In Cambridge, there are 31 colleges, and each student belongs to one of them. Therefore, all the students have two dimensional identities: department and college. For example, I’m a student in JBS, and I’m a member of Queens’ College. There are students from many other colleges in JBS, while there are students from many different departments in Queens’ College. It is a unique, complex system in Cambridge and Oxford. This college system helps students network with students in other departments, and widens our connections. Most colleges have their own lecture rooms, accommodations, churches, porter’s lodges, students’ rooms, fellows’ rooms, college bars and dining halls. I want especially to note that all the colleges have their own event called “Formal Hall”, which means a formal dining event in a “Harry Potter” style traditional dining hall. In this event, students sit at a long table and dine together, usually wearing black gown or sometimes black-tie. This is a precious opportunity to chat with students from different departments, who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to network with each other.
Today, I want to introduce all the colleges in Cambridge, because I’m probably the first JBS student who went to formal halls in all the 31 colleges.
Firstly, 16 colleges are called “old colleges” (established before 1600), and the other 15 are called “new colleges” (established after 1800).
Old colleges have more than 400 years’ history, and each college has very traditional culture and style. These colleges are located in the central area of Cambridge, and generally have very old buildings, large Protestant churches, many accommodations, and more students in traditional subjects. In 2012/2013, approximately 30% of MBAs belonged to old colleges. Among old colleges, 7 are located along the “Backs”, which line the Cam River and mostly have sites on both sides of the river, connected by their own bridges. They are typical traditional colleges, so I’ll start from the Backs.
[Magdalene College](4 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Magdalene is located at the northernmost part of backs. It is slightly distant from JBS, but still within cycling distance.
This college is famous for its atmospheric Formal Dinner, which does not use any electrical lights in the dining hall during formals; yes, they only use candles, and that lighting creates an old-style beautiful dining scene, which you should experience at least once. (This candle-only style is only kept in this college and Homerton). It will not be difficult to dine here because they have formal halls almost every day, and the cost is one of the cheapest in Cambridge. Sir John Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012, was Master of this college.
[Clare College] (No MBA in 2012/2013)
Clare College is the second oldest college in Cambridge, also with a good academic record. It is traditional and small, and rarely accepts MBAs. This college has the oldest bridge on the River Cam, called Clare Bridge. Clare is one of the first all-male colleges that accepted female students along with King’s and Churchill.
Its college bar has a unique cellar under the chapel, which is the best location for partying, so the Clare community holds many “ents” frequently, which is something un-missable. Their formal halls are popular and it is difficult to get tickets. The Chapel Choir of this college is also famous. Clare won Cambridge Colleges Culinary competition 2011.
[King’s College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
King’s College is one of the three Royal Colleges. It is very famous for its fantastic chapel. The chapel has the largest example of “fan vault” architecture in the UK and was once considered as a potential candidate for world heritage site. This college requires the most expensive entrée fee for tourists (7.5 pounds/person), but any Cambridge students can enter for free and can also invite guests. King’s dining hall is fantastic, and Formal Hall is very famous for its overall quality (atmosphere, food, liberal culture) but held only once a week and is the most expensive formal (24 pounds /person). It’s very difficult to get formal tickets even for King’s members. The dining hall is closed to visitors even in lunch time if not accompanied by a King’s member, so you need to find a King’s friend to have lunch there. They are so liberal that Kings does not require gowns for formal halls and does not require black tie for “May Ball (party for celebration of the end of the academic year)”. King’s is one of the first all-male colleges that accepted female students along with Clare and Churchill.
[Queens’ College] (10 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This is the only Backs which accepts a lot of MBA students. We had 10 Queens’ MBAs in the 2012/2013 cohort.
The college was established by donations from two Queens, so its name is plural “Queens’”, not Queen’s College (Do not confuse with singular “Queen’s College” in Oxford). It is interesting to note that Queens’ College in Cambridge is sister college to Pembroke College in Oxford, and Queen’s College in Oxford is sister college to Pembroke College in Cambridge. The famous “Mathematical Bridge” connects both sides of the shore, and the view of the bridge is frequently used as typical Cambridge scenery in guidebooks and postcards etc. This college requires an entry fee for tourists, but any Cambridge student can enter free and can also invite guests. Queens’ has 2 dining halls. The new one is generally used for daily breakfast, lunch and dinner including most formals (four times a week). It is large, has a great reputation for food, and is open to anyone for lunch, so you’ll find many JBS students there during lunch time. Queens’ also has the Old Hall, which is only used for special occasions (usually 2 or 3 times a term) and is very well-known for traditional magnificent architecture. It is one of the rare colleges which does not charge kitchen fixed charges.
