Best Colleges at Cambridge + Acceptance Rates

May 15, 2023

cambridge university colleges, acceptance rate

If you have a secret or not-so-secret dream of applying to the University of Cambridge, the following rankings of the 29 Colleges open to undergraduates, along with the acceptance rates for 2022, may be the nudge you need. Before taking a look at our rankings, here’s a bit of background. Founded in 1209, the legendary University of Cambridge, now in its 814th year, recently celebrated another milestone when King Charles III was crowned and became the first British head of state with a Cambridge degree. HRH studied Archaeology, Anthropology and History at Trinity College, graduating in 1970.

The city of Cambridge, dating back nearly 2,000 years to Roman times, is a storied tapestry of history. Both the city and University reflect a unique mixture of pomp and tradition—such as the May Ball, founded in 1866, and the rise of entrepreneurial relationships with Microsoft, Hitachi, Intel and Sony, which all have centers in Cambridge. In his first public engagement since his coronation, King Charles attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the New Whittle Laboratory, “a £58 million facility, [that] will be the leading global centre for net zero aviation and energy.”

Just over 24,000 students, including nearly 13,000 undergraduate and over 11,000 postgraduate students study in the six schools at the University’s 31 colleges. Each college admits its own students, and has its own unique history, traditions and atmosphere. In 2020, the University received over 20,000 applications for approximately 4,000 undergraduate places. “Acceptance figures include only those applicants who received an unconditional firm offer of a place.” In 2022, the average acceptance rate was 19.96%. Because of the “winter pool,” about 18% of students receive offers from a College different from what they applied to. “This means that success rates are very similar from College to College.”

The Best Colleges at the University of Cambridge 

Our rankings of the 29 undergraduate-degree granting colleges within the University of Cambridge can be found below. Please note that every single college within Cambridge is an exceptional institution of higher learning. The rankings assigned are based solely on selectivity in the previous admissions cycle and are not intended to indicate that one college is “better” than another. In fact, a ranking based on pure prestige/reputation would look quite different with Trinity, for example, sitting much higher up on the list.

Instead, we intended for this list to be a way for you to learn more about which College housed within the University of Cambridge is the best fit for you. Further, we wanted to showcase the offer rates at all 29 schools so prospective applicants can be aware of the latest admissions data.

1) Downing College

Situated in the heart of Cambridge on 20 acres that include spacious lawns and gardens, Downing is the newest of the “old” colleges, and is known for its grand, neoclassical architecture. Home to about 425 undergraduates, 435 graduates, and 50 Fellows, it guarantees housing for all undergrads on the main College site for 3 years. Words it uses to describe itself are “friendly,” “inclusive” and “community.”

  • Acceptance Rate for 2022: 13.34%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,057
  • Founded in: 1800

2) Wolfson College

The first of the Colleges to admit both men and women on an equal basis, Wolfson was established by the University itself as a postgraduate institution. Now, while it is still a mature college, with students required to be 21 or older, between 15-20% are undergraduates. More than 800 students from 96 different countries make up the student body which, according to its facts brochure is “egalitarian, with all facilities shared between Fellows, staff and students.”

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 14.51%
  • Applications received for 2022: 324
  • Founded in: 1965

 3) St Catherine’s College

Affectionately known by her students as “Catz,” St. Catherine’s owes its refreshingly open layout to a shortage of money in the 17th century, when only three sides of a grand four-sided court were completed. Catz is proud of its Black history, which dates back to 1912 with the earliest Black member on record. All student rooms have high speed internet, and it is the first College to be awarded Fair Trade status.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 15.21%
  • Applications received for 2022: 986
  • Founded in: 1473

4) King’s College

Aptly named for its founder, King Henry VI, who laid the foundation stone for its singularly famous chapel at age 19, King’s remains the biggest and grandest of the Colleges to date. A favorite destination for tourists, visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance. On Christmas Eve 1918, just after WWI ended, King’s held the first of its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which it now broadcasts annually to millions of listeners.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 15.36%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,009
  • Founded in: 1441

5) Churchill College

Pronouncing on its website that it is “one of the most forward-academic institutions in the world,” Churchill’s motto is “think forward,” and provides this lovely video as evidence of how it supports its students—particularly those who would not otherwise be able to afford to study at the University of Cambridge. Founded as the National and Commonwealth Memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, this College was inspired by MIT, and has a unique ratio of 70:30 science to arts students.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 15.90%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,082
  • Founded in: 1960

