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Any advice on choosing a college?

Hi everyone! I intend to read (Biological) Natural Sciences at Cambridge (if I have the academic ability lol), however, I haven't decided on my college choice yet, as I'm struggling to choose one that most suits my criteria as listed below:

- guaranteed accommodation for four years (off-site is OK, as long as it's not too far away from the main college site)
- friendly and laid-back atmosphere
- no scholar's ballot
- not too far away from lecture sites (does not have to be located in the city centre though)
- not-so-archaic architecture with a more liberal/spacious outlook (but not too modern)

Judging from my criteria above, would anyone, preferably students currently studying at Cambridge, give me some suggestions on the college choice? I really appreciate any help you can provide!
Hi there! Most of the colleges are pretty close to Downing/ New Museums site and the chemistry department (cells and chem lectures are here) (all within 15-20 minutes walk), with the exception of the hill colleges (Fitzwilliam, Lucy Cav, Murray Edwards, Churchill, Homerton) and Girton, so you might want to avoid those.

Most of the colleges are either very old (pre-1600) or 1800-1960s. With that said, a lot of older colleges have slightly more modern buildings (1700 to present day builds!)

Downing is pretty big and well situated, with nice first year accommodation (although I don't know if they guarantee 4 years of accommodation).
Most of the colleges in the Trumpington Street area sound like they would suit you well too - Pembroke, Queens, St Catharine's all seem fairly laid-back and friendly.

Going to plug St Catharine's (aka Catz) here a bit! ☸️☸️☸️
I know for a fact that St Catharine's guarantees 3 years accommodation, and all the 4th years I know have college accommodation too. First and third years live on main site which is super close to Downing and New Museums sites (where bio lectures are), second years live all together at St Chad's in college-owned flats, which are a 10 minute walk from main site. 4th years tend to live a bit further out but it's no time at all on a bike.
Catz is also super friendly and is pretty laid-back overall (by Cambridge standards), although our main site is a little bit small (we have an average number of students though, around 130 per year).
We also have fellows who are very involved in teaching (and sometimes supervise first years!) - Matt Mason for physiology, Peter Wothers for chemistry and so on.

I'd also recommend Pembroke, which is super pretty! In centre of town too but I think second year accommodation is a bit spread out?
Selwyn is nice too, and has 1800s architecture which is pretty cool - it's a bit further out but still only a 15-20 minute walk to most lectures.
Emmanuel is pretty too, not sure about accommodation things but a quick google should sort that out!

Peterhouse is very small, and on the whole has a reputation for being a bit old-fashioned, although not too sure how true that is now.
Corpus Christi is also very small, don't know too much about it (although it is in the centre of town)
Kings, Johns & Trinity are very big and certainly Johns, Trinity, Magdalene and Gonville & Caius (at least historically) are very traditional so maybe avoid those.
Christs has a (probably deserved) reputation for being very academic and stressful so maybe avoid them.

Robinson is very 70s architecture, very red brick so if architecture is a concern maybe don't apply there?
Sidney Sussex is right next to sainsbury's (big win!), old architecture and in the centre of town, but don't know too much about it.
Don't know much about Jesus either - it's a bit far out (relatively speaking, not as far as hill colleges), but does have a lot of open space and nice architecture.
There's also Clare & Trinity Hall in the city centre that I don't know too much about, and there's Newnham (all-female college) right next to Selwyn.
There's also a bunch of postgrad/mature colleges that I assume won't apply to you.

Basically, there's a lot of choice! At the end of the day, college choice doesn't matter too much as you might get pooled elsewhere if you get an offer, and you'll have supervisions at other colleges if there aren't fellows for your particular subject area in your college - so don't stress too much.

But I'd definitely think about St Catharine's, Emmanuel, Selwyn, and maybe Downing or Queens as well?

Good luck with your application :smile:
Hey, I don't go to Cambridge yet but I have an offer for bio Nat sci so if you have any questions about the application process for it, I'm more than happy to answer them!

