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Cambridge MBA and Cambridge Colleges – A decision aid

I wanted to write a quick guide to Cambridge Colleges, aimed at people accepted into the Cambridge MBA.

The MBA program works a little differently than any other Cambridge degree, in that you’re first accepted into the MBA, and then you’re accepted into a college. (Traditionally you’re apply to your program through a college, and then are accepted into both.)

On an MBA program, your college can be part of your core MBA experience or virtually irrelevant. If you want to participate in sports, everything is done through your college. (Unless you’re good enough to start out playing at a high level for the University.) Housing is all done through your college, and a significant part of the admin you have to do with your program is done through a college. But while it’s a fairly significant choice, it certainly doesn’t “break” your MBA, though it can help “make” it.

I’m at Jesus College, which is quite an old college in the north part of central Cambridge. It’s a big, fairly wealthy college with lots of space on the grounds for sports. Arnoud De Meyer, the Director of Judge Business School, is a Fellow at Jesus and it’s been great to meet him from time to time at the college.

I would say the biggest things to think of when picking a college:

  • Housing – Do you intend to stay in college housing? Do you have a partner and/or children? If you want something other than a single room for one person the availability can be dramatically different between colleges.
  • Location – This is tied into housing, too. If you do plan on living in college, how close to Judge do you want to be? (If you want to be close to the boathouses for rowing, pick Jesus.)
  • Sports – If you’re really interested in a particular sport, check to see which colleges are the best. (That’s how I got to Jesus, to be honest.)
  • Old vs. New – Do you want to be in one of the older colleges, one of the newer colleges, or do you just not care?
  • Grad/Mature/Women – Some colleges restrict admission to mature students, grad students, women or some combination thereof. Is that something you care about?

Finally, remember to have a few different choices that you’d be happy with when you talk to the MBA office. (They have much more information than I have about colleges other than Jesus.) Each college can be very quirky and they may very well not accept you, though you are guaranteed a place in one of the colleges. The MBA office will help guide you through all that. But I’d also recommend taking a look at the various colleges on Wikipedia for some basic comparative information and links to much more detail.

But without further ado, here’s my guide to Cambridge Colleges for the Cambridge MBA:

Ancient Colleges (founded before 1600)

The ancient colleges tend to be more popular, and thus a bit harder to get into. People like them because there’s much more tradition, the dining halls and chapels are old and beautiful, and they’ve got quirky histories (and world-famous alumni) to impress family and friends. Unfortunately, many of these colleges rarely seem to accept MBA’s. But there are some (like Jesus) that are a bit more enlightened!

Virtually none

Unless you’re an alumni of the college already or have family connections, it’s unlikely that you will get a spot at these colleges.

Gonville and Caius
Trinity Hall
Corpus Christi
St. John’s

Handful or more

These colleges certainly take MBA’s, and are all great choices.

Queens’ -Quite popular, >10 MBA’s/year

Queens’ is quite close to Judge, and was quite a popular choice this year.


Pembroke is one of the closest colleges to Judge, and is a great choice. We often go to the cafeteria there for lunch because it’s convenient. I think if you register early enough with them you may be able to get a room in the main college grounds, which are beautiful.

St. Catharine’s

St. Catherine’s is also convenient to Judge, and I believe has a small number of scholarships for MBA’s. [UPDATE]- I have since been informed that St. Catharine’s only accepts MBA’s that are Benavitch Scholars.


Clearly the best college for MBA’s, bar none. Fantastic rowing club, and convenient housing. It’s a little further away from Judge (~15 minute walk), but you get to see the heart of Cambridge every day because of it!


Another good college with a handful of MBA’s this year.

Sidney Sussex

The Master of Sidney Sussex is Professor Dame Sandra Dawson, who was formerly the Director of Judge Business School, and is also on the Board of Directors of Barclays Bank and Oxfam International. (She was one of our professors for Organisational Behaviour last term.) It’s a very nice college, right by Jesus.

Small number

I’m not sure if these colleges fall under the “Virtually None” category or not, but they accepted MBA’s this year:


Very beautiful college about 10-15 minutes’ walk from Judge.


Magdalene is on the banks of the Cam, just over the bridge from central Cambridge. Very quaint. Apparently their May Ball every year is white-tie, which is interesting.

Old Colleges (founded between 1800 and 1900)

I don’t know much about many of these colleges, so I’ll write what I do know.

Hughes Hall [mature only] -Most popular, about 30/year

Hughes Hall is very popular amongst MBA’s, with about 20% of the class there. Having so many of your classmates at the same college is great for people that like that.

St. Edmund’s [mature only]

Downing is the other college that’s very close to Judge. Very beautiful grounds, and it feels more like one of the “ancient” colleges.

[women only]

Modern Colleges (founded since 1950)

Wolfson [mature only] -Very popular, about 20 MBA’s

Another popular college for MBA’s. A surprisingly strong rowing club, too.

Darwin [grads only]

Darwin is fairly convenient to Judge, and is just past Queens’ on the other side of the Cam.

Clare Hall [grads only]
Murray Edwards (aka New Hall) [women only]
Lucy Cavendish [mature women only]

[UPDATE]The post from James Barker of the Judge Admissions Office is an absolute must-read on this topic!

