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Choosing a Cambridge College.

(67 Posts)
HappyAxolotyl Sun 05-Mar-17 09:42:15

Ds has suddenly said he may try for a place at Cambridge, and I feel out of my depth!
No one in our family, or indeed our friends, has gone to such a university.
We have looked at the College websites, but it is all so confusing.
Are we on the right lines thinking Trinity or Peterhouse would be a good choice for an extremely introverted person from an ordinary background wanting to study a science subject?
We are hundreds of miles away with no family or friends down there to offer backup support if needed.

HardcoreLadyType Sun 05-Mar-17 09:44:51

Have a look at Churchill. I think it could be a good fit for how you describe your DS.

Str4ngedaysindeed Sun 05-Mar-17 09:47:12

Churchill sprang to mind to me too. This is where my DS is applying to do physics. The master is a scientist and it is a very lovely just out of town college. My mother used to work there.

user7214743615 Sun 05-Mar-17 09:49:37

Trinity is a very large college and is one of the most over-subscribed in sciences.

Peterhouse is the other extreme: very small, traditionally quite dominated by private school students.

There is no one college that is good for people from 'ordinary' backgrounds: all colleges have a mixture of students, many from state schools, from families with no history of Oxbridge education. Some students from 'ordinary' backgrounds feel more comfortable in colleges which are newer (Churchill, Robinson etc) but many others like the old colleges in the centre of town.

For an introverted person: it really depends on what kind of atmosphere he would like. Trinity is large so students feel quite anonymous but smaller colleges may feel more like a community, more supportive. If at all possible, try to visit Cambridge and just walk around the colleges to get a feel for them.

WhyOhWine Sun 05-Mar-17 09:58:29

I went to Cambridge from a state school. I focussed on the following:
1 reputation for my subject
2 not too public school a reputation
3 location - wanted central/ on river if possible, plus also accessible for location of lectures etc

My school (which had a lot of oxbridge applicants for a state school) also tried to make sure applications were spread out.
Some people play it more tactically and work out odds for getting into a particular college for a particular subject.
FWIW, I always thought of both trinity and Peterhouse as being quite public schooly but my experience is 25 odd years out of date and may be wrong anyway (did not know many at those colleges). They (trinity at least) are wealthy so it may be that these days they do attract state school applicants as they can provide a bit of financial support.

Bogburglar75 Sun 05-Mar-17 09:58:56

Best advice if your DS is up for it is to go to a few college open days and see which ones he feels comfortable with - although I appreciate travelling distance and money will be a constraint.

Size of college is worth thinking about - they range from very small to very big. If your DS is an introvert there are advantages either way. Very small will be less intimidating but if you don't get on with your peers you are stuck with them for the next three years. Very big = more intimidating but more chance of finding some people you click with.

Trinity and Peterhouse are both very old, very rich colleges which means they can be more traditional and off putting to those who don't fit the Oxbridge stereotypes (disclaimer, knew lovely, normal people from both). Peterhouse does, or did, have a particular reputation for being on the snobby side. Your DS may want to look at the more modern colleges - Churchill, Fitz, Robinson - which are/can be that bit more down to earth.

I was at Robinson a lot of years ago and it had a lot of people that were very bright but either didn't want, or hadn't been wanted by, the more traditional colleges. Also as the newest college it was in the process of making its own traditions. Plenty of happy introverts although I suspect you could say that of any Cambridge college!

Get your DS to look at accommodation. Most colleges will accommodate you for all three years if he would prefer that. Would he rather have 400 year old buildings, or bathrooms with actual hot water? Rather cook for himself asap or have a set up where he's encouraged to eat all his meals in college for 3 years?

Hope some of that helps!

SuperRainbows Sun 05-Mar-17 10:14:04

Has your DS looked at The Student Rooms website? There's a really good article on pros and cons for each college.
My DS went to King's College from a state Grammar school and this suited him. King's is less formal than some colleges.

SuperRainbows Sun 05-Mar-17 10:20:09

Also, don't discourage him from applying. My DD also applied for medicine at Caius. Following her interview, she wasn't offered a place by Caius, but pooled for consideration by other colleges. She didn't get offers from other colleges, but doesn't regret applying. The fact she was interviewed and pooled was a huge boost to her confidence.

Bogburglar75 Sun 05-Mar-17 10:42:18

Is this the article SuperRainbows?

Looks a good summary! I see one of the cons for my old college is now 'Nick Clegg went there'.

SuperRainbows Sun 05-Mar-17 10:45:08

Yes, that's it Bogburglar 75. Thanks for linking to it. Wish I knew how to do that!

Needmoresleep Sun 05-Mar-17 10:49:00

I recently met a lovely girl who was at Trinity from an "ordinary" state school and who was involved as a student volunteer at recruitment and outreach events. She said Trinity worked hard to convince potential students from similar backgrounds to have a go, and not to be put off by the reputation.

That said I agree with user7214743615 that Trinity is often the first choice for the very talented mathematicians and scientists, and their STEP requirements can be higher. What then seems to happen is that they take their pick and other good candidates are pooled and picked up by other colleges.

Dipsydora Sun 05-Mar-17 11:03:43

You need t go and have a look I know people who went to most of the collages, state and public school background. If he's a bit geeky and an introvert to be really honest he will fit in anywhere the place is full of them.
Sidney Sussex is very friendly btw

user7214743615 Sun 05-Mar-17 11:29:45

My DS went to King's College from a state Grammar school and this suited him. King's is less formal than some colleges.

