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How to choose your Cambridge College

23 November 2015

The article at a glance

When you become an MBA at the University of Cambridge you will also become a member of one of the 31 Colleges …

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When you become an MBA at the University of Cambridge you will also become a member of one of the 31 Colleges located in and around Cambridge.

View of Trinity Hall from Claire Bridge
College life will become a big part of your whirlwind one year in Cambridge. This is where you’ll eat, sleep, play sports, network, socialise, revise – and ultimately graduate alongside your fellow college members.

First things first you’ll need to apply to the MBA directly and secure a place on the programme. When this is confirmed we’ll consult with you to put together your top three College preferences and then apply to the Colleges on your behalf. We’ll support you throughout the process in finding your College place, with College membership guaranteed to all students of the University of Cambridge.

Now it’s important to note that Colleges come in all different shapes and sizes, each with their unique histories and idiosyncrasies. There’s also a more than healthy rivalry between some of the Colleges – so how do you pick which squad to join? Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Graduate only or mixed College?
    While the majority of Colleges house both undergraduates and graduate students, there are a number of graduate-only Colleges. As a graduate student on the MBA you might prefer to live solely with graduate students, who tend to be more mature in age and lend a calmer, quieter vibe to graduate Colleges.
  • Proximity to the School
    Some Colleges are within a very close proximity to the School, meaning a five minute walk at most. This is going to be helpful for all of those nine o’clock lectures. If a short travel sounds ideal for you opt for Downing, Pembroke, Darwin or Queen’s.
  • Join the MBA social epicentre or escape for some down-time?
    You might want to integrate your home life and the MBA by living in a College which hosts a big group of your MBA students each year. The advantages of this would be time to form closer friendships with fellow MBAs, group revision sessions and other MBA-related social activities. MBA-majority colleges include: Hughes, Darwin and Queen’s. On the flip side, you may want to have some time away from your MBA classmates when you get home, to integrate with other students from the University. If this is the case opt for other colleges with smaller intakes of MBAs; your Admissions Coordinator can advise you on these.
  • Coming with a partner or family?
    This will have a big impact on your College choice with some Colleges better equipped to provide partner and family accommodation, for example Churchill College. Alternatively you do not need to live in the College at which you become a member, you can find alternative accommodation elsewhere in the city such as a private rented house. Your Admissions Coordinator can liaise with you on this.
  • Sports facilities
    Many colleges have a strong focus on sport with associated teams and resources for this, such as boat houses. Investigate the sports teams you might want to join and make your College choice accordingly. The Cambridge MBA regularly recruits a number of passionate rowers each year, along with a healthy mix of other sportspeople
  • Modern living
    If your priority is an en-suite bathroom and other mod cons you might want to choose a newer college such as Wolfson, Robinson or Hughes Hall. Talk directly to College staff to find out whether they have the facilities you would prefer.
  • Tradition
    Do you have visions of living in the hallowed halls of some Cambridge’s most ancient structures. There are plenty of these, with fantastic spaces hidden inside. Many of these have traditions and ceremonies around the dining experience, such as the ‘High Table’ where fellows are seated.
  • The dining experience
    This brings us on to the College custom of ‘formal hall’ – an extravagant dinner attended by College residents while wearing gowns. Some Colleges are renowned for their culinary flair, such as Clare, Gonville & Caius and Trinity Hall. As a member of a College you’ll be able to get spare tickets for friends from other Colleges to join you in a formal hall. Choose one of these Colleges and you’ll have the ticket de jour!
  • Life and soul of the party?
    Many Colleges come equipped with bars or additional social spaces. The Darwin Bar, or ‘Da Bar’ is renowned and it is customary for members to work a ‘shift’ every now and then to meet new people.

Your MBA Admissions Coordinator will be able to advise you in more detail on the points explained above. In 2015-16 MBAs were placed across 22 different Cambridge Colleges.

Remember to also follow College social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and the University of Cambridge’s Instagram account during your research. Happy choosing!

Some of the colleges which recruit MBA students year-on-year:


Founded: 1885
Members: graduate
Pros: modern en-suite modern accommodation, egalitarian culture (no High Table); the biggest group of MBA students live here making Hughes the hub of the MBA community; bar with pool and table football, quizzes and karaoke; fortnightly themed bops; sport focus- lots of rowers and also near Fenners cricket ground; close to cosmopolitan Mill Road and the city train station.
Website: www.hughes.cam.ac.uk


Founded: 1964
Members: graduate and undergraduate
Pros: home to the infamous ‘DarBar’, central location; access to the river & its own punts; kayaks and canoe; Darwin College Lecture Series; egalitarian culture (no High Table).
Website: www.darwin.cam.ac.uk


Founded: 1800
Members: graduate and undergraduate
Pros: closest College to CJBS, neoclassical architecture; sport-focused students; boathouse; large affordable student-run bar which opens late; Howard Building shows student bands; jazz, orchestra; cabaret; films and drama; three candlelit formals a week.
Website: www.dow.cam.ac.uk


Founded: 1965
Members: graduate
Pros: modern en-suite accommodation; egalitarian culture (no High Table); large comfortable and cheap bar; good partners/family accommodation; community feel.
Website: www.wolfson.cam.ac.uk


Founded: 1448
Members: graduate and undergraduate
Pros: centrally located, known for its drama – with a high-profile drama competition; bar; stellar alumni; three music rooms; modern boathouse; crèche for children; good food in dining hall and nightly formal dinners; multigym and squash courts on site; biennial ball; close to CJBS.
Website: www.queens.cam.ac.uk