  • john

    Hi Jed- Great post, very useful. Am curious if you could comment on the quality of the housing at some of these colleges. Which colleges would you say have the best and worst? Do most students live at the college to which they belong? If so, at the main college, or at some other satellite housing?

    Also, could you link to the blogs of other current JBS students?

  • jedc

    Hi, John.

    I would say that the quality of housing isn’t that dramatic between
    colleges, and I’m not really sure which would have the best and/or worst.
    (My intuition would say that the wealthier the college is the better housing
    they would have, but that’s just a guess.)

    A lot of single students or students with partners living elsewhere do live
    in college accommodation, and some partners/families live in college as

    And as for main/satellite housing, it really depends. From what I
    understand with the older colleges it’s quite rare to have a room in the
    main college courts (aka quads, etc.). But most colleges have housing
    directly around the main buildings.

    I hope that’s useful. I believe the JBS Women’s blog has links to most/all
    known current student blogs. Check them out here:

  • Deepankar Panigrahi

    Robinson College

    It is the newest of all the Cambridge colleges so there is not much history. At the same time the college is small and we have the most modern and best accommodation of all Cambridge colleges. Not far from Judge (7 minutes by cycling and 20-25 minutes by walking).


  • Jen

    Jed, this post is so great! Future generations of JBS MBA students should be grateful! As are the rest of us, since you've saved us a lot of work in writing all this out in one place.

    I am in Downing, folks, and it's great. Very close to Judge and the quality of housing – well, as unexcited as I have been to be living in a dorm again, I definitely feel like I lucked out. I have my own bathroom and have to share the kitchen with 5 people, which can get a little gross sometimes but they are all very nice. The building looks like a ski chalet and has a gym downstairs that just got a new treadmill and elliptical machine! Pretty hot stuff. I would highly recommend Downing to any incoming MBAer!

    Jed, am going to link to this post from the JBS Women blog right now! Cheers, Jen

  • jedc

    Thanks, Deepankar. I was at Robinson for a lecture a month or so ago… the buildings are new but it's great that they're all arranged together so close to each other.

  • jedc

    Thanks, Jen!

    It does seem like a great college, and is very convenient for lunch. More important, how's the Downing bar? :)

  • Carlos

    Hello Jed,

    I would write something about the differences in the rooms.
    Usually, rooms
    in older colleges like Queens or Pembroke do not have ensuite
    bathrooms or showers and as the rooms are old the windows usually leak
    making the rooms colder. On newer colleges like Hughes or Wolfson you
    have shower and bathroom in your room and as the buildings are very
    new, the rooms are in very good condition. Ive also heard that in
    Pembroke, the only kitchen facility you have is a microwave oven (no
    sink, no oven, no fridge, pleas confirm this) while in Hughes the
    kitches we have are great I think it is a trade off between location,
    room condition and equipment and the degree of “Cambridge magic” you

    Remember that all this is applicable only for “single rooms”. I guess
    apartments for families are fully equipped everywhere

  • jedc

    Thanks for that, Carlos. I know in my Jesus accommodation I don't have an
    ensuite bathroom or shower, but I was one of the last people to get housing,
    so didn't have much choice! At least in Jesus, there don't seem to be as
    many rooms with ensuite showers, but I believe there are some with ensuite
    bathrooms. (And there's at least some married housing at Jesus, too.)

  • Sebastian Concha

    For those looking for more details about Queens´ College I can give you some perspectives as a current member

    Even though the College is very close to the school just one of the
    10 mba´s live in College. The rest of us are divided in:

    1. Singles, who lived in Ownstone, a College accommodation that is
    about 1.2 km from judge. It is my opinion not the best architectural
    creation of Cambridge but it gathers a group of interesting
    international students.

    2. Couples, Some live in private accommodation and others as me live
    in College accommodation. Queens College Accommodation is actually
    excellent a relative cheap (500-600 pounds per month for a flat). But
    there is only 12 of them so it is not that easy to get.

    Food & Others:
    Queens Food is actually one of the best in Cambridge and it is only
    4 blocks from Judge. But for those who don’t leave in College (every mba except Michelle, Breakfast and dinner are not easy to catch. The MCR is quite active and there is a lot of activities going on organized by students. Rowing club is particular popular among MBAs. Formal halls are quite good specially if prepared in the old hall.

  • jedc

    Sebastian, that's some great info on Queens'. I may have to come to lunch
    at Queens' to verify your claims of excellent food!

  • Robyn

    I am from MBA 07/08 and was at Queens – there were heaps of us last year, certainly more than 10. Queens' is a good choice as the accommodation while basic is all in central Cambridge. So of the colleges site Grads outside of the town – so that is something that can be checked. Also, the Porters are some of the best, it has old worldy charm and in fact excellent food! So I would highly recommend it.

  • jedc

    Thanks, Robyn. It's great to get feedback from former classes! The good
    food is something I think I've heard from this years' class at Queens', too.

  • Deepti

    great blog……. i was actually looking for info like this……. i am joining judge this year…….. it certainly provides a perspective……. thanks

  • jedc

    I'm glad you found it useful. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Amit

    Great blog !!!

    Highly Appreciated. I am planning to join JBS this year and this blog does make life a whole lot earlier.
    I guess the comments at the end from various students are equally good and I would make it a point to add my share to it once I experience it first hand.

    In the meantime … thanks !!!


  • jedc

    I'm glad you found it useful. Good luck!

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