Choosing a College

This isn’t the most AMES-specific thing in the world but it’s easy to talk about so here we go.

I’ll say this now: I was a right Goldilocks about choosing a college. I visited loads, and I mean loads of colleges, trying to get around as many as possible under the assumption that one of them would ‘click’ and I’d know which one that was instantly. I’m sure this works for some people, but I was also convinced college choice was the be all and end all so while going around I’d always have this mental pros-and-cons list going on which meant the whole ‘gut instinct’ thing was null and void.

But then after all this I ended up making a last minute change of mind anyway (see below for reasons) so it was all pretty pointless, but hey who can say no to fun days out looking at gorgeous colleges?

Anyway that’s enough of that, how could you choose a college?

  • Director of Studies: generally speaking DoSs provide academic support. For other subjects they organise your supervisions. However in AMES everything is organised centrally since it’s a small faculty with not a lot of fellows. I’m not entirely sure whether that carries over to DoSs but ultimately you get the same teaching regardless of which college you apply to/get an offer from. Despite this lots of people prefer to choose a college with a DoS who specialises in your language, or at least is in your side of the department (East Asian studies vs Middle Eastern studies, apparently they’re pretty separate), because then they’re better placed to give you academic support as they’re involved with your subject. There’s a list of the DoSs along with their specialisms on the faculty applicants blog here.
    • In my case, I originally looked at colleges with a Japanese DoS, which narrows it down helpfully without being constricting. I prioritised visiting these on open days and so on. I decided I didn’t want a Chinese DoS, as having studied Chinese in school when I got the chance to, despite really wanting to do Japanese, it meant I got fed up of being asked ‘why Japanese not Chinese?’. In the end it didn’t make any difference as Selwyn has an Arabic specialist as their DoS, who I met at interview and liked (luckily).
  • College reviews on askacambridgestudent: the admins of this tumblr blog (see Useful Links) have written pretty detailed reviews of most colleges here, mainly stuff to do with atmosphere and how they’re perceived generally by students outside and inside them. A useful resource although it doesn’t tell you everything!
  • Travel grants: some colleges have specific travel funds for specific countries, or are just really rich so have plenty to go around. For a degree like AMES where you have a year abroad further away than MML people it’s useful to know that your college will be able to support you. That being said I think all colleges provide travel funds, it just depends on how much they provide really.
    • I didn’t know about this when I applied, but it turns out Selwyn has a travel fund specifically for Japan which is lucky since I’m doing Japanese. If I had known colleges had these things beforehand I might have looked into it more.
  • Location: obviously different colleges are in different places which affects how long it takes to get places. AMES is taught on the Sidgwick site (where all the other arts subjects are) so that’s where you’ll end up most of the time. Supervisions might be in other colleges or in the department, I’m not sure. Whether you want to be right next to lectures so you can roll out of bed and get there five minutes later or whether you want some distance between you and work is up to you. How inundated with tourists colleges get also depends on location – central/famous colleges can be a bit annoying with all the tourists whereas others are nice and quiet.
    • Selwyn is right next to the Sidgwick site. It’s also close to the University Library and out the way of tourists (including me as an applicant, I always considered it too far to bother seeing lol). I think this is great but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!
  • Accommodation/living arrangements/food: ultimately at the end of the day colleges are where you live, so you should probably find out about the living situation. Some colleges have really cheap accommodation, others are more expensive, some guaranteee ensuites, some don’t, some have better kitchens than others, some have weird policies banning frying (Peterhouse I’m looking at you!). This is where the July open days are really useful because most colleges offer tours around their accommodation that they wouldn’t usually do. Also keep in mind that accommodation isn’t necessarily on the main college site – some send you all over the place in second year. As a general guide newer colleges tend to have better cooking facilities. askacambridgestudent has a guide to kitchens and bathrooms here.
    • The reason I had a last minute change of mind was actually because of kitchens. I had decided on Peterhouse because I liked it when I visited and liked the DoS when I met him on the AMES open day, but then I realised I quite liked cooking and Peterhouse has some strange cooking policies, as well as no hobs in the fresher kitchens. Generally Cambridge is focused on catered more than self-catered but I reckoned I’d want to cook some of the time since I enjoy it, so I changed to Selwyn which apparently has fairly decent kitchens. Selwyn also has accommodation on site for all years in Cambridge which I liked, and all the freshers live together so you can get to know everyone.
  • Size: some colleges are massive and you don’t know everyone in your year (like Trinity) whereas others are teeny tiny and you get to know everyone pretty quickly. So if you went to a huge high school and want something smaller, or vice versa, it might be something you want to consider.
  • Other reasons: college choice is not everything so you can choose a college for any reason you like, or no reason at all. You might like the way it looks, how it does at rowing in the Bumps every year, whether it has a duck pond or anything really! The best thing to do is visit if you can, or talk to current students and ask them what it’s like. Ultimately it’s your choice and you can make it however you want.

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