambience, not the educational opportunities.
Making an open application
If, having looked at the different Colleges, you don't mind which you attend, then you don’t have to choose - you could make an open application.
- After the closing date (15 October), a computer program allocates each open application to a College.
- The basis of the allocation is to even out the distribution of applicants across the Colleges - applicants from the UK/EU are allocated to Colleges which happen, in that year, to have received fewer applications per place in that subject than the average number across all Colleges; applicants from outside the EU are evenly distributed across Colleges in each subject.
- Once allocated to a College, your application will be treated in exactly the same way as any other application.
- For equally well-qualified applicants, making an open application or applying directly to a specific College makes no difference to your chances of being made an offer.
If you’re an applicant with unusual qualifications (eg a non-standard choice of A Levels for your subject), a mobility and/or sensory impairment, or need particular specific advice, then it’s advisable to apply to a specific College having sought their advice about your circumstances at an early stage, rather than make an open application.
Before you submit an open application, be sure that you’ll be quite happy whatever the outcome of the allocation: we can’t change it once it’s done.
If you decide to make an open application, you should select '9' as the campus code on your UCAS application.
Further information about where your College or open application choice fits into the application process can be found in the applying section.