Best Cambridge Colleges (Continued)

 6) Christ’s College

The Fellow’s Garden at Christ’s inspired John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Charles Darwin’s portrait hangs in the College Hall (he began his studies there in 1827). Margaret Beaufort, “the richest woman in English Medieval history” founded Christ’s, fulfilling her promise to Henry VI, her brother-in-law. A modern landmark, New Court, is an example of Brutalist architecture in the aftermath of WWII, and is affectionately nicknamed “the typewriter building.” Christ’s is a medium-sized college with around 400 undergraduates.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 15.98%
  • Applications received for 2022: 964
  • Founded in: 1505

 7) Jesus College

Until the late 19th century, Jesus College was one of the smallest and poorest at the University, but now it is the 5th largest, with around 500 undergraduates. One of its earliest students was orphan Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer. Current students praise its relaxed atmosphere, diversity, and the great accommodations at the heart of Cambridge. Jesus is home to the famous “Jesus horse,” a bronze sculpture by Barry Flanagan.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 16.36%
  • Applications received for 2022: 972
  • Founded in: 1496

8) Corpus Christi College (Full name: College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary)

The only College founded by townspeople, members of two Cambridge gilds, Corpus Christi was founded shortly after the Black Death. It is the second smallest of the central colleges, with less than 300 undergraduates. One of the most distinctive and popular public monuments is the Corpus Clock. Inaugurated in 2008, “when an hour is struck there is no chiming of bells, but rather the shaking of chains and a hammer hitting a wooden coffin.”

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 16.84%
  • Applications received for 2022: 665
  • Founded in: 1352

 9) Pembroke

The third oldest of the “old” Colleges, Pembroke was the first to have its own Chapel, built by Christopher Wren after the English Civil War in the 17th century. It remains at the heart of College life, with morning prayers, Compline, and preachers from around the country and the world visiting on Sunday evenings. Poets Edmund Spencer (The Faerie Queen) and Ted Hughes studied here. Pembroke is a medium-sized college with a total of about 800 students.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.92%
  • Applications received for 2022: 946
  • Founded in: 1347

10) Clare College

Located on the east bank of the River Cam as one of The Backs, Clare College is the second oldest College next to Peterhouse. In the 18th century, it had strong ties to the New World, offering places to the sons of eminent American families. Naturalist David Attenborough read Natural Science here, where he won a scholarship in 1945. Clare has an internationally-renowned choir, and is home to the beautiful Clare Bridge.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.17%
  • Applications received for 2022: 891
  • Founded in: 1326.

University of Cambridge Acceptance Rates (Continued)

 11) Selwyn College

A favorite college for the sons of clergymen, the Greek inscription above the college gateway means “Stand fast in the faith and acquit yourselves like men!” Its namesake, George Augustus Selwyn, was the first Bishop of New Zealand and is described as “a big, powerful, controversial, fearless man.” In 1976, Selwyn was one of the first colleges in Cambridge to admit women. Prominent former students include: actors Hugh Laurie and Tom Hollander, and the founder of Bloomsbury Publishing, Nigel Newton.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.19%
  • Applications received for 2022: 768
  • Founded in: 1882

 12) Queens’ College

How important is the plural form of Queens’ name? According to its own history overview, while it is named for two queens, “the use of the apostrophe in English to indicate the possessive is of no great antiquity.” In fact, for the first two centuries of its existence, it would have been referred to as Queens College. Queens’ is the fourth largest college in the University (next to Homerton, Trinity and St John’s).

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.44%
  • Applications received for 2022: 768
  • Founded in: 1448

 13) St John’s College

The college with the most applications in 2022, the site of St John’s College was once a monastic house, “Hospital of St John,” that fell into ruin and was rescued by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. The College has a long history of educating people from all social backgrounds and financial circumstances. Both William Wilberforce and William Wordsworth were students here. The famous Bridge of Sighs is here at St John’s.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.60%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,193
  • Founded in: 1511

 14) Emmanuel College

Nicknamed “Emma,” Emmanuel College is located on St Andrew’s Street, where its Front Court offers one of the best views of Cambridge. It was founded on the site of a Dominican friary, and in its early days was a strict Protestant establishment with Puritanical leanings. Nowadays, Emma “welcome[s] people […] from across the globe, of many different backgrounds, with many different experiences.”