I would just add - about 25% of applicants (including me) are pooled, so get an offer from a different college to the one they applied to - I'm pretty lazy so applied to emmanuel as it's literally about 30 steps away from the Sciences site, but got my offer from girton which is about as far away as its possible to be - so don't get too hung up on picking a college as you may get a different one anyway. Canvrodye is a very small city and quick to get around so the max journey will be 10-15 mins which is small compared to other unis anyway!
In addition to the part about st Catherines above, I'd just add that on an open day they mentioned they have lots of funding/sponsers from old students, so are one of the cheaper colleges and more generous with bursaries etc..
Original post by randomusername23
Hi there! Most of the colleges are pretty close to Downing/ New Museums site and the chemistry department (cells and chem lectures are here) (all within 15-20 minutes walk), with the exception of the hill colleges (Fitzwilliam, Lucy Cav, Murray Edwards, Churchill, Homerton) and Girton, so you might want to avoid those.

Most of the colleges are either very old (pre-1600) or 1800-1960s. With that said, a lot of older colleges have slightly more modern buildings (1700 to present day builds!)

Downing is pretty big and well situated, with nice first year accommodation (although I don't know if they guarantee 4 years of accommodation).
Most of the colleges in the Trumpington Street area sound like they would suit you well too - Pembroke, Queens, St Catharine's all seem fairly laid-back and friendly.

Going to plug St Catharine's (aka Catz) here a bit! ☸️☸️☸️
I know for a fact that St Catharine's guarantees 3 years accommodation, and all the 4th years I know have college accommodation too. First and third years live on main site which is super close to Downing and New Museums sites (where bio lectures are), second years live all together at St Chad's in college-owned flats, which are a 10 minute walk from main site. 4th years tend to live a bit further out but it's no time at all on a bike.
Catz is also super friendly and is pretty laid-back overall (by Cambridge standards), although our main site is a little bit small (we have an average number of students though, around 130 per year).
We also have fellows who are very involved in teaching (and sometimes supervise first years!) - Matt Mason for physiology, Peter Wothers for chemistry and so on.

I'd also recommend Pembroke, which is super pretty! In centre of town too but I think second year accommodation is a bit spread out?
Selwyn is nice too, and has 1800s architecture which is pretty cool - it's a bit further out but still only a 15-20 minute walk to most lectures.
Emmanuel is pretty too, not sure about accommodation things but a quick google should sort that out!

Peterhouse is very small, and on the whole has a reputation for being a bit old-fashioned, although not too sure how true that is now.
Corpus Christi is also very small, don't know too much about it (although it is in the centre of town)
Kings, Johns & Trinity are very big and certainly Johns, Trinity, Magdalene and Gonville & Caius (at least historically) are very traditional so maybe avoid those.
Christs has a (probably deserved) reputation for being very academic and stressful so maybe avoid them.

Robinson is very 70s architecture, very red brick so if architecture is a concern maybe don't apply there?
Sidney Sussex is right next to sainsbury's (big win!), old architecture and in the centre of town, but don't know too much about it.
Don't know much about Jesus either - it's a bit far out (relatively speaking, not as far as hill colleges), but does have a lot of open space and nice architecture.
There's also Clare & Trinity Hall in the city centre that I don't know too much about, and there's Newnham (all-female college) right next to Selwyn.
There's also a bunch of postgrad/mature colleges that I assume won't apply to you.

Basically, there's a lot of choice! At the end of the day, college choice doesn't matter too much as you might get pooled elsewhere if you get an offer, and you'll have supervisions at other colleges if there aren't fellows for your particular subject area in your college - so don't stress too much.

But I'd definitely think about St Catharine's, Emmanuel, Selwyn, and maybe Downing or Queens as well?

Good luck with your application :smile:

wow - thank you so much for this huge chunk of information and advice on choosing a college! I understand that choosing a college should not be a major concern of an aspiring student there (I might be pooled / every college has its own strengths and beauty), so after referring to your reply with some additional research, I've quickly settled on Downing/Emmanuel! thanks again for this lengthy reply (didn't really expect this hahah)
Original post by Emmmaaaa...
Hey, I don't go to Cambridge yet but I have an offer for bio Nat sci so if you have any questions about the application process for it, I'm more than happy to answer them!

