Find the best Cambridge college for Medicine

October 24, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

When you're choosing where to study medicine, what are the 'must have' features you want from your university? Maybe you want an education from one of the top three medical schools in the world. Or you want to build a network of contacts who'll be helping to shape the future of clinical sciences. Or perhaps you simply want to be able to get from your bedroom to your lecture theatre in under sixty seconds.

If it's any or all of these three, the University of Cambridge is ideal for your needs. It's consistently rated, by rankings such as Times Higher Education, as a world leader alongside Oxford and Harvard. It has an impressive list of alumni who work in medicine and medical research around the world. And one student at Corpus Christi College timed themselves in getting from their room to the Babbage lecture theatre in less than one minute (admittedly, they did have to run).

However, choosing to study medicine at Cambridge also involves choosing a College. While they all have outstanding reputations for learning, is there a best college for students studying medicine? Our short guide will help you think through the issues you need to consider when selecting which college to apply for.

Understanding the college system at Cambridge University

Unlike most other universities in the UK, Cambridge operates a collegiate system. This means every student is a member of both the university and a specific college. There are 31 colleges at Cambridge, each with its own site, history and culture. Your choice of college can have a significant influence on your experience of studying at the university.

Responsibility for your life and education at Cambridge is split between the university and the college.

The university is responsible for:

  • Organising your lectures, seminars and practical work.
  • The overall content of the course.
  • Exams, marking and awarding of degrees.

Your college is responsible for:

  • Choosing who to admit as undergraduate students.
  • Where you live, eat and socialise.
  • Small group teaching and any extra support you may need.

During your time at Cambridge you'll mix with many students from other colleges. Some students think of their college as somewhere they simply eat and sleep, while others find their college is also the hub of their social life.

Choosing the best Cambridge college for medicine

When you apply to the University of Cambridge for a place as an undergraduate, you can also apply for a place in a specific college. This second choice isn't mandatory. You can make what's called an 'open' application, which means the university will choose a college for you.

However, where possible, it makes sense to research the colleges to choose the one which is probably best for you.

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

If you're a first-time student, this leaves 29 colleges to choose from. Of these, three are mature colleges, meaning they are only open to undergraduate or postgraduate students aged at least 21. They are:

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

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

This leaves 24 Cambridge colleges open to applications for undergraduates of any age and gender. International students are welcome to apply to any of the colleges, subject to the age and gender restrictions.

All Cambridge colleges have an outstanding academic reputation, and all are home to medical students.

Cambridge colleges closest to the medical schools

It's natural that the colleges close to where medical teaching takes place will be more popular with students. Both the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Addenbrooke's Hospital - where medical students will spend a lot of their time - are in the south of the city.

Homerton College is closest to Addenbrooke's, making it really convenient for medical students. Across all the colleges the university takes less than 300 new medical students each year, meaning that on average each college takes around ten.

In the early years of a medical degree, location is less important, as much of the teaching takes place in main lecture theatres, and in your college. Because Cambridge is a small city, many of the colleges are within a few minutes’ walk, or cycle ride, of most of the teaching centres. As we noted at the start, it is possible for some students to get from their college bedroom to a lecture theatre in less than a minute.

Cambridge University Medical Society

The society for medical students, or MedSoc, is one of the largest student groups at the University of Cambridge, with over 1,700 members. It's run by, and supports, medical students across all the colleges. It also helps young people in school who are thinking of studying medicine at Cambridge, giving advice on what student life is like, and how to have the best chance of being offered a place in a college.

Some colleges have their own medical society.

Cambridge colleges with the best reputation for medicine

Every one of the colleges at Cambridge University has an outstanding reputation for academic performance and achievement. While there are some that are considered better for students studying medicine, these opinions are usually based on past experience or exam performance.

Christ's College considers itself to be one of the leading colleges for medicine, claiming a very strong teaching record on the subject.

In online conversations between students, Corpus Christi and Pembroke College are well rated.

In the Tompkins Table, an unofficial (but well-respected) ranking of Cambridge colleges based on exam performance, Christ's College, Trinity College and Pembroke College are consistently ranked near the very top of the table. This is overall, not just for medicine.

University life outside of learning

When considering which is the best Cambridge college for medicine, you'll want to take into account the other aspects of student life, such as socialising and your personal interests.

Every college has a wide range of facilities, such as libraries, common rooms, dining halls and outdoor spaces. Many have excellent gyms and sports facilities. They all have a number of clubs and societies, covering a wide range of interests. Each has its own culture, with some being more formal than others. Some are in the city centre, others are a little further away.

Girton College, for example, is the most distant from the city centre, and is about a 30-minute bike ride from Addenbrooke’s Hospital. However, it is set in 50 acres of woodlands and orchards, and has some of the best on-site sporting and leisure facilities at the university, including an indoor swimming pool. Girton accepts around 10 medical students each year.

Studying medicine at Cambridge University

When thinking of which university college to apply for at Cambridge, it's useful to know how the study of medicine is organised. You'll be studying for six years, which is a major commitment.

Much of the lecturing and the practical aspects of the course are organised by the university. In between these you'll take part in small group tutoring sessions in your college. These are referred to as Supervisions.

The first three years of the undergraduate course are pre-clinical studies. These equip you with the up-to-date medical knowledge you'll need for a career in patient care, research or academic teaching. The core areas of learning are:

  • Anatomy and how the human body works
  • Molecular science in medicine
  • Biology of disease
  • Reproduction
  • Neurobiology

In the third year of pre-clinical studies you are able to specialise in a related subject taught at the University.

The remaining three years are your clinical studies, which are much more hands-on, in hospitals, including Addenbrooke’s.

Veterinary medicine at Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge offers a six year course in veterinary education. This is based in the Queen's Veterinary School Hospital which is equipped with various surgical suites. The course allows students to work in interactive models and simulators.

Each year around 60 students begin their studies at the university. They are based in a number of different colleges, although not all offer places in veterinary medicine.

In summary: How to find the best Cambridge college for medicine

All Cambridge colleges accept students who become some of the world's best doctors and medical researchers. The 'best' college for you is the one that gives you what you want. Questions to ask yourself when considering which college to apply for include:

  • How important is it to me that I'm very close to the main teaching locations?
  • Does the college have facilities for my preferred sports and interests?
  • Do I think I will be comfortable in the college culture?

Your college will be a factor in your experience of life at Cambridge University. However, whichever college you're part of, you'll still get a world-class education from outstanding teachers, and you'll get a solid basis for your career in the world of medicine.

Explore Cambridge and medicine with Summer Schools

A great way to learn more about Cambridge and its colleges is to visit. Even better is to spend some time learning and living in one of the colleges. You can do this with Summer Schools. We help you find courses that are based in Cambridge University, led by teachers who also work with students in the colleges.

We can also help you find courses in medical subjects that can help you to decide whether a career in medicine might be for you. These courses are run not only in Cambridge, but in many other prestigious universities around the world.

Take a look around our website to see what we have on offer. You'll find an incredible selection of courses to choose from.

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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