If you’re an aspiring college student from America, chances are you know all about the Ivy League. It includes some of the country’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions.
But if you want to go even older (and equally as prestigious), you can do no better than the University of Cambridge.
Based in England, Cambridge is the second-oldest English-speaking university in the world. It has turned out hundreds of Nobel prize winners, heads of state, and pop culture icons — not to mention it’s renowned by all the league tables as one of the world’s top schools.
This guide explains everything you need to know about the University of Cambridge. We’ll explore how to get into Cambridge as an undergrad or postgraduate, the Cambridge application process, and walk you through Cambridge’s 31 colleges and how they work.
About the University of Cambridge
If you’re keen on attending an English university with a pedigree, you belong at the University of Cambridge.
Founded in 1209, Cambridge was granted a royal charter by King Henry III in 1231. If you care to do the math, that makes Cambridge the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world.
Because not all of the world’s ancient universities have survived the test of time, Cambridge is also now the fourth-oldest surviving university on earth.
Over the last 800 years, Cambridge has churned out 121 Nobel laureates, 11 Fields Medalists, 7 Turing Award winners, and 14 prime ministers. But Cambridge isn’t all about academics, either. The school also has an excellent reputation in sports, with university alumni having bagged 194 Olympic medals.
Today, Cambridge is composed of almost 25,000 students. Those students are split between 31 colleges, which serve as social and academic hubs as a central part of student life.
Undergraduate application requirements
At this point, you get the idea. Cambridge is just about as prestigious as it gets.
University league tables consistently rank Cambridge among the top three universities in the world. It takes a lot of hard work to get into Cambridge.
But if you stay focused and do your homework, it’s possible to get into Cambridge as an undergraduate.
To help you get started, let’s explore Cambridge’s undergraduate acceptance rate and entry requirements.
What is Cambridge’s acceptance rate?
Schools like the University of Cambridge calculate their acceptance rates by dividing the number of accepted students by the total number ultimately accepted and enrolled.
That number inevitably changes every year, but to give you an idea, let’s take a quick look at Cambridge’s 2020 admissions figures. In 2020, Cambridge had quite a generous acceptance rate.
In 2020, the total number of prospective students that applied to Cambridge was 20,426. The total number of offers that admissions officers ultimately issued was 4,710. Of that group, 3,997 students accepted the offer and enrolled.
This equates to an acceptance rate of 19.5% for 2020.
What GPA do you need to get into Cambridge?
If you’re a student from the UK applying to Cambridge, the grading system works differently than America’s grade point average (GPA) system. But let’s stick with GPA requirements for American applicants.
As far as the GPA requirement for admissions is concerned, Cambridge is very competitive — but it’s important to note that there’s no formal requirement.
Cambridge will consider students with any GPA. But because it’s one of the best schools in the world, your chances of admission are going to be higher if you’ve got a great GPA.
What standardized test scores are needed for Cambridge?
If you’re applying to the University of Cambridge as an American undergraduate, Cambridge requires you to have at least five AP Test scores with a grade of 5.
You’ll also be expected to submit either SAT or ACT scores.
For the SAT, Cambridge expects a score of at least 750 in each component to give a combined score of 1,500 for applicants to its science or economics courses.
But if you’re applying for other courses, the admissions department will want to see at least a 730 in the evidence-based reading and writing section and 730 in math to give a combined score of at least 1,460.
If you choose the ACT, you’ll need to get a composite score of at least 32 for arts and humanities courses. If you’re applying for a science-related degree, you’ll need at least a 32 on the ACT.
How do you apply to Cambridge?
All prospective applicants must apply using UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). UCAS is a centralized UK body that students use to send in online applications.
While the advantage of UCAS is that you can apply to up to five universities with a single application, it’s important to note that Cambridge and Oxford have an earlier UCAS deadline than other UK universities.
You should also remember that you’re not allowed to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year.
The UCAS application process is straightforward. You’re simply required to include your personal details, course choices, qualifications, employment history, and a reference. Finally, you must include a personal statement.
Postgraduate application requirements
If you’d like to apply to the University of Cambridge as a postgraduate student, there are 31 colleges affiliated with it.
All Cambridge students become members of a college — and it’s necessary to be a member so that you can be registered and enrolled as a master’s or Ph.D. student.
How do you apply to Cambridge as a grad student?
If you want to be eligible to apply to Cambridge as a graduate student, you’ll need to have a minimum of an upper second-class degree from a UK university or an equivalent from an overseas school.
From there, the application process is pretty simple.
