With more than 18,000 students from all walks of life and all corners of the world, nearly 9,000 staff, 31 Colleges and 150 Departments, Faculties, Schools and other institutions, no two days are ever the same at the University of Cambridge.

At the heart of this confederation of Departments, Schools, Faculties and Colleges is a central administration team. It is small because the Colleges are self-governing and teaching staff carry out much of the daily administration at Cambridge.

Cambridge is structured differently from other universities, and these differences make Cambridge special. To help you get started let us explain the basics.

The Cambridge advantage: our courses

Cambridge is one of the best universities in the world, offering undergraduate degree courses (also called Triposes at Cambridge) in the arts, social sciences, sciences, engineering and medical sciences.

Our courses are distinctive for their:

Flexibility – many courses encompass several subjects (with some options available in several courses, where the subjects overlap), meaning they can be much more flexible than more narrowly focused courses elsewhere. Look closely at the Subject A-Z and courses section and the descriptions for the related courses listed in each entry

Exploration – most courses cover the subject area broadly to start with before allowing you to choose from a range of specialisms. This means you can explore the subject and your strengths and interests fully before you decide on which area to focus.

When researching what Cambridge has to offer you may come across the term 'Tripos', which is the formal term we use to refer to our degree courses. You can find an explanation of the Tripos system and more information in the course section.

A collegiate university: who does what?

Cambridge is a 'collegiate' university. This means that it comprises of;

  • various faculties and departments in different academic subjects

  • a number of Colleges

The key functions that the University (through its faculties/departments) and Colleges are responsible for are outlined below, to show how it all fits together.

The University:  

  • determines course content

  • organises lectures, seminars, practicals and projects

  • sets and marks examinations

  • awards degrees

The Colleges:

  • admit undergraduate students

  • organise small-group teaching (supervisions)

  • are responsible for academic and pastoral care 

  • provide accommodation, places to eat and recreational facilities