Hi, I’m Nathan a second year Computer Scientist at Emmanuel. First of all, which college is right for you and which subject you do are mostly unrelated. Also, I don’t know what it is like to study Computer Science at all of the 31 Cambridge colleges. Nevertheless, I can talk a bit in general about a few colleges I might choose if I had to pick again.
I’d say Queen’s is best known by students for its indoor rowing competition held in first term which is apparently the second largest indoor rowing event in the UK so says Wikipedia . Many colleges run their own rowing event’s, indeed we have “Emma sprints”, and although I don’t recommend choosing a college solely for the quality of its rowing events, thinking about it, its actually not as bad of an indicator as it may seem. Fairly central, relatively wealthy and generally being very good at looking after their computer scientists (from what I’ve heard) Queen’s has a lot going for it. I mention it also as it tends to be a popular choice, in part because a Computer Science student there did some vlogging a few years ago which included a mock interview. Most of the interviews are reasonably similar, indeed mine was, so maybe not the best reason to pick a college. Whilst applying to a college with a low acceptance ratio will decrease the change of getting the college you applied for, colleges with less applications will take the best people that did not get in so this shouldn’t be a deterrent. For example, from what I’ve heard Selwyn tends to take pooled applicants from Queens and although I don’t know enough about Selwyn to write a paragraph about it, it’s also an excellent choice of College. I actually did a mock exam at Selwyn as Clare, Emmanuel and Selwyn organise supervisions together. Which brings me on to my next college.
As part of organising supervisions together the person I am paired with for supervisions goes to Clare. It was also the first one I visited when I looked round colleges. Relatively old, relatively rich and one of the closest colleges to the Computing lab which is still in the city centre. The number of other computer scientists can make a difference on your experience. Clare normally takes five whereas Emmanuel tends to take two or three. In my year there’s only two of us and I think having one or two more computer scientists would probably be a good thing, although I’m not sure I would want to be at one of the colleges with much more than that. I get the feeling the colleges with more Computer Scientists tend to be more intense, but I guess it probably depends more on your director of studies. The current director of studies for Clare actually has his own Wikipedia page although picking a college purely based on this isn’t a great idea because firstly these change, indeed my director of studies started at the same time as me, and also, they are not directly responsible for teaching you. This doesn’t mean they don’t teach, for example my director of studies has taken us for supervisions for quite a few modules, but that he has also teaches other groups from Clare, Emma and Selwyn and I have also have supervisions with the director of studies for Selwyn and Clare. Clare also has an underground bar which I have to admit is pretty cool.
There seems to be a connection between Emmanuel and Pembroke although I’ve never been able to suss out what. Maybe they are both known for being the “friendly” colleges or they just have a lot in common and are close to each other? I know a few people at Emmanuel with relatives who are at or went to Pembroke and its an all-round lovely college. We also sometimes go there on a Sunday for brunch instead of Emmanuel for a change and also for the pancakes which, alas, Emmanuel brunch is lacking (coming soon … which Cambridge college is best for food?). I avoided Pembroke as it required an extra admission test and I felt one admissions test was plenty but of course this doesn’t actually make it any harder to get in.
It seems I keep on mentioning how not to pick a college, so what is the best way to pick a Cambridge college? I honestly don’t think anything beats just visiting them. Whilst there’s not time to look round them all properly, pick a few you like the sound of and then see which feels right. My reasons for picking Emmanuel were a lot with how it felt when I looked round and I don’t regret it. There’s one cost to cover everything, rather than hidden costs for essentials like fridges in rooms or Wi-Fi which I remember put me off a couple of the other colleges I saw. We can also hand in our laundry and have it done for free which I remember liking the sound of on open day (free self-service laundry is also available). I also remember liking that we can walk on the majority of the grass, all except front court, although I’m not really sure why this was a priority for me at the time. I know someone who picked Emmanuel because the toilets were near the entrance and they felt strongly that any good college would have easily accessible toilets near the entrance. To be honest, I think most people pick colleges for fairly trivial reasons perhaps because there’s no real answer for which the best is. And while I won’t say there aren’t necessarily bad choices of colleges, there are many equally good options. Ultimately, I think nearly everyone likes the college they end up at so the best advice I can give is to just visit and then find your own mostly random reason for picking a college. So go ahead, pick the college with the stripiest grass, or the college with the oldest outdoor swimming pool, or the college with the best student union website (the college that teaches computer science the best would have to make the best student union website right?). Alternatively, you could always just pick Emmanuel, safe in the knowledge its as good an option as any and save yourself the faff.
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