10 Best Colleges in Cambridge University

December 6, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

When you apply to become a student at the University of Cambridge, you can also apply to join a specific college. Every member of the student population at Cambridge is a member of a college. You choose whether to apply for a particular college, or to allow yourself to be assigned to one by the university admissions team.

There are 31 colleges at Cambridge University. Each has its own premises, processes and traditions. The oldest college, Peterhouse, was founded hundreds of years ago. The newest, Robinson College, is less than fifty years old.

The most prestigious colleges are some of the oldest. But age and status do not necessarily mean they are the best.

Use our guide to the 10 best colleges at the University of Cambridge to help you decide which to apply for.

1. Christ's College

For the last five years, Christ's College has topped the Tompkins Table for academic performance at Cambridge University. Being located in the city center, students have easy access to shops and cafes. They also enjoy the quiet calm of its extensive gardens, along with a variety of modern sporting facilities.

2. Trinity College

Trinity College backs onto the River Cam, which helps to make it one of the most popular Cambridge colleges on Instagram.

It's the chosen college for many seeking to attend Cambridge University, ranking second in 2022 for the number of applications received (Churchill College had just a few more). Being centrally located, allowing students to enjoy Cambridge's nightlife alongside their studies, helps to make it one of the most popular colleges.

3. Pembroke College

Pembroke boasts that it's the best Cambridge college for food, with a reputation across the entire university. It also has one of the highest levels of academic performance. As the third oldest college, it has some wonderful historic buildings.

Pembroke College is considered the best for medicine students, because of its proximity to Addenbrookes Hospital, home to the University of Cambridge Department of Medicine.

The facilities include a computer room, music practice rooms and sports fields, all of which help to enrich college life for its students.

4. Churchill College

One of the newer colleges, Churchill is highly rated for those studying science. It's very close to the West Cambridge science departments and along the road from the Cambridge University Library.

While it might lack the ambience of a more historic college, Churchill is home to a student body that achieves outstanding academic results. It's popular with students of computer sciences.

5. St John's College

This is another historic college in the heart of the city, and right beside the River Cam. St John's guarantees that all its undergraduates get student accommodation, and a free laundry service, throughout their first degree.

St John's puts a strong emphasis on life outside of studies. It has over 40 student-run sports teams and societies. It also places pastoral student support at the heart of its teaching.

6. Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College (or 'Emma' to its students) has been one of the top five colleges for academic performance for well over twenty years. Visitors are often surprised at the extent of the college grounds, given its central location.

The college chapel is one of just three buildings in Cambridge designed by famous architect Sir Christopher Wren.

7. Peterhouse

Peterhouse is the oldest Cambridge college, and also the smallest. Despite being centrally located, it has a diverse set of facilities including a spacious library, theatre, boathouse, sports grounds and a Deer Park. College life at Peterhouse is rich in tradition, with candlelit formal dinners every night during term.

8. Queens’ College

Queens’ College boasts the Mathematical Bridge, a historic footbridge over the River Cam. Another centrally located college, it's known for being one of the more relaxed. It's also got a strong reputation for music and drama, with facilities that are used by students from across Cambridge University.

9. Jesus College

The Jesus Chapel, at Jesus College, is believed to be the oldest university building at Cambridge that's still in use. It has two highly-regarded choirs, one of which, the College Choir, is open to students.

Jesus is considered a relaxed environment for students, while at the same time offering the authentic Cambridge experience, with plenty of formality and tradition.

The full name of the college is 'The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge'. It's known as Jesus College because of its chapel.

10. Corpus Christi

One of the smaller Cambridge colleges, Corpus Christi has two sites in the city. One is close to facilities for academic student learning - libraries and lecture halls. The other, about a mile away, is a spacious site offering gardens, tennis courts, sports grounds and a gym. College accommodation is split between the two sites.

Other colleges at Cambridge University

There are 31 Cambridge colleges, each of which is part of a world-class university. We've listed the best of the best, based on academic performance, but every Cambridge college has loads to offer.

Here are others to consider:

Selwyn College - Home to a successful university rowing club.

King's College - The King's College chapel choir performs all over the world.

Gonville and Caius College - Many students say it has some of the best accommodation.

Magdalene College - Known for its outstanding sports facilities.

Trinity Hall - Offers beautiful views over the river and gardens.

Clare College - Reputed to have the best bar in Cambridge University.

Every college has its own sports and academic societies, along with many other activities and opportunities.

What you need to know about all Cambridge colleges

Cambridge is one of a handful of British universities that use the college system. Your college will be an important part of your university life. Every college provides student accommodation, a social hub and academic support.

It's your home while you're at Cambridge University. While your choice of college will not affect the content of your chosen degree course, it can be a place where you make friends for life.

Every Cambridge college gives you the following facilities and opportunities:

  • Connection to the full university computer network.
  • College library, a quiet place to work.
  • Junior Combination Room, for informal socialising and events.
  • College sports teams, with some having their own gym and other facilities.
  • Many colleges have a choir, orchestra and other music groups.

Some students use their college mainly as somewhere to sleep. For the authentic Cambridge experience, you'll want to play an active part in the life of your college.

Restricted entry to some Cambridge colleges

There are 31 colleges at Cambridge. Two, Darwin College and Clare Hall, do not take undergraduates.

This leaves 29 colleges open to those studying their first degree. Of these, three are mature colleges, meaning they are only open to undergraduate or postgraduate students aged 21 or over. They are:

  • Hughes Hall
  • St Edmund’s College
  • Wolfson College

Two colleges only admit female students. These are Murray Edwards College and Newnham College.

This leaves 24 Cambridge colleges that accept applications for undergraduates of any gender and age.

International students are welcome to apply to any of the colleges. All are home to students from many different nations.

How we created our list of the best Cambridge colleges

We have based our list on the Tompkins Table, an annual ranking that lists Cambridge colleges. It's based on how well students performed in their exams for that year.

The table is unofficial, but it's become popular as one way of spotting the best Cambridge colleges. While there’s more to college life than studying and exams, we reckon that academic results reflect satisfaction with the overall college experience.

To get to our list, we've taken the last five sets of rankings and made an average of the results.

There are many other ways of creating a list of the best Cambridge colleges. However, we think most of the colleges in our list would feature in every top 10.

However, every one of the 31 colleges is an authentic Cambridge college, popular with its own students and providing experiences that many will treasure for a lifetime.

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Get introductions to a wide range of subjects, discover the tutorial-style of learning offered by Cambridge colleges, and meet others like you, keen to learn. Our courses are based in some of the most popular colleges, delivering education in truly inspirational settings.

Find out more about our Cambridge University Summer Schools courses.

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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