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The Top 10 Best Colleges in Cambridge According to Students

So you’re applying to Cambridge University? Big move!

You probably already know that part of the application process involves being put into a specific college. Cambridge Uni operates a collegiate system, where each college is kind of like a ready-made community that you’ll spend your uni days with.

Yep, it’s as Harry Potter as it sounds. Except it’s not the Sorting Hat that decides which set you get into - it’s you. 

When you’re submitting your application, you can either let Cambridge randomly allocate you, or you can be a little more proactive and pick your two favourite college preferences.

Just as an aside, your application won’t be affected by any preferences or non-preferences, so don’t worry about that!

Cambridge University is the fourth oldest university IN THE WORLD, and has a world-renowned reputation.  As a student there, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with over 24,000 of the best and brightest minds, and potentially with some future world leaders. 

Not only that, there are a whopping 31 colleges in its collegiate network. You’ll be eating and spending study time with coursemates in your college, and there’s a distinct personality to each college, with different facilities.

The college you pick will influence your day-to-day life, so choosing the two best colleges in Cambridge for you is a big task.

When it comes to deciding which one you want to apply to, you can always consult the official Tompkins Table

Or, take a look at our rundown of the best colleges in Cambridge. Off we go

10. Trinity Hall

This is the fifth-oldest college at Cambridge and is home to around 650 students.

It’s in a prime location in the centre and close to the River Cam, and is a beguiling mix of centuries-old buildings, and a new 30,000-volume Jerwood Library opened in 1998.

Sports lovers will be happy here as there are some smashing sports facilities to get stuck into.

Not to be confused with Trinity College, at Trinity Hall there are nearly 30 undergraduate courses to choose from and 260 postgrad courses.

9. St Catharine’s College

St. Catharine’s College, or “Catz”, as the students have dubbed it, offers a wide range of courses in every major except architecture, education, linguistics, and art history.

It has a great central location next to King’s College too, so you won’t have to work hard to get around on a day-to-day basis. It’s also a fairly small community where everyone knows everyone, and you can easily meet people and make college mates.

St Catharine’s has a nice blend of old and new facilities and historic buildings, including a new addition, the McGrath Centre, which holds a lecture room, bar and common area. Great for hanging out with coursemates and exchanging ideas post-lecture.

Catz is great if you’re into sports, but if you want to go punting on the regular then this might not be the one for you as it’s not located close to the river.

8. Selwyn College

This Victorian college has flourished into one of the most grown diverse, multidisciplinary homes that you could wish for when studying at Cambridge. 

It opens its doors every year to students from schools that don’t usually send alumni to Cambridge, and has courses in almost every subject, whether it be Engineering, Archaeology, or Music.

Speaking of music, there’s a college choir that you can sign up to, or if you prefer more sporty activities there are plenty of teams to play for.

International students can get a flavour of traditional English life with a spot of Sunday Tea in the common room, and you can get your ballgown out for the highlight of the year - the annual Selwyn SnowBall.

Oh, and it’s not located on King’s Parade, so you can get a bit of distance between yourself and the tourists (they can be a bit distracting if you’re trying to knock out an essay at the last minute!)

7. Emmanuel College

Another centrally-located (but off the tourist track) college, with around 500 undergraduate students, Emmanuel is always popular and one of the bigger colleges at Cambridge. Be warned though - it is super academic and there’s a seriously studious atmosphere here.

This former 16th-century monastery now has its finger on the pulse with environmental issues, thanks to its college-wide Green Duck Scheme, so called because of the resident mallards on Emanuel’s two ponds. 

The scheme focuses on recycling and energy efficiency at the college, so if you’re especially interested in doing your bit for Mother Nature, then this may be the college for you.

It’s also close to shops and social life to be convenient, and there’s an outdoor swimming pool to enjoy on that rarest of occasions, a sunny day in Blighty!

6. Queen’s College

This centuries-old college is a favourite among students thanks to its rich history and fab central location along the River Cam.

It’s also well-connected by bus routes that leave you on the doorstep of the Clinical School and West Cambridge science departments. 

The more musical amongst you will enjoy participating in the chapel choir. There’s also the impressive Old Library, which really is reminiscent of Hogwarts, where you can access 30,000 texts that span seven centuries. 

Queen’s has started a new programme which exists to help students who have experienced educational disadvantage. It’s a foundation year which serves as a bridge into Cambridge or other universities, and a great initiative for inclusion.

The architecture of Queen’s is stunning, so defo worthy of an Instagram sesh, which attracts a lot of tourists, so bear that in mind. On the upside, there are some tasty and cheap formals and lunches - this army marches on its stomach!

5. Churchill College

Churchill College, as you may have guessed, is named after British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It’s one of the biggest, newest, and best colleges in Cambridge. Less formal, this probably isn’t the one if you’re hoping for an all-out traditional ‘Cambridgey’ experience.

In its short history, it has produced a stunning 32 Nobel Prize winners, including nine in physics alone, and the college focuses on technology, engineering, mathematics, and sciences.

If you choose Churchill you’ll be joining 485 undergraduates and 375 postgraduates, all of whom share fairly similar interests.

