Find out what Cambridge life is really like!
Welcome to life at Cambridge!
Life here is extraordinary: there's a huge range of activities to try out, and sometimes unbelievable demands on your time. As a result, different students experience Cambridge in different ways. Some people prefer to take part in a variety of things, while others find their niche and hone their skills at that. Ultimately, there's no single "right" way to spend your time here. The best advice is to ask yourself if you like the sound of a busy, sometimes outright hectic, time at University! It's one of the many things that make coming to Cambridge so unique.
At Cambridge you’re a member of a College, not just of the University. Colleges organise where you live and your accommodation, your pastoral support, and elements of your teaching and learning. For example, different Colleges might set more work to complete per term than others, or offer different cooking facilities. This doesn't mean that your College defines your whole Cambridge experience but it does make a difference. You can look through our College guide here to see what students think their College has to offer.
Colleges often become one of the hubs of students’ social lives. They usually have libraries, canteens (or what some Colleges call a ‘buttery’), gardens, gyms, bars, formals and loads of other facilities. As a Cambridge student you can also access most other Colleges to check out their grounds and some of their facilities (some Colleges even have pools!)
Lots of activities are organised by student societies and the JCR (Junior Common Room) which is a committee of elected students. JCR Officers have a say in wider decisions in College, represent different groups of students, and organise events throughout the year - including College Freshers! You can see all the College JCRs here or search for any of them on Instagram.
The college system really helps foster a sense of belonging early on as you are immediately immersed in a close knit community. You will eat, sleep and have small group teaching in college which will help you make friends with people both on and outside of your course.
—Fauzaan, Islamic Society Access Lead
There are three terms a year in Cambridge, each with eight weeks of teaching. This means teaching can get intense, with terms being very work-heavy, in contrast to the long breaks in between.
Cambridge teaching centres on supervisions, which are small group teaching sessions composed of around one-three students and a supervisor. Supervisors might be Professors or PhD students, but they are always there to help students learn and guide their degree. For essay-based subjects, supervisions will likely revolve around a completed essay (or essay plan) with a supervisor giving feedback and leading further discussion on the topic. For subjects using example sheets, supervisions will typically focus on going over your work, solving the problems that you or other students in the supervision might have struggled with, and exploring the topic in further depth.
Supervisions can feel scary at first, but they quickly become a normal part of learning at Cambridge. Depending on their degree, students will also attend some combination of lectures, seminars, labs and other contact hours, so supervisions are only one part of the way you learn - they’re just a key way in which Cambridge portrays itself as a bit special. As supervisions are unique to Cambridge (and Oxford, which has a similar ‘tutorial’ system) you might want to think about whether this style of teaching is for you.
Social Life & Extracurriculars
Cambridge has a vibrant and busy social life, with lots of opportunities outside of your degree. With over 400 societies at the Students’ Union and many more societies in individual Colleges, there’s always something to do or get involved in. The seven main types of societies and clubs available are:
Academic Life: many societies offer opportunities to supplement your teaching and understanding of your subject through talks or panels with famous or interesting academics, while also giving social opportunities for people who study that subject.
Creative and Media: there are many opportunities to get creative through writing for student newspapers, making ‘zines’, and getting involved in Cambridge’s rich art scene. There is also a wealth of theatrical roles and music groups you can get involved in.
Culture and Faith: These societies provide social, cultural and spiritual events and opportunities for people from a variety of different faiths and cultures all around the world.
Hobbies and Interests: However niche your hobby, there’s probably a group of students already doing it in Cambridge together. These societies also offer a great way to try something new!
Political and Causes: Whatever your cause, your views, or the change you want to make in the world, there will be a student group fighting for it to happen - you can always get involved, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned campaigner!
Skills and Professional Development: These societies focus on skills development and/or career development, including non-course based academic interest societies.
Sports and Activities: For anyone keen to practice sport and/or physical activity. Whether you are experienced or a beginner, there is something for everyone! All sports groups are overseen by the Sports Service, where more information can be found here: Student Sport | Sport at Cambridge
SU Campaigns are communities that represent and advocate for students from marginalised backgrounds. They campaign for a more inclusive and safe Cambridge that supports students who self-define with specific identities. Each Campaign has its own events, activities and campaigns that they run and are a great place to meet people with shared experiences. There are seven SU Campaigns:
Shortening for Porters' Lodge. Every College has a Porters' Lodge that is staffed 24/7 for the safety of College members.
Some Colleges call their canteen or cafe a 'buttery'. They usually serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (and brunch on weekends!) although this depends on College.
Shortening for 'entertainment'. College JCR Ents Officers organise parties and college nights often in College bars.
College parties with loud music, dancing, drinks and
usually a theme. These are especially common during Freshers'.
Bi-annual event where college rowing crews chase each other up the river, attempting to bump (overtake) each other.
Students have 'pigeon holes', usually in Porters' Lodges where they recieve post and College announcements.
week 5 blues
Week 5 is past the halfway point in a Cambridge term. Students might experience tiredness or burnout during this time and there may be extra wellbeing events. Other universities might have a reading week instead to break up the term.
D0S (director of studies)
Fellow(s) from your College who is responsible for overseeing your academic progress. Students usually have a meeting with them once a term.
Many Colleges don't have full kitchens but 'gyp rooms'. Some will only have a toaster, kettle and microwave. Some might have hobs as well.