You’ve got to submit your application through the university’s online Applicant Portal. First, select your course, and click the ‘Apply’ button. From there, you’ll be guided to the online postgraduate application.
To complete that application, you’ll need to include a range of supporting documents and references alongside an application fee. After an admissions officer processes your application, you may be invited to take part in an interview.
Prospective students apply to Cambridge’s central Graduate Admissions Office and then pick two college preferences on their application. If you’re accepted, your first choice of college will automatically get your application. If you don’t pick a college, you’ll get assigned one.
There’s an exception to the rule if you’re applying for a PGCE, MBA, or Clinical Medicine course. Then you’ve got to apply to the relevant department instead.
Christ’s College was founded in 1505 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. College alumni include poet John Milton and Charles Darwin.
The college is composed of 85 fellows, 395 undergraduates, 160 Ph.D. students, and 115 master’s students.
Christ’s admits grad students from all courses on both a part-time and full-time basis, but the school is particularly keen to admit Ph.D. students. Most years, the college admits about 100 new postgraduates — making it a little bit smaller than the average Cambridge college.
Churchill College was formed in 1960 as the national and Commonwealth memorial to former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill.
The college comprises 475 undergraduates, 385 postgrads, 256 fellows, and 160 staff. Churchill College is particularly well-known for its beautiful 42-acre parkland campus.
Clare College was founded in 1326, and it was the first college among Cambridge and Oxford to combine master’s students, fellows, and scholars into a single community.
Today, Clare College is made up of 120 fellows, 504 undergrads, 126 Ph.D. students, and 180 master’s students.
Clare Hall was founded in 1966 as a more modern offshoot of Clare College. Clare Hall is well-known amongst the Cambridge colleges because it’s one of just two colleges open only to grad school students.
At around 200 postgraduate students, Clare Hall is also Cambridge’s smallest college.
Corpus Christi College
Corpus Christi College was formed in 1352 due to the Black Death that killed many of the country’s clergy. It was the sixth college to join Cambridge.
Today, Corpus Christi comprises 60 fellows, 300 undergraduates, 180 Ph.D. students, and 50 other postgraduates.
Darwin College was founded in 1964 as Cambridge University’s first-ever graduate-only college. After Clare Hall was formed two years later, Darwin became one of two postgrad-only colleges.
It was also the first Cambridge College to admit both men and women.
Darwin College is made up of 71 fellows, 542 Ph.D. students, and 278 other postgrads.
Downing College was founded in 1800 at the request of Sir George Downing — a famous English statesman and one of nine graduates of Harvard’s first-ever graduating class of 1642.
Downing College is composed of 65 fellows, 490 undergrads, 260 doctoral students, and 240 other postgrads.
Emmanuel College was created in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I.
It was built on the site of a Dominican priory. Today, the college comprises 94 fellows, 473 undergraduates, 128 doctoral students, and 128 master’s students.
Fitzwilliam College was developed in 1869 specifically to help students who couldn’t afford tuition fees.
Today, the college is made up of 56 fellows, 450 undergraduates, 205 Ph.D. students, and 275 grad school students.
Girton College was founded in 1869 by Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon. It’s important because it was Britain’s first-ever residential college for women.
Girton College is now home to 500 undergrads, 128 fellows, 165 Ph.D. candidates, and 116 other postgraduates.
Gonville & Caius College
Edmund Gonville founded Gonville & Caius College in 1348. but it was then refounded in 1557 by John Caius.
Gonville & Caius College is one of Cambridge’s biggest colleges. It has got 110 fellows, 540 undergrads, 180 Ph.D. students, and 70 other postgrads.
Unlike most Cambridge colleges, Gonville & Caius College doesn’t accept part-time students.
Homerton College was founded on Homerton Street, London, in 1768 by a group of Protestant dissenters.
In 1894, the college moved to Cambridge. Today it consists of 61 fellows, 563 undergraduates, 175 doctoral students, and 462 master’s students.
Hughes Hall was originally founded for postgraduates only. It now accepts mature undergraduates — which essentially means any undergrad over 21 years old.
Hughes Hall is home to 85 fellows, 175 mature undergrads, 260 Ph.D. students, and 300 grad students.
Jesus College was founded in 1496, and its full name is “the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge.” Its nickname comes from the college chapel.
Jesus College contains 120 fellows, 580 undergraduates, 300 Ph.D. students, and 180 master’s students.
King Henry VI founded King’s College in 1441. The college gets its name from King’s Chapel, one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings.
King’s takes students from all subjects apart from Veterinary Science, Land Economy, and Education.
It’s made up of 134 fellows, 458 undergraduates, 213 Ph.D. students, and 80 other postgraduates.