[Trinity College] (No MBA in 2012/2013)
Trinity is the richest and the second largest college in Cambridge, and one of the three Royal Colleges. Actually they are the richest in Europe. This college has more than 30 Nobel Laureates(!) and there is a rumour that the college wants to accept only academic students who have the possibility of winning a Nobel Prize. Trinity was ranked No.1 in the Tompkins Table (ranking of colleges by undergrad scores) in 2011 and 2012. I’ve never heard any MBA students in this college, so one of us has to win a Nobel Prize to show that MBA students can be a candidate! Can we win a Nobel Peace Prize somehow? They rarely charge fees for visitors, but they generally limit sightseeing areas for visitors to only a small part of the college (mostly inaccessible to even other Cambridge students, which is unusual in Cambridge), so it is always worth going if you have any chance to get inside this college, especially their huge fantastic gardens. There are statues of famous graduates (including Newton and Francis Bacon) in their chapel. This college also has a definitely awesome dining hall like other old colleges.
[Trinity Hall (college)] (No MBA in 2012/2013)
This is the only “Backs” which does not have a bridge and has a site only on one side of the river. Its name is confusing but it is a different college from Trinity (actually older than Trinity), and it is not “Trinity Hall College” but “Trinity Hall” or “Trinity Hall college(lower case ‘c’)”. It is also rich and has a good academic record, ranked always very high in the Tompkins Table, so is also a popular college in admission. It is very rare that Trinity Hall accepts MBA students. In my opinion, their formal hall serves the best food in Cambridge among all the 31 colleges. Generally, it’s nicknamed as Tit Hall.
[St John’s College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
St John’s is the second wealthiest college, and one of the three Royal Colleges. Traditionally, it is considered as a rival of Trinity. Any St John’s students can borrow a key to the rooftop of the chapel, which is the tallest point in Cambridge, so you can enjoy a great view from there. However, it’s not allowed when it is cold, dark, wet, or services are going on, so it’s a small window of time that the key is able to be checked out! This college requires an entry fee for tourists, but any Cambridge students can enter free and can also invite guests. Their extremely huge backyard gardens and decorative buildings, architecture, The Bridge of Sighs, etc are one of the top touristic attractions in Cambridge, so you have to guide your friends to this college when they visit you. They are well-known for having a drinking-party culture, so it is forbidden to bring wine to their formal hall to avoid drinking too much.
[Peterhouse College] (1 MBA in 2012/2013)
The oldest college. It is small, but they are the richest college in terms of “net asset per student”. Cambridge Language Centre is collaborating with them for the English training course in summer, so students who attend language courses before the start of the MBA course usually live here for a month. The college looks small from the street, but actually is much larger because it has a beautiful garden behind Fitzwilliam Museum, which is definitely worth visiting. The dining hall is old (of course). The college bar is not big but is pretty cosy.
[Pembroke College] (4 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college is the third oldest college, and the first college that had its own chapel. It has a traditional style dining hall, and, like Queens’, it is open to all the Cambridge students during lunch time (not limited to Pembroke College students) and it is very close to JBS, which means it’s popular among JBS students.
[Gonville and Caius College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Gonville and Caius, or simply Caius (pronounced “keys”), is the fourth oldest and one of the most academic colleges, with 12 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Professor Stephen Hawking now lives in the college. This college has formal halls 7 days a week, i.e. every day, and the price is the cheapest in Cambridge.
Their formal dinner is also well-known for its quickness. Usually a three course meal takes less than an hour here.
[Corpus Christi College] (1 MBA in 2012/2013)
Corpus Christ is the only college which was established by Cambridge town people. This college requires entry fee for tourists, but any Cambridge students can enter free and can also invite guests. The dining hall accepts other college members during lunch time in a traditional dining hall. This college owns the land upon which sits The Eagle, which is famous for the DNA double-helix announcement there and therefore is the most famous pub in Cambridge.
[St Catherine’s College] (4 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college is nicknamed Catz. It is famous for its hockey team because they have their own astroturf hockey pitch. This college is next to King’s, so there was a plan to merge with King’s, which wasn’t realised. Its three-sided court is very rare in Cambridge (only seen in this college, Downing and Jesus). The founder of Addenbrooke’s hospital is an alumnus of this college.
[Jesus College] (6 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college is the third richest college and has very large grounds with a wide variety of sports fields, so it’s famous for strong sports teams. Its three-sided court is very rare in Cambridge (only seen in this college, Downing and St Catherine’s). Jesus is one of the exceptional colleges that allow students walk on the lawns even if they are not fellows.
