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University of Cambridge

The Facts

Helping you choose the right college with the greatest chance of success. 

Established: 1209
Motto: Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge).


Undergraduates: 12,850
Postgraduates: 11,600
Total students: 24,450 (2020 figures)
Alumni: Cambridge has more than 298,000 living alumni, particularly in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA. (As of September 2018)
Colleges: The University is made up of 31 Colleges.
Admissions: 19,359 people applied for 3,500 undergraduate spots (2019)


Chancellor: The Lord Sainsbury of Turville
Vice-Chancellor: Professor Stephen J Toope

The Lowdown

“Cambridge is heaven,” the author Sophie Hannah once said. “As you walk around, most people look incredibly bright, as if they are probably off to win a Nobel prize.”

A lot of them probably are: there are 121 Nobel Laureates affiliated with the university. These include Dorothy Hodgkin, whose work saved millions of lives from anaemia, and Bertrand Russell who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. Cambridge has an excellent reputation for the sciences, counting Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking among its alumni. All three have their archives stored in the towering bulk of the University Library, the largest of the 114 libraries in the city. 

Whilst Cambridge excels in the sciences, it also boasts a range of fantastic humanities departments, as well as having a number of distinguished literary alumni: Christopher Marlowe, Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, and E.M. Forster. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath met as students. Lord Byron is said to have kept a pet bear after being told that he could not keep a dog in college. Cambridge abounds in these strange rumours. Oliver Cromwell studied at Sidney Sussex College and Cambridge University was a Roundhead stronghold, in stark contrast to Oxford University. The rumour is that Cromwell’s decapitated head is buried somewhere in his old college. The Mathematical Bridge at Queen’s College was supposedly built by Isaac Newton without needing a single bolt to keep it upright. Some believe the city is still home to a number of secret societies, including the Cambridge Apostles, which once counted John Maynard Keynes among its numbers. Whether the group disbanded years ago or still gather in some shadowy meeting room, undergraduate life is rich and varied with plenty to do.  

The Cambridge Union, founded in 1815, claims to be the oldest debating society in the world and has hosted figures from Theodore Roosevelt to Julian Assange. The sketch troupe Footlights – which produced Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb, and one half of Monty Python – used to meet in the Union basement. Undergraduates of an artistic bent can seek out the neoclassical splendour of the Fitzwilliam Museum, which houses half a million art works and artefacts, including pieces by Monet, Canaletto and Picasso. Cambridge is currently ahead of the game when it comes to the world-famous boat race; 85 wins since the race began. Oxford has won 80.  

The university was established by a breakaway group from Oxford University back in 1209. It has 31 colleges, broadly divided into the “old” and the “new”. (Downing, founded in 1800, regarded as “the newest of the old” and “the oldest of the new”, falls somewhere in between). The best view of the old colleges can be seen when punting along the River Cam, looking across the manicured lawns to the limestone faces of King’s and Clare – a scene that adorns many Cambridge postcards. New colleges include Churchill, founded by the ex-prime minister as Britain’s answer to MIT. Cambridge and the surrounding area are home to so many high-tech companies that it’s sometimes nicknamed “Silicon Fen”.  

As a Cambridge student, you might be the next Union president, half of the next Footlights double act, the next Cambridge stroke or cox at the boat race, even the next Nobel Prize winner. Or, like Sophie Hannah, you could simply enjoy the university’s beauty and eccentricities as you wander through.

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