Lucy Cavendish College
Lucy Cavendish was founded in 1965 as a college for women only. Starting from October 2021, the college has agreed to start admitting men and have an equal gender balance.
Lucy Cavendish currently houses 65 fellows, 350 undergrads, 136 Ph.D. students, and 260 other postgraduates.
Magdalene College was founded in 1428. Every year, it admits about 100 undergrads and 80 postgrads across all subjects.
Magdalene College currently contains 113 fellows, 373 undergraduates, 123 doctorate students, and 100 other postgrads.
Murray Edwards College
Founded as “New Hall” in 1954, Murray Edwards College is one of Cambridge’s women-only colleges.
Murray Edwards College consists of 84 fellows, 400 undergraduates, 130 Ph.D. students, and 70 grad students.
Newnham College was founded as a women’s college in 1871 — when women technically weren’t allowed to attend the University of Cambridge. One of its co-founders was Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, a famous women’s suffragette.
Today, the college contains 70 fellows, 400 undergraduates, and 300 postgrads.
Pembroke was founded in 1347 — making it Cambridge’s oldest college to survive on its original site with an unbroken constitution.
Pembroke College is currently home to 88 fellows, 444 undergraduates, 185 Ph.D. students, and 90 master’s students.
Peterhouse Queens’ College
Founded in 1284, Peterhouse Queens’ College is the oldest college at Cambridge. It was founded by Hugo de Balsham, Bishop of Ely.
It’s the smallest college in terms of fellows and students and offers several fully-funded postgraduate studentships for MPhil and Ph.D. students from overseas.
The college has 45 fellows, 290 undergraduates, and 70 postgrads.
Queens’ College was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou. It has got some of the most iconic and recognizable buildings on campus.
Queens’ houses 84 fellows, 520 undergraduates, 243 Ph.D. students, and 323 other postgraduates.
Founded in 1981, Robinson is one of the newest colleges at Cambridge. It was created with a donation from entrepreneur Sir David Robinson.
Today, the college is home to 95 fellows, 415 undergraduates, 110 Ph.D. students, and 130 other postgrads.
Selwyn College was opened in 1882 and took its name from George Augustus Selwyn, who was the first Bishop of New Zealand.
The college has 64 fellows, 396 undergraduates, 141doctorate students, and 166 grad students.
Sidney Sussex College
Sidney Sussex was founded in 1596 by Lady Frances Sidney, the Countess of Sussex.
It’s one of Cambridge’s smaller colleges and traditionally excels in subjects like math, history, engineering, and law.
Sidney Sussex is home to 67 fellows, 348 undergraduates, 144 Ph.D. students, and 130 master’s students.
St Catharine’s College
St Catharine’s College was founded in 1473. It’s more commonly known on campus as “Catz.” This medium-sized college caters to all subjects, but undergrads weren’t allowed in until the 16th century.
St Catharine’s contains 63 fellows, 450 undergraduates, and 350 postgraduates.
St Edmund’s College
St Edmund’s was founded in 1896, making it the second-oldest of the four Cambridge colleges for mature students.
Most of St Edmund’s students are studying toward a higher degree like a Ph.D., MPhil, or LLM.
The college consists of 89 fellows, 134 mature undergraduates, 183 Ph.D. students, and 346 other postgraduates.
St John’s College
St John’s was founded in 1511 and is one of the largest Colleges in Cambridge.
The college comprises 156 fellows, 672 undergraduates, 248 doctoral students, and 77 other postgrads.
It’s important to note that St John’s College doesn’t allow applications from existing members of other Cambridge Colleges.
Trinity College was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII after he combined two other existing colleges with seven hostels.
Today, it’s one of the largest colleges at Cambridge. It has the biggest financial endowment of any college at either Cambridge or Oxford.
It consists of 190 fellows, 600 undergraduates, and 300 postgrads.
Trinity Hall was founded in 1350 by Bishop Bateman for the study of law — but it now accepts students from all subjects.
The college comprises 71 fellows, 408 undergraduates, 149 Ph.D. students, and 75 postgrads.
Wolfson College was founded in 1965 as a postgraduate-only college. But it now allows mature undergraduates.
The college is home to 114 fellows, 189 mature undergrads, 297 Ph.D. students, and 240 postgrads.
If you want to study at one of the best schools on the planet, you can’t do much better than Cambridge. It’s got a sterling reputation for excellence in academics and sports, and it has a pretty impressive alumni list.
Want to learn more about getting into Cambridge? You’ve come to the right place. Check out TheGradCafe.com for application tips, tricks, and more.