One of the most famous alumni is Thomas Robert Malthus, who wrote an essay on the “Principle of Population”.
[Christ’s College] (1 MBA in 2012/2013)
The only college where students do not stand up when fellows enter and leave the room during formal halls. This college was well known for the academic level of its students in the past, ranked No.1 in Tompkins Table of the overall final 20 years of the 20th century.
This college’s college bar is run by the MCR student body, which is quite unique. Christ’s College Boat Club is the oldest surviving society in Cambridge. Christ’s and St John’s are the only colleges which share the same college arms (heraldry). Charles Darwin and John Milton are the most famous alumni of this college.
[Emmanuel College] (4 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Famous for Sunday formal hall with the choir singing after dinner. Sir Harvard, who is the founder of Harvard University, graduated from this college, so this college might have been a role model of Harvard University. You can see his portrait in the dining hall. Emmanuel is doing very well in the Tompkins Table recently, winning No.1 in 2010 and No.2 in 2011 and 2012. The Emmanuel college student union has its own shop selling sweets and snacks. Emmanuel won Cambridge Colleges Culinary competition 2010.
[Sidney Sussex College] (5 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college was founded as a Puritan college. Oliver Cromwell is one of the most famous students of this college, though he couldn’t graduate, so probably the most famous alumni are four Nobel laureates. Sidney has won Cambridge Colleges Culinary competition frequently, and the Head Chef won a gold medal in a competition “national hotelolympia” held in London, so this college is also famous for good food.
All the old colleges are mixed (male and female) colleges, and they accept both undergrad and grad students. However, among new colleges, there are 3 “female only” colleges and 6 “mature student only” colleges (2 of them accept grad students only, and the other 4 accept only “mature” undergrads and grad students only). What’s the definition of “mature” in this case? 21 years old or older. Why? Because Cambridge undergrads generally graduate at 21, therefore 21 is considered an age of “graduate” status. Similarly, when you have to choose your gown for formals, you will find another border age at 24, because Cambridge students can receive master’s degrees automatically 3 years after their graduation, at which time usually they are 24 years old; therefore, 24 is considered “master’s degree” age. So if you are 24 or older, you have to wear an “MA (master’s degree holder’s) gown” even if you don’t have master’s degree yet.
[Hughes Hall College] (36 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college has by far the largest number of MBA students. In 2012/2013, 36 MBA students were in this college. It is new, so the dining hall is modern, rather than traditional, and has a relatively good reputation for food. You can always find MBA colleagues in this college, so if you want to enjoy your school life with classmates, organising events, parties, lunch, dinner, drinking, etc, this is probably the college for you.
[St Edmund’s College] (5 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college is the only College with a Catholic chapel in either Cambridge or Oxford (This College was the first college to admit Catholic students in Cambridge), and is also well-known for having one of the most diverse nationalities in its student body. The college dining hall has no high-table, and fellows are encouraged to sit among the students.
[Darwin College] (19 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Grad students only. Darwin was established by three old colleges (Trinity, St John’s, and Gonville and Caius) as the first graduate college and first mixed college from its foundation. This college was named after Charles Darwin’s son. This college is also very common among MBA students, being second-most popular after Hughes. Because of this, and its convenient location, Darwin bar is frequently used as a partying point for MBAs.
[Clare Hall] (5 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Grad students only. It is slightly confusing but this college was established by Clare College, as a spin-off to create a graduate-only college. This college holds a series of lectures called fellow-student interaction lectures, which means students who are attending formals are sometimes invited to lecture series before formals. This is the smallest college in Cambridge with less than 200 students, so you will see a more family-like atmosphere of warm community.
[Wolfson College] (13 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Mature undergrads and grad students. This college is also popular among MBAs. It is the first college to admit both male and female fellows and students. In this college, fellows and students dine together, without high-tables. This college is well-known as one of the most diverse college in terms of nationalities.
[Lucy Cavendish College] (1 MBA in 2012/2013)
Female college, and it only accepts mature undergrads and grad students. This college borrows some accommodations from Trinity Hall college, living together, so these colleges students sometimes know each other well. It is the last female college in the UK, and is the second smallest college in Cambridge. At formal halls, fellows of this college sit among students, without high-tables. At the beginning of the formals, usually some messages or a poem is read by one of the fellows, which is very unique in Cambridge.