King's has a reputation of being particularly welcome to state school students and is accordingly very over-subscribed.

It is maybe true that King's is on the less formal end of the old, city centre colleges. It is not true that King's is less formal than the newer colleges such as Robinson, Churchill etc.

RedHelenB Sun 05-Mar-17 13:08:36

If he is eligible look at Sutton trust summer schools for Cambridge this summer and it might help him narrow choices down

namechangingagainagain Sun 05-Mar-17 13:12:19

Have a look at fitz/ churchill or robinson.
Or look at the ratio of applicants to offers in the subject I wanted to do ( i think this is still published online somewhere) and pickfrom one of the ones you are statisically most likely to get an offer from.

user1488581876 Sun 05-Mar-17 13:28:40


I think it is great that your DS is considering Cambridge.

I would not worry about choice of college. The advice above is very good. Visit Churchill, Trinity and Peterhouse and let your DS decide what 'feels' the best. Even if your DS does choose a college, he may end up pooled to a different college. Your DS can also make an open application. Your DS will not be asked about his choice of college at interview.

My advice is to put a lot of thought and effort into the subject choice instead. This is really important and this is what will be discussed and examined at interview.

AnotherEmma Sun 05-Mar-17 13:38:06

"an extremely introverted person from an ordinary background wanting to study a science subject"

There are people who meet that description in every single Cambridge college grin

Honestly, there will be a mix of people in every college. He could look at the statistics for state v private school, as it would probably help him to feel more at home in a college with a higher proportion of students from state schools. He could also look at colleges that have higher numbers doing science subjects. Or not! The most important thing is for him to visit the colleges and see which ones he liked the "feel" of.

boys3 Sun 05-Mar-17 14:11:57

happy if your DS can get to visit at one of the open days, or his school arrange a trip I would urge him to take advantage if at all possible. Ds1 chose his college on the somewhat arbitrary basis that he liked the achitecture He did not go through the Pool but an increasingly large proportion do: 1073 applicants were made offers via the pool in the 2016 cycle.

Cambridge do publish an awful lot of info on the main website.

There is also the alternative prospectus from the student union and if you are made of somewhat sterner stuff the Cambridge Tab has a range of more irreverent opinion / alternative facts to choose from ranging from through to

As far as pastoral care goes I doubt any other university, bar Oxford, comes remotely close to matching what any Cambridge college offers

AnotherEmma Sun 05-Mar-17 14:20:30

Oh God not the Tab, it's awful!

Frazzled2207 Sun 05-Mar-17 14:33:30

My husband is pretty introverted and sciency. He went to Fitz. Have met a few of his mates and they're all down to earth state school types in the main.

HappyAxolotyl Sun 05-Mar-17 14:38:48

Thank you so much for all these helpful replies!

SuperRainbows , Bogburglars and Boys, thank you for the links; lots of useful reading there.

User7214, I couldn't help but imagine John Cleese and the two Ronnies doing the sketch. " My College is more formal than his College, but less formal than his college. blush
Thank you; all views welcome as I have no one in RL to have this conversation with.

RedHelen, we have already applied for a place with the Sutton summer school at a Scottish university, ( before ds dropped the Cambridge idea on me.)
If he gets a place on this we would miss the Cambridge open days in the summer holidays.

I would never discourage him from applying to Cambridge; I will do anything to support him in any choice he made. I just feel a bit ill equipped with this one, if I'm honest. I was brought up in care and all this is very alien to me.
I hope this is just my problem and I haven't passed it on to him!

NotMeNoNo Sun 05-Mar-17 14:41:59

I remember this. I was first person in my family to go to any university never mind Cambridge. I went to Trinity Hall (this is different to Trinity) it was really friendly and I think it still has that reputation. So that's my recommendation of one to look at. I don't think there's a wrong decision though, as all colleges will have a few dozen Nat. Sci., many of whom will be introverted and studious!

NotMeNoNo Sun 05-Mar-17 14:42:00

I remember this. I was first person in my family to go to any university never mind Cambridge. I went to Trinity Hall (this is different to Trinity) it was really friendly and I think it still has that reputation. So that's my recommendation of one to look at. I don't think there's a wrong decision though, as all colleges will have a few dozen Nat. Sci., many of whom will be introverted and studious!

sandpiper1979 Sun 05-Mar-17 16:00:20

I would second the advice to look at Trinity Hall. My (state-schooled) DC is there now and finds it extremely friendly with a good mix of people. (If it is any help, he says that if he weren't there he would like to be at Jesus - but not Peterhouse or Trinity!)

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 05-Mar-17 16:04:25

It shouldn't ultimately matter whether or not a college is 'over subscribed'.

All colleges are required to make sure that choice of college can't advantage or disadvantage you in your application. So, for example, if 100 brilliant students apply to King's or Trinity, the admissions office won't simply take the six for whom they have places and ignore the rest. They will put many of them into the pool, where they can be selected by other colleges.

If 10 rather less brilliant students apply to, say, Murray Edwards or Fitzwilliam, the college also cannot simply take the six best of them to fill their six places. They must check that there aren't better candidates already in the pool.

It is obviously a bit nerve-wracking to get pooled and it is a bit of a risk of choosing a college where more people apply, but that choice shouldn't ultimately matter so very much.

Lots of people who go to Cambridge are the first in their families to go to university.

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