If you’re hoping to study Computer Sciences, then this is one of the best colleges in Cambridge to do so.

As a member of Churchill College, you can also take advantage of a personalised executive education program through the Møller Institute for Continuing Education. Funds from the programme, which helps business leaders from around the globe develop their skills, benefit student support at the college.

Sporty students will like it here as there are some fab facilities, but Churchill’s is a bit out of the way so that’s something to bear in mind.

Get your camera out to capture some of the cool sculptures here, and soak up the modern, laid-back atmosphere.

4. Peterhouse

This is Cambridge’s oldest college and rightfully boasts of its alumni who went on to become groundbreaking inventors, Nobel laureates, and luminaries over the centuries since it opened in 1284. Oh, and TV personality and actor David Mitchell went there too.

It’s somewhat more difficult to get into Peterhouse - they only admit 80 undergraduates a year, but they are open to most academic disciplines.

This is one of the best colleges in Cambridge for Physics students, as it has lots of links to CERN

It’s centrally-located and small enough to be really sociable. There are plenty of social activities to get your teeth into at Peterhouse, including sporting groups, the Chapel Choir, academic societies, outdoor activities, and the Music Society.

It may be hard to get into, but you’ll certainly never be bored once you’re in!

3. Pembroke College

If you’re a history buff and like quaint, pretty gardens, then you’ll love this place - it’s like stepping back in time.

The third-oldest college in Cambridge, Pembroke was founded in 1347 and is home to Cambridge’s first college chapel. It also houses a Victorian library building packed to the rafters with books, special collections and rare tomes.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its modern aspects, though. There are some recently renovated facilities at Pembroke, including its hall.

There’s a nice, diverse feel about this college as it welcomes international students as part of its traditional two-semester study abroad program or the Pembroke Cambridge Summer Programme. 

If you’re looking to study medicine, then look no further.

Pembroke is ideally situated close to Addenbrookes Hospital, where the Cambridge Department of Medicine is based.

If you’re a foodie then look no further - Pembroke has some of the best food in Cambridge. Some even say that a Michelin chef runs the kitchens. Whatever the truth is, you’d be a fool to skip the mouthwatering brunches. Nom. 

2. Trinity College

While Trinity Hall made it to our tenth spot on this list, Trinity College almost- almost - takes the top spot. That’s because it has been part of Cambridge for hundreds of years and has produced 32 scientists who have won the Nobel Prize!

Always top of the Tompkins Table, Trinity College consists of around 600 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students, not to mention an alumni roster that boasts royalty. Not bad, eh?

That’s not all. There are 36 acres of gardens to enjoy on a gorgeous afternoon in the British spring, and while you’re taking a stroll you can seek out a descendant of the apple tree that is said to have inspired Isaac Newton’s theory about gravity. 

Oh yeah, and Isaac Newton also studied at Trinity College, and the university library holds many of his papers.

It also hosts the original and biggest May Ball, which is always a plus if you want the authentic Cambridge experience.

1. Christ’s College

So now we’ve made it to prime position - top of our list of the best colleges in Cambridge: Christ’s College.

This one made it to the top thanks to an awe-inspiring legacy. Former alumni include legendary names like Charles Darwin and John Milton.

Although Christ’s College has been around since the 15th Century, these days it admits undergraduates looking to study all kinds of subjects (except veterinary medicine). Around 100 postgrad students are also admitted.

Super quaint and pretty as a college, perhaps the most impressive thing about Christ’s College is the collection of libraries, where you can find more than 90,000 texts

The green-fingered among you will love taking some downtime from revision sessions by joining Christ’s Horticultural and Botanical Society, and helping care for the college’s gorgeous gardens. 

And if you’re a creative soul or want to let off some steam after a long week of study, you can get involved in the arts, making music or treading the boards in the CADS amateur dramatics society.

Centrally located, it’s close to nightlife, restaurants, a cinema, and supermarkets. It also has a recently refurbished swimming pool, something to make your non-Christ’s uni mates seriously jealous of!

Here are a couple more tips before we go…

The Best Cambridge Colleges for Social Life 

Most uni students are interested in maintaining an active social life while studying. If that’s something that’s important to you, then we recommend opting for a centrally-located college. 

Clare’s College, which doesn’t make it into our top ten, is famed for its underground bar and weekly ‘Ents’ nights (‘ents’ being Cambridge slang for a party or night out). 

For close-knit college communities, then check out Fitzwilliam, Girton, and Jesus colleges.

The Most Authentic Cambridge College 

When you think of Cambridge University, you probably have an image that springs to mind of quaint customs, fancy formals, and old, impressive architecture. If all that’s super important to you, then have a look into King’s College (although it’s very competitive to get into). 

Alternatively, try Pembroke, which is on our list, or our number four, Peterhouse, which boasts its own deer park! 

Another contender for the most ‘Cambridge’ Cambridge College would be Magdalen, which has candlelit formal dinners every night - best dust off that tiara, then.

This list just skims the surface when it comes to the best colleges in Cambridge, and it’s really worth doing a bit more research on all of the colleges before you take the plunge. Your choice will shape your uni life, so make a decision that ensures you’ll live your best life in Cambridge.