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 17.88%
  • Applications received for 2022: 878
  • Founded in: 1584

 15) Fitzwilliam College

Originally established in 1869 as a non-collegiate establishment for students who were unable to afford membership of a college, Fitzwilliam was moved to its present location on Huntington Road in 1963. Fitzwilliam lies farthest from Cambridge’s center, and is known for its modernist architecture, most notably its dining hall, which was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun. In 2008, during an archeological dig, the first Bronze Age relics to be found in the city were unearthed here.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 19.13%
  • Applications received for 2022: 873
  • Founded in: 1966

Best Cambridge Colleges (Continued)

 16) Trinity College

The wealthiest of the Colleges, Trinity’s list of alumni includes luminaries such as Isaac Newton, A. N. Whitehead, Alfred Tennyson and William Thackeray; additionally, it has provided 32 Nobel Prizewinners in science and economics.  Founded by Henry VIII, Trinity is a combination of two of the earliest existing colleges, Michaelhouse (1324) and King’s Hall (1337). The College with the most applications in 2022, it is home to over 700 undergraduates, making it the largest College at the undergraduate level.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 19.42%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,267
  • Founded in: 1546

 17) Trinity Hall

Trinity Hall—the only ancient Cambridge college still to be known as “Hall”—predates Trinity College by 200 years. It was traditionally a college strong in the study of Law, and while that emphasis changed in the mid-19th century, Trinity Hall still has a reputation for producing famous judges, barristers and lawyers. “Night climbing” was once a favorite forbidden pastime among students.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 19.87%
  • Applications received for 2022: 594
  • Founded in: 1350

18) Gonville and Caius College

Usually abbreviated to Caius—pronounced “Keys”—this college is central geographically, in student population, and wealth. It is the only college in Cambridge to include the names of its two founders. Caius is home to one of the UK’s leading collegiate choirs that travels extensively and is known world-wide. See this lovely video in which current students talk about their experience, and where “centrality” and “balance” are a theme.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 20.04%
  • Applications received for 2022: 923
  • Founded in: 1348

 19) Magdalene College

Pronounced “maudlyn,” Magdalene College is the only college at Cambridge to have been previously founded as a monastic hostel for scholarly monks. Its architectural highlight is the Pepys Library Building, whose exact design/structural history remains mysterious. From 1955-1963, celebrated Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English here. While still among the smaller of the colleges, in the 20th century Magdeline expanded considerably and is now home to 800 students, Fellows and staff.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 21.37%
  • Applications received for 2022: 585
  • Founded in: 1542

20) Hughes Hall

The oldest postgraduate college at the University, Hughes Hall was founded as the Cambridge Training College for Women during the Victorian golden age of college foundations. It shared the egalitarian vision with Girton and Newnham with its vision for providing university education for women, and is named for its first principal, Elizabeth Philips Hughes who said, “We shall never get first-rate training until men and women are trained together.” It is the first all-women’s college at Cambridge to accept men, beginning in 1973.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 21.43%
  • Applications received for 2022: 350
  • Founded in: 1885

University of Cambridge Acceptance Rates (Continued)

21) Homerton College

The largest of the colleges, with more than 1,000 students, Homerton was originally founded in London in 1768 with roots going back to 1695. A “dissenting academy,” Homerton was known for its religious questioning of “established practice.” After its move to Cambridge in 1895, it quickly became recognized as a top-ranking teacher-training institution. And while it has diversified in academic focus, it retains strong links to Education today.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 21.59%
  • Applications received for 2022: 1,019
  • Founded in: 1768

22) Peterhouse

Founded in 1284, Peterhouse is the oldest college at Cambridge. As “a charitable institution dedicated to education and research,” it remains the smallest of the colleges, with just under 400 students (known as “Petreans”). The fact that it has survived pandemics, revolutions and other upheavals in its 700 years is nothing short of miraculous. Clearly proud of its legacy, its website proclaims:  “Throughout its history, Petreans have been at the heart of the political, social and religious controversies that have shaped society.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 23.73%
  • Applications received for 2022: 451
  • Founded in: 1284

 23) Robinson College

The newest of the colleges, Robinson was the first College since Downing to be set up with a single massive donation from a benefactor, David Robinson, a noted philanthropist, who also funded Rosie Maternity Hospital. It was a co-ed institution from the start. Robinson is proud of its gardens, which dates back to Victorian and Edwardian times. It also has an open-air theater. Queen Elizabeth II attended the opening of the college in 1981.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 23.94%
  • Applications received for 2022: 564
  • Founded in: 1977