3 colleges (including 1 mature students college)
[Newnham College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Female college. They have the lowest frequency of formal halls (only several times a month) and their white dining hall with female-school atmosphere and large windows is popular among students, so it is also difficult to get formal hall tickets from this college. Newnham abolished Christian grace in 2009, changing it to a secular grace. This college has beautiful gardens behind main buildings, and Basil Champney is the longest indoor continuous corridor in Europe to help students avoid rain. In the past when female students were not allowed formal secondary school, Newnham college provided trainings for girls.
[Murray Edwards College] (No MBA in 2012/2013)
It is a female college, and known as the youngest college with the lowest number of graduate students. At Murray Edwards, their herb garden is a highlight of the college because their gardeners grow a wide selection of herbs and vegetables which they encourage College students to pick and use whenever they want.
*Lucy Cavendish is also a female college, but is already explained above because it’s also “mature students only” college.
[Downing College] (4 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college was established in 1800, which is at the border of new colleges and old colleges, so it is often called as the oldest of the new, and the newest of the old. The name “Downing” is from the name of Sir George Downing, the same origin as “10 Downing Street” (the house of the Prime Minister of the UK). Cambridge University’s “Downing Site”, home to scientific departments, originally belonged to this college.
Its three-sided court is very rare in Cambridge (only seen in this college, Jesus and St Catherine’s), which is very large and beautiful. It stands just behind JBS, which means it’s the closest college from JBS. It is ranked No.2 in TCS food survey 2010 for daily food quality.
[Fitzwilliam College] (6 MBAs in 2012/2013)
This college’s name has come from Fitzwilliam Museum, because it used to be located at the opposite side of the museum, but now it moved to north part of Cambridge, close to St Edmund’s and Churchill. This college’s dining hall had a bad reputation in the past, but they changed and improved the dining hall control and now serve some of the top quality food in Cambridge. It is well known for its music community, and Cambridge University Philharmonic Orchestra was originally a music society of this college. This college is very popular among Singaporeans because Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, graduated from this college. Joseph Stiglitz is another well-known alumnus.
[Girton College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Its location is very far from any other college, and actually it’s not in the Cambridge city area. This college used to be the first female college (now it’s mixed) and thus it is intentionally set at a distant location in order to help male students focus on academic work, which may sound like a weird reason nowadays. Thanks to the location, you can enjoy quiet, academic circumstance with wide gardens and traditional but practical facilities. Girton only has formal halls once a week, which is one of the fewest.
[Selwyn College] (2 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Selwyn College is located next to Sidgwick site, enabling convenient access for arts students. Selwyn is the only college which has winter ball every year, instead of may ball. Selwyn’s garden is beautiful and well-maintained. This college was ranked No.1 in the Tompkins Table in 2008.
[Homerton College] (No MBA in 2012/2013)
Largest college in Cambridge. It is the only college located on the other side of the Cambridge station, so is very distant from all the other colleges, and is generally considered to be the second most isolated college (Girton is the unbeatable champion, though). It is a “new college” in Cambridge because it joined University of Cambridge in 1976, but the college itself has a long history of about 3 centuries. Its Victorian Gothic dining hall with stunning detailed decoration inside of the building has “Harry Potter”-like atmosphere, because it used only candlelight during formal halls (as in Magdalene). This college is also famous for its beautiful orchard, which is definitely worth visiting.
[Churchill College] (9 MBAs in 2012/2013)
Churchill is one of the first three male colleges that accepted female students. It was established to copy MIT in Cambridge by previous PM Churchill, who was impressed by MIT when he visited it; thus there are a lot of science-oriented students, especially from the Engineering Department. Churchill College has its own chapel as the rest of the colleges, but it is unique in that it is located on the edge of the college ground as a compromise to disagreement from scientific fellows. Famous alumni of this college is perhaps the inventor of the first internet search engine, Michael Burrows, and inventor of C++, Bjarne Stroustrup, reflecting this college’s technology orientation. Its location is in the northern part of Cambridge city area, and it has very wide grounds and own sites including many sports facilities. This college also has the largest dining hall in Cambridge.
[Robinson College] (1 MBA in 2012/2013)
Robinson College is the newest college in Cambridge. Robinson is the only college which was established as a mixed college for both undergraduate and graduate students.
In this college, you can walk on the grass even if you are not a fellow.
Robinson’s main brick building was selected as one of the 50 most inspiring buildings in Britain by The Daily Telegraph in 2008, along with King’s College Chapel. This college topped TCS food survey 2010 for daily food quality.
As you can easily see from the information above, each college is very unique and has its own character. I hope this post will help you know the atmosphere. However, if you are applying for one of them, I recommend you to visit the college because “Seeing once is better than hearing 100 times (Chinese proverb, well-known in Japan)”.