I would just add - about 25% of applicants (including me) are pooled, so get an offer from a different college to the one they applied to - I'm pretty lazy so applied to emmanuel as it's literally about 30 steps away from the Sciences site, but got my offer from girton which is about as far away as its possible to be - so don't get too hung up on picking a college as you may get a different one anyway. Canvrodye is a very small city and quick to get around so the max journey will be 10-15 mins which is small compared to other unis anyway!
In addition to the part about st Catherines above, I'd just add that on an open day they mentioned they have lots of funding/sponsers from old students, so are one of the cheaper colleges and more generous with bursaries etc..

thanks for your info! hope you enjoy studying at Girton and congrats on your offer - you must've splendid grades and an awesome personal statement to receive an offer from this prestigious uni! btw (not related to this thread but anyways), may I ask which 5 unis did you apply to in UCAS? I thought of applying to Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Edinburgh and Durham. am I too ambitious? also, could you tell me which supra-curricular did you join? do I really need shadowing programmes in lab work/research at a university in order to make my application more competitive? thanks for your attention! :>
Original post by thesupremecarbon
thanks for your info! hope you enjoy studying at Girton and congrats on your offer - you must've splendid grades and an awesome personal statement to receive an offer from this prestigious uni! btw (not related to this thread but anyways), may I ask which 5 unis did you apply to in UCAS? I thought of applying to Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Edinburgh and Durham. am I too ambitious? also, could you tell me which supra-curricular did you join? do I really need shadowing programmes in lab work/research at a university in order to make my application more competitive? thanks for your attention! :>

Hey, I have applied to Cambridge, Durham, York, Bath and Exeter - I don't think your choices are too ambitious (though admittedly I don't know you) but make sure you've got a "fallback uni" with lower grade requirements, in case you don't get the grades.

ADVICE FOR PERSONAL STATEMENTS/SUPERCURRICULARS - JUST SOME GENERAL ADVICE, DONT NEED TO FOLLOW IT
I did LOADS of supercurriculars, didn't end up writing about virtually all of it, as they prefer you don't cram every single thing you've ever done on your ps, but make meaningful comments on the stuff you have done.
Show progression in your ps, show how you work through something you are interested in. E.g. I enjoyed this at a level, so read a book on… that led me to an online lecture on….. Show progression. It is the natural sciences course after all, which is very broad so try not to really focus on one particular narrow thing for the whole of your personal statement.
Work experience is good, but don't waste characters on it. Its not vital, say what you learnt from it/ what you found interesting/went on to investigate next after doing it, don't just state that you did it. To be honest, this advice applies to the whole of the ps.
Say how you ENGAGED with what you did/ read, don't just say that you did it. Develop thoughts/ideas/excitement from it. Quality not quantity. Critical. interrogative.
Link supercurriculars
Read a couple of books on same topic/ opposing argument and reflect
You don't need to have developed strong opinions on stuff, they don't expect this, and they accept you are unlikely to have original ideas.
There is lots of advice on applications and stuff from Cambridge admission tutors. Its good to find out exactly what they like to see. I did lots, content was often repeated but the best advice I got was from these. Can find old ones on youtube.
E.g.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_x__QJJO5o - general advice from admissions tutor (who read your ps)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRpxKKp9hpc - on personal statements
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w2UQATOhxw - supercurriculars
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwDrp0I0Zsk - interviews

To answer some of your questions - I did loads of supercurriculars but barely wrote about any, I just did them because i was interested - some of the things I did - lots of books, podcasts, documentaries, epq, magazines, wrote an article for my school magazine, did a presentation to some people at school, MOOCS, independent research, some bio/chem challenges/olympiads, cant remember what else I did..

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING FOR SUPERCURRICULAR IDEAS:
Ted talks
Documentaries
Moocs (future learn/edx is good)
Books
Podcasts
EPQ
Summer schools
Subject masterclasses (previous ones are available on youtube too)
Essays about an area of interest
Writing an article (scientific latin?)
Articles (in science magazines/ academic journals)
Biology/ chemistry olympiads/challenges - doesn't matter what award you got, good to say you did it.
Subject captains
Peer tutoring (link to what you learnt from it..E.g cementing own knowledge)
Films
Online lecture
https://www.thenakedscientists.com/
Look at any exciting, groundbreaking research that has happened recently
Join scientific societies
Work experience (i had absolutely none and still got in so don't worry)
Be reflective, honest and critically engaged. Dont list achievements, be overly dramatic or over-edit

About work experience- I had absolutely none. They like it because it can show your enthusiasm etc, but they get that not everyone has equal opportunities and its hard to get stem work experience. There are also many other ways to show your enthusiasm, so don’t be too worried about it. What makes your application more competitive than others is being more engaged, more curious, more passionate. Having shadowing experiences wont necessarily show this.
Hope this helps! Do ask if you have any more questions 😊
Original post by Emmmaaaa...
Hey, I have applied to Cambridge, Durham, York, Bath and Exeter - I don't think your choices are too ambitious (though admittedly I don't know you) but make sure you've got a "fallback uni" with lower grade requirements, in case you don't get the grades.

ADVICE FOR PERSONAL STATEMENTS/SUPERCURRICULARS - JUST SOME GENERAL ADVICE, DONT NEED TO FOLLOW IT
I did LOADS of supercurriculars, didn't end up writing about virtually all of it, as they prefer you don't cram every single thing you've ever done on your ps, but make meaningful comments on the stuff you have done.
Show progression in your ps, show how you work through something you are interested in. E.g. I enjoyed this at a level, so read a book on… that led me to an online lecture on….. Show progression. It is the natural sciences course after all, which is very broad so try not to really focus on one particular narrow thing for the whole of your personal statement.
Work experience is good, but don't waste characters on it. Its not vital, say what you learnt from it/ what you found interesting/went on to investigate next after doing it, don't just state that you did it. To be honest, this advice applies to the whole of the ps.
Say how you ENGAGED with what you did/ read, don't just say that you did it. Develop thoughts/ideas/excitement from it. Quality not quantity. Critical. interrogative.
Link supercurriculars
Read a couple of books on same topic/ opposing argument and reflect
You don't need to have developed strong opinions on stuff, they don't expect this, and they accept you are unlikely to have original ideas.
There is lots of advice on applications and stuff from Cambridge admission tutors. Its good to find out exactly what they like to see. I did lots, content was often repeated but the best advice I got was from these. Can find old ones on youtube.
E.g.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_x__QJJO5o - general advice from admissions tutor (who read your ps)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRpxKKp9hpc - on personal statements
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w2UQATOhxw - supercurriculars
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwDrp0I0Zsk - interviews

To answer some of your questions - I did loads of supercurriculars but barely wrote about any, I just did them because i was interested - some of the things I did - lots of books, podcasts, documentaries, epq, magazines, wrote an article for my school magazine, did a presentation to some people at school, MOOCS, independent research, some bio/chem challenges/olympiads, cant remember what else I did..

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING FOR SUPERCURRICULAR IDEAS:
Ted talks
Documentaries
Moocs (future learn/edx is good)
Books
Podcasts
EPQ
Summer schools
Subject masterclasses (previous ones are available on youtube too)
Essays about an area of interest
Writing an article (scientific latin?)
Articles (in science magazines/ academic journals)
Biology/ chemistry olympiads/challenges - doesn't matter what award you got, good to say you did it.
Subject captains
Peer tutoring (link to what you learnt from it..E.g cementing own knowledge)
Films
Online lecture
https://www.thenakedscientists.com/
Look at any exciting, groundbreaking research that has happened recently
Join scientific societies
Work experience (i had absolutely none and still got in so don't worry)
Be reflective, honest and critically engaged. Dont list achievements, be overly dramatic or over-edit