24) St Edmond’s College

Originally established to accommodate Roman Catholic schools at Cambridge for the first time since the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, St Edmond’s was converted into a postgraduate college in 1965. However, it still is home to the only Catholic chapel at a full college at either Cambridge or Oxford. In the mid-1990s, the college saw major expansion under the Stephenson Plan, which sought to increase student accommodation.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 24.16%
  • Applications received for 2022: 237
  • Founded in: 1896

25) Newnham College

Perhaps the most influential college at Cambridge in terms of its radical beliefs—that women were as smart as men and should be allowed a university education—Newnham College staunchly remains an all-women’s college, with more female undergraduates (around 400), than any other college. Old Newnhamites include leading women such as Sylvia Plath, Margaret Drabble, and Rosalind Franklin. Click here to explore an interactive map of Feminist and Radical Histories at Newnham.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 24.82%
  • Applications received for 2022: 544
  • Founded in: 1871

Best Cambridge Colleges (Continued)

 26) Sidney Sussex College

Like Emmanuel, Sidney Sussex was built on the site of an abandoned friary. Billed as a “well-kept secret” in part because it lies behind a “wall of Roman cement,” Sidney Sussex is known for its “friendly atmosphere and vibrant community.” The head of Oliver Cromwell is buried here. In the early 20th century, Sidney built its own chemistry and physics laboratory before the University itself had such facilities.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 25.47%
  • Applications received for 2022: 530
  • Founded in: 1596

27) Lucy Cavendish College

Originally founded as a college for mature women only—the first in Britain—, in 2020 Lucy Cavendish decided to expand its opportunities to all under-represented women regardless of age, and in 2021 expanded that further to include all genders. The college wishes to “welcome and support particularly those who have a passion and commitment to address the global challenges that characterise our societies in the 21st Century.”

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 26.06%
  • Applications received for 2022: 683
  • Founded in: 1965

28) Girton College

A pioneer in education, in 1869 Girton became the first college for women, referred to as “The Great Scheme” by author George Eliot in a letter to education reformer Emily Davies. Today, roughly equal numbers of men and women make up the student body. Set on more than 50 acres of land, the College offers “superb onsite sporting activities, and is a “showpiece” with its red-brick tower and turrets.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 28.27%
  • Applications received for 2022: 626
  • Founded in: 1869

29) Murray Edwards College

Like Newnham, Murray Edwards is an all-women’s college. Its very establishment in 1954 was “to address the issue that Cambridge has the lowest proportion of women undergraduates of any university in the UK.” Its current site was developed from 1962-4 on land donated to the college by descendants of Charles Darwin. In 2007, its Transit Venus garden won a bronze medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.

  • Acceptance rate for 2022: 31.84%
  • Applications received for 2022: 424
  • Founded in: 1954

Cambridge Acceptance Rates

For anyone looking for the University of Cambridge Acceptance rates all in one easy-to-read form, we present the following list.

College Offers Applications Acceptance Rate
Downing 141 1,057 13.34%
Wolfson 47 324 14.51%
St Catherine’s 150 986 15.21%
King’s College 155 1,009 15.36%
Churchill 172 1,082 15.90%
Christ’s 154 964 15.98%
Jesus College 159 972 16.36%
Corpus Christi 112 665 16.84%
Pembroke 161 946 17.02%
Clare College 153 891 17.17%
Selwyn 132 768 17.19%
Queen’s 170 975 17.44%
St. John’s 210 1,193 17.60%
Emmanuel 157 878 17.88%
Fitzwilliam 167 873 19.13%
Trinity College 246 1,267 19.42%
Trinity Hall 118 594 19.87%
Gonville & Caius 185 923 20.04%
Magdalene 125 585 21.37%
Hughes Hall 75 350 21.43%
Homerton 220 1,019 21.59%
Peterhouse 107 451 23.73%
Robinson 135 564 23.94%
St. Edmund’s 79 327 24.16%
Newnham 135 544 24.82%
Sidney 135 530 25.47%
Lucy Cavendish 178 683 26.06%
Girton 177 626 28.27%
Murray Edwards 135 424 31.84%
Total 4,290 22,470 19.96%

Ranking the Colleges at Cambridge: Final thoughts

Hopefully, you will find this ranking, along with a look at the University of Cambridge Acceptance rate data to be helpful. There is plenty more to explore! Here is a look at the: