Applying to Downing

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What is a College?

The University of Cambridge is a Collegiate University, which means that the University is not only made up of a central university administration and various departments, but also 31 ‘Colleges’. Colleges are independent to the University, and are a collection of buildings and people forming a self-enclosed community. Colleges will generally include student accommodation, a library, dining hall, cafe, student bar, IT facilities, and more. Colleges are where the ‘traditional’ parts of Cambridge happen, including historic buildings, candlelit dinners, and gowns, but also provide a useful function as a social hub and source of pastoral support. All undergraduates, graduates, and academics are affiliated with one of these Colleges, and they are where students can live, eat, and socialise.

Although when applying to a postgraduate course at Cambridge you will apply to – and be accepted by – your Department, you will also have the option to pick a College. Although you can simply pick to be assigned a College randomly, it is worth thinking about applying to a specific College, as this might be your home for the next few years!

The best way to get a feel for Colleges is to visit on an open day. If you are unable to do so you may find this website, the official College website, or student-made alternative prospectus helpful.


If you decide Downing is right for you, you will become a member the Downing Middle Combination Room (MCR) – that’s us! This is the graduate body of Downing, and makes up a third of the College along with the Junior and Senior Combinations Rooms (or JCR and SCR), which represent undergraduates and academics respectively. The MCR is the primary College organisation you will have contact with, and it will be where you make contact with other graduate students outside your department, receive academic advice and pastoral care, and well as attend social events.  The MCR Committee, made up of graduates elected by the MCR, represents graduate interests to the College and organises various social events and sources of supports to the graduate body.

The graduate students which make up the MCR at Downing College are very social, friendly and welcoming. Although Downing was traditionally a college set up for the study of medicine and law, graduate students here are studying a diverse range of subjects across the humanities and science. Students in the MCR are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, such as theatre or the variety of College sports teams (Downing has one of the top rowing teams in the University!). The MCR at Downing is also very sociable, the graduate bar will often be open on a Friday night, formal dinners three times a week and the committee organise big events several times a term. The MCR are also incredibly supportive of one another and we have a fantastic welfare team at hand to confidentially deal with any pastoral issues students may be having as well as make emergency cookie deliveries to MCR members late at night! The MCR also organises a Fresher’s week at the start of the year with lots of activities – new students are also assigned “college parents”, older students who will help you settle in.

Slightly confusingly, the MCR is not only the body of graduate students, but also a physical room within the College which graduate students have access to 24 hours a day. There is a regular Friday night grad bar, satellite television, free pool and table football, and weekly newspaper and magazine subscriptions. There is also unlimited free coffee so it’s a great place to meet with friends to relax in between classes or after work.

The best way to get a feel about everyday MCR life at Downing would be to check out our instagram here and our Facebook page here, both of which are updated frequently. If you have any questions, please do get in contact with anyone on the MCR Committee with any questions you might have!

Why Downing?

  • Downing benefits from a huge open layout, unlike most other colleges that are made up of smaller courts. Downing has a large piece of grass called The Paddock which students use to relax on or play sports.
  • The college community makes Downing special. The MCR hold a fresher’s week at the start of the year and each new student is given “college parents”, these are students who will help you settle in.
  • The accommodation! Downing has some of the best rooms in the university with the majority being on site. Battcock Lodge was built in 2015 for postgraduate students at Downing and boasts ensuite facilities, large kitchens and double beds.
  • Downing has the best food at Cambridge. Hall does lunch and dinner every day of the week and at the weekends brunch (think pancakes, full english breakfast and croissants) and dinner are served. There is always a vegetarian option available and often a vegan option. The Butterfield Cafe also serves food throughout the day. Formal hall happens three times a week where a three course meal is served with wine. There is also the option to cook in your accommodation as most are well equipped with kitchens.
  • Downing is great at sport! Downing has strong teams in nearly every sport including Netball, Hockey, Rowing, Rugby, Football and many others! Check out the list here for more information.



Downing College offers some specific graduate funding opportunities, which can be found here. Many Downing graduates also hold University- or Department-level studentships, such as from the UK Research Council Doctoral Training Partnerships, or University-level organisations such as the Cambridge Trust. For international students, external organisations such as the Gates Cambridge Scholarships are dedicated to sending students from their own country to study in Cambridge or abroad more generally.

The University hosts a student funding search service, which may be useful when trying to find specific sources of funding. More general information about graduate funding can be found from Downing College and the University.

Domestic students may wish to consider Student Finance England’s new postgraduate loan service.

Useful links….

  • The College website’s graduate admissions pages can be found here.
  • The main University Graduate Admissions service can be found here.
  • If you need help, please feel free to contact either the Tutorial and Admissions Office (+44 (0)1223-334811 or email) or any member of the MCR Committee.
  • The Downing MCR Freshers’ Handbook can be found here.
  • The Downing MCR advice for international students can be found here.