What is it really like to study a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge? | Top Universities

What is it really like to study a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge?

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Chloe Lane

Updated Jun 09, 2023



University of Cambridge

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According to the QS World University Rankings 2023, the University of Cambridge is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, ranked as the leading higher education institution in Europe.

Making up one half of ‘Oxbridge’, students travel from all around the world to the UK to study at the University of Cambridge. But what is it really like to be a student there?

Expect supportive one-to-one teaching and independent study

Cambridge is known globally for the strength of its academic teaching and research. Not only will you be taught by academics who are experts in their field, but you’ll also receive personal tuition and support throughout your time there, with one-to-one teaching and supervision happening frequently at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

There is also a significant emphasis on independent and self-directed study at Cambridge, particularly at postgraduate level. This may be very different to what you’re used to from other universities. Each student is expected to spend typically 42 to 46 hours per week on their academic studies, made up of lectures, seminars, practicals, supervisions and independent research.

PhD candidate Kelsey wrote: “When working toward your PhD at Cambridge you are encouraged to foster your research skills and become an independent researcher. I benefit from immense amounts of support from my two research supervisors, as well as general academic support and resources from the Faculty of Education.”

The University of Cambridge is internationally focused

The University of Cambridge is a global institution, represented by its large international student population. Of its student body, made up of around 25,000 students, more than 10,000 of these are from outside the UK. In fact, the University of Cambridge’s students are from nearly 150 countries. 

Cambridge’s global connections will give you many opportunities to expand your international outlook. This will continue after you graduate, with Cambridge’s international alumni network.

Plenty of opportunities to network and build your personal and professional connections

However, it is not just its students who are international. Cambridge has partnerships with universities around the world, from the Arctic to Zambia. Discover more about the work Cambridge and its partners are doing worldwide. 

“Cambridge is such a unique place to study and to do research. It’s got a great community and you’re always interacting and making connections with different people - from different fields and from lots of different countries,” wrote Alex, a physics master’s student at Cambridge.

“Coming here has given me so many more connections to researchers and collaborations in Europe, and in general, and having Cambridge on my CV will be absolutely fantastic and help me stand out back in the US. But it’s also about being around these incredible people who push you to keep growing and progressing,” wrote Alex.

As a graduate you can also attend Cambridge alumni events, which take place throughout the year. These range from dinners to lectures to boat races, giving everyone the opportunity to get involved. Find out about the other fantastic benefits of being a Cambridge graduate here.

If you would like to stay in the UK after graduation and make the most of the networks you’ve created, international students who have completed a degree in the UK are eligible for a graduate visa, as part of the UK’s Graduate Route. This means you can stay and work in the UK for at least two further years after completing your studies. PhD graduates can apply to stay for up to three years. 

By studying in Cambridge, you’ll also be perfectly placed to take advantage of its growing reputation as a hub for digital and technology careers. The ‘Silicon Fen’ area of Cambridgeshire is home to a large number of startups and high-profile tech companies, making it one of the most significant places in the UK for technological development. The university’s Judge Business School enjoys close ties and several Cambridge alumni have gone on to found companies located here.

Benefit from a supportive College system

All undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Cambridge are members of a College. These 31 Colleges are close communities of students, academics and staff, and some offer accommodation for both undergraduates and postgraduates. Find out more about choosing a College at Cambridge. 

Students live, eat and socialise in these Colleges while also receiving tutorials to support their academic work. Away from studying, Colleges are also a place of socialising, offering societies and formal dinners. 

For example, every College in Cambridge has a formal hall dinner once or twice a week. These are three course dinners served by candlelight in the dining room of each College. There is a dress code and sometimes formal hall dinners are themed, for example for Halloween, Burns Night or Christmas. 

Welfare services are available within every College, and each College has a wide variety of people you can turn to for personal support, such as a nurse, counsellor or a chaplain. If needed, students can get access to the University Counselling Service (UCS) which provides one-to-one counselling services with students. 

You can also talk to your College Tutor, who can advise you on personal and financial matters and protect your interests. For academic support, you can turn to your Director of Studies, who will advise you on subject and course choices, help arrange your supervisions and monitor your progress.  

Experience Cambridge’s extensive facilities

As a student at Cambridge you will gain access to some of the best museum and library collections in the world. There are more than 100 libraries across the collegiate university and nine specialist museums, as well as other specialist resources such as the Language Centre, and IT facilities.  

Programme specific facilities range from laboratories and surgical suites to concert halls and theatres. Find out more about the facilities and resources that support learning at Cambridge on the course pages.

In your spare time, you can get involved with groups, clubs and societies centred around community, charity, drama, media and politics and more. The University of Cambridge also offers a multitude of sports clubs for students, with more than 80 to choose from, including team games, water sports, racket sports and even ice skating at the Cambridge Ice Arena.

If you’re looking for something a little less competitive, the university’s Footlights comedy troupe is one of the UK’s most prestigious student comedy groups. Footlights, along with other amateur dramatic societies, make use of the university’s 228-capacity ADC Theatre which has been the starting point for many legendary actors, including Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen.

A university focused on sustainability  

In the newly released QS World University Rankings: Sustainability, Cambridge place at an impressive 19th out of 700 universities worldwide. It scores particularly well for social impact, where it places sixth globally. The University of Cambridge’s Green Impact environmental accreditation scheme supports and encourages departments and Colleges across the university to reduce their environmental impact.  

Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface of xthe student experience at the University of Cambridge. The vast scope of possibilities awaiting all Cambridge students means no two experiences of the university can possibly be the same. If you’re ready for a customisable postgraduate experience that’s perfectly aligned with your interests and future goals, there really is no better option.