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The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 by scholars driven out of Oxford by hostile townspeople. It is UK’s second-oldest university and has a long and rich tradition of academic and research excellence.
From an ominous and unorthodox beginning over eight hundred years ago, the University of Cambridge has traversed a full circle, beating Oxford to the top spot in the 2011 QS World University Rankings for the second year running.
The University of Cambridge is made up of 31 colleges which form the epicentre of student life. Of the colleges, three are women only (Lucy Cavendish, Murray Edwards and Newnham) and two are graduates only (Clare Hall and Darwin). The oldest and smallest college is Peterhouse, whilst the largest, most famous (and richest) college is Trinity College.
The University of Cambridge’s alumni list knocks the socks off most other universities. Over the last 800 years, the University of Cambridge has churned out 88 Nobel Prize winners and a staggering list of famous academics, actors, authors, poets and scientists. It has educated 15 British Prime Ministers, at least 25 foreign heads of Government and nine monarchs.
Famous scientists include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. Poets William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and Sylvia Plath all attended the university, as did the philosopher Bertrand Russell and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. More recent alumni include Nick Drake, members of Radiohead, artist Anthony Gormley, authors Zadie Smith and Sebastian Faulks, comic actors David Mitchell and Sacha Baron Cohen, and actors Sir Ian McKellan, Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson.
The University of Cambridge is located in the city of Cambridge, approximately 58 miles north of London. Cambridge is a city dominated by its university. Every other building in the city centre belongs to the University and everywhere you look there are Cambridge students.
The University’s colleges are major tourist attractions in their own right and with good reason too. Colleges like King’s, Trinity, St John’s, Peterhouse and Corpus Christi are sites of breath-taking architecture, with King’s Chapel being the crowning glory.
Cambridge is a city that breathes history, tradition and ritual. Punt down the river Cam and you’ll pass the beautiful Cambridge Backs and historical old bridges. Punt further out and the river will take you to Granchester, where Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolf bathed in Byron’s Pool. All this beauty comes with a price: in the summer, you can’t move for tourists.
There’s no main campus, instead the University is split across various sites and colleges. Cambridge’s teaching and learning facilities are second to none, the University has 114 libraries alone and the University Library (UL) is home to over 8 million books and journals. The University has nine specialist museums and collections and it even has its own Botanical Gardens.
Not all of the colleges are located in the city centre: Murray Edwards, Newnham, Robinson, Sidney Sussex, Churchill, Fitzwilliam, Selwyn and Wolfson are all located a little further out of the city centre (although still within very short walking distance) whilst Girton and Homerton are about a 10 minute cycle ride away from the city centre. Not many students in the central colleges stray far out of the city centre; a popular (slightly snooty) adage is that “more Cambridge students have been to India than Girton.”
City life isn’t just centred around the University. Cambridge has a number of music venues and a particularly high concentration of pubs (some would argue it’s the homeland of the real ale movement). Towards the east of Cambridge is Mill Road, a quirky cosmopolitan street and a refuge from the homogenous shops of the city centre.
University accommodation facilities are provided by individual colleges. All colleges (except St Edmund’s) guarantee accommodation to all undergraduate students for a period of three years, with most students taking them up on the offer.
As accommodation is provided by the different colleges, rent, room size and facilities vary dramatically college to college. Consequentially, you might be paying more for a single study room with a shared bathroom at one college than you would for a double room with its own living room at a different college.
All colleges are catered and again meal plans vary. The majority of colleges use a ‘pay as you go’ system, whereby students pay for meals with their university cards, whilst other colleges include the cost of a set number of meals in the termly bill.
All in all, it’s best to check out the individual colleges’ websites for more information about the types of rooms available and the cost of accommodation.
From 2012, the University will be charging £9,000 a year in tuition fees for undergraduates. The important thing to remember is that you can get a loan from the government to cover the cost of your tuition fees and you won’t have to start repaying the loan until you earn over £21,000.
As a university student, your main expenses (apart from tuition fees) are accommodation, food, transport, clothing and study materials. An annual budget of £6,000–£7,500 is more-than sufficient to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in Cambridge. This cheap living cost is mainly due to the fact that most students stay in university accommodation for the duration of their degree.
Money is saved on food as colleges operate a variety of food and drink establishments at student-friendly prices: a single individual meal costs between £3 and £4, while a formal three-course meal costs from £6 upwards.
Cambridge isn’t a particularly big city, so there’s little need to shell out money on public transport, although you might want to invest in a bicycle.
The University of Cambridge is pretty generous when it comes to handing out bursaries. The Isaac Newton Trust was established in 1988 by Trinity College (it is the richest college after all) and administers the undergraduate Bursary scheme.
The Cambridge Bursary Scheme awards bursaries to students with household incomes of less than £42,600. £3,500 is available for students with residual incomes of less than £25,000 whilst between £500 and £2,500 is available for those with household incomes from £30,000 to £42,600.
As part of the National Scholarship Programme, the University of Cambridge will be providing a waiver of first-year tuition fee of £6,000 for students with residual family incomes of £21,000 or below, subject to meeting all eligibility requirements.
More information on other scholarships available can be found here.
Social life is centred around the individual colleges. Students attend formal halls (three course dinners put on by the colleges) and college JCRS put on regular ‘ents’ (eCambridge slang for events). Clare College is particularly famed for its jazz and drum’n’bass nights, while King’s College is the place to go for more alternative nightlife. All the colleges have bars and many welcome students from other colleges.
Cambridge is well stocked with pubs and bars, and has a smattering of clubs. For more information on what’s out there, read our guide to Cambridge clubs. There are also a couple music venues, including the Corn Exchange and The Junction.
The highlight of the year is the Cambridge college balls. These are balls like you’ve never seen before; a huge amount of effort and money goes into them. Ticket prices vary from £65 to a staggering £175+. Lasting well into the early hours, the balls are the ultimate homage to hedonism.
Sports facilities are spread across individual Colleges and include a state-of-the-art fitness centre, Grade I athletics track, artificial hockey pitch, cricket and tennis grounds and an indoor cricket school.
The Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) supports over 50 sporting clubs and over 600 societies. The ADC theatre is home to the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club and the Footlights Dramatic Club. Both clubs have launched the careers of numerous film, theatre and television personalities, such as Emma Thompson, John Cleese and Stephen Fry, and more recently, David Mitchell and Robert Webb from Peep Show and Simon Bird and Joe Thomas of The Inbetweeners fame.
Student media platforms include two newspapers, The Cambridge Student and Varsity, an online tabloid, The Tab and the student radio station, Cam FM.
The University of Cambridge doesn’t really have a Freshers’ Week per se. If you’re thinking along the lines of Manchester and Warwick, you’ll be disappointed. University terms are short and students get straight into studying, so Freshers’ Week is crammed into a couple of days. Don’t despair though; there’s still a huge Freshers’ Fair and plenty of events, parties and pub crawls organised by colleges’ JCR committees.
Considered one of the best careers services in the UK, the University of Cambridge Careers Service provides a wide range of services and resources to fresh graduates, current students, research scholars and university staff.
Services include one-on-one guidance, employer and industry-related information, job vacancies and skills development to help students clear rigorous hiring practices.