About work experience- I had absolutely none. They like it because it can show your enthusiasm etc, but they get that not everyone has equal opportunities and its hard to get stem work experience. There are also many other ways to show your enthusiasm, so don’t be too worried about it. What makes your application more competitive than others is being more engaged, more curious, more passionate. Having shadowing experiences wont necessarily show this.
Hope this helps! Do ask if you have any more questions 😊

thanks for your reply! it surely brings me some insight into uni applications and helps clarify my prior misunderstandings! tbh I do have quite a few supra-curricula, like joining bio/chem/phy olympiads and brain bee. I also read some books on biochemistry/genetics/neuroscience (the fields I'm currently most passionate about) and make some reflections afterwards. I was a bit afraid of the work experience part initially because my friends told me I need at least one shadowing/internship programme to prove my scientific abilities, but now I'm much more relieved lol. thank you for explaining and clarifying things clearly!
Original post by thesupremecarbon
thanks for your reply! it surely brings me some insight into uni applications and helps clarify my prior misunderstandings! tbh I do have quite a few supra-curricula, like joining bio/chem/phy olympiads and brain bee. I also read some books on biochemistry/genetics/neuroscience (the fields I'm currently most passionate about) and make some reflections afterwards. I was a bit afraid of the work experience part initially because my friends told me I need at least one shadowing/internship programme to prove my scientific abilities, but now I'm much more relieved lol. thank you for explaining and clarifying things clearly!


Nah, your grades and enthusiasm will show your scientific abilities much more than having work experience- after all, anyone could get the world experience but not actually engage with it, it doesn't prove anything.
Reply 8
Original post by thesupremecarbon
thanks for your info! hope you enjoy studying at Girton and congrats on your offer - you must've splendid grades and an awesome personal statement to receive an offer from this prestigious uni! btw (not related to this thread but anyways), may I ask which 5 unis did you apply to in UCAS? I thought of applying to Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Edinburgh and Durham. am I too ambitious? also, could you tell me which supra-curricular did you join? do I really need shadowing programmes in lab work/research at a university in order to make my application more competitive? thanks for your attention! :>


Wow I applied to the same unis this year. But I got rejected by Cambridge after interview. I would say do good in your NSAA and interview, these are the 2 main things Cambridge look at. Good luck to you :smile:
Original post by Emmmaaaa...
Nah, your grades and enthusiasm will show your scientific abilities much more than having work experience- after all, anyone could get the world experience but not actually engage with it, it doesn't prove anything.

okkkk thanks!
Original post by Joe2514
Wow I applied to the same unis this year. But I got rejected by Cambridge after interview. I would say do good in your NSAA and interview, these are the 2 main things Cambridge look at. Good luck to you :smile:

thanks! hope you enjoy studying at another uni! i'm sure it'll be great! :smile:
Original post by thesupremecarbon
Hi everyone! I intend to read (Biological) Natural Sciences at Cambridge (if I have the academic ability lol), however, I haven't decided on my college choice yet, as I'm struggling to choose one that most suits my criteria as listed below:

- guaranteed accommodation for four years (off-site is OK, as long as it's not too far away from the main college site)
- friendly and laid-back atmosphere
- no scholar's ballot
- not too far away from lecture sites (does not have to be located in the city centre though)
- not-so-archaic architecture with a more liberal/spacious outlook (but not too modern)

Judging from my criteria above, would anyone, preferably students currently studying at Cambridge, give me some suggestions on the college choice? I really appreciate any help you can provide!

Downing is the obvious choice from a location point of view, because it has a gate onto the Downing site and it's only a short walk to New Museums across the road. Things might have changed since I was there, but if you're planning on doing biological NatSci, then IA Cells was in New Museums, PoO is in PDN on the Downing site, and the Zoology (Balfour) library is on Downing Street, so ideal if for E&B!
Original post by Reality Check
Downing is the obvious choice from a location point of view, because it has a gate onto the Downing site and it's only a short walk to New Museums across the road. Things might have changed since I was there, but if you're planning on doing biological NatSci, then IA Cells was in New Museums, PoO is in PDN on the Downing site, and the Zoology (Balfour) library is on Downing Street, so ideal if for E&B!


Cells lectures are now in the BMS (at least for this year), PoO is still in PDN and E&B still in zoology I believe.
Full table is here: https://www.natsci.tripos.cam.ac.uk/students/first
Original post by randomusername23
Cells lectures are now in the BMS (at least for this year), PoO is still in PDN and E&B still in zoology I believe.
Full table is here: https://www.natsci.tripos.cam.ac.uk/students/first

Although it wasn't a million years ago when I did NatSci, it was a fair bit ago, so it's amazing that this list is essentially the same! Things don't really change at Cambridge :laugh:

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