Cambridge MBA and Cambridge Colleges — A decision aid

I wanted to write a quick guide to Cambridge Colleges, aimed at people accepted into the Cambridge MBA.

The MBA program works a little differently than any other Cambridge degree, in that you’re first accepted into the MBA, and then you’re accepted into a college. (Traditionally you’re apply to your program through a college, and then are accepted into both.)

On an MBA program, your college can be part of your core MBA experience or virtually irrelevant. If you want to participate in sports, everything is done through your college. (Unless you’re good enough to start out playing at a high level for the University.) Housing is all done through your college, and a significant part of the admin you have to do with your program is done through a college. But while it’s a fairly significant choice, it certainly doesn’t “break” your MBA, though it can help “make” it.

I’m at Jesus College, which is quite an old college in the north part of central Cambridge. It’s a big, fairly wealthy college with lots of space on the grounds for sports. Arnoud De Meyer, the Director of Judge Business School, is a Fellow at Jesus and it’s been great to meet him from time to time at the college.

I would say the biggest things to think of when picking a college:

  • Housing — Do you intend to stay in college housing? Do you have a partner and/or children? If you want something other than a single room for one person the availability can be dramatically different between colleges.
  • Location — This is tied into housing, too. If you do plan on living in college, how close to Judge do you want to be? (If you want to be close to the boathouses for rowing, pick Jesus.)
  • Sports — If you’re really interested in a particular sport, check to see which colleges are the best. (That’s how I got to Jesus, to be honest.)
  • Old vs. New — Do you want to be in one of the older colleges, one of the newer colleges, or do you just not care?
  • Grad/Mature/Women — Some colleges restrict admission to mature students, grad students, women or some combination thereof. Is that something you care about?

Finally, remember to have a few different choices that you’d be happy with when you talk to the MBA office. (They have much more information than I have about colleges other than Jesus.) Each college can be very quirky and they may very well not accept you, though you are guaranteed a place in one of the colleges. The MBA office will help guide you through all that. But I’d also recommend taking a look at the various colleges on Wikipedia for some basic comparative information and links to much more detail.

But without further ado, here’s my guide to Cambridge Colleges for the Cambridge MBA:

Ancient Colleges (founded before 1600)

The ancient colleges tend to be more popular, and thus a bit harder to get into. People like them because there’s much more tradition, the dining halls and chapels are old and beautiful, and they’ve got quirky histories (and world-famous alumni) to impress family and friends. Unfortunately, many of these colleges rarely seem to accept MBA’s. But there are some (like Jesus) that are a bit more enlightened!

Virtually none

Unless you’re an alumni of the college already or have family connections, it’s unlikely that you will get a spot at these colleges.

Gonville and Caius
Trinity Hall
Corpus Christi
St. John’s

Handful or more

These colleges certainly take MBA’s, and are all great choices.

Queens’ -Quite popular, >10 MBA’s/year

Queens’ is quite close to Judge, and was quite a popular choice this year.


Pembroke is one of the closest colleges to Judge, and is a great choice. We often go to the cafeteria there for lunch because it’s convenient. I think if you register early enough with them you may be able to get a room in the main college grounds, which are beautiful.

St. Catharine’s

St. Catherine’s is also convenient to Judge, and I believe has a small number of scholarships for MBA’s. [UPDATE]- I have since been informed that St. Catharine’s only accepts MBA’s that are Benavitch Scholars.


Clearly the best college for MBA’s, bar none. Fantastic rowing club, and convenient housing. It’s a little further away from Judge (~15 minute walk), but you get to see the heart of Cambridge every day because of it!


Another good college with a handful of MBA’s this year.

Sidney Sussex

The Master of Sidney Sussex is Professor Dame Sandra Dawson, who was formerly the Director of Judge Business School, and is also on the Board of Directors of Barclays Bank and Oxfam International. (She was one of our professors for Organisational Behaviour last term.) It’s a very nice college, right by Jesus.

Small number

I’m not sure if these colleges fall under the “Virtually None” category or not, but they accepted MBA’s this year:


Very beautiful college about 10–15 minutes’ walk from Judge.


Magdalene is on the banks of the Cam, just over the bridge from central Cambridge. Very quaint. Apparently their May Ball every year is white-tie, which is interesting.

Old Colleges (founded between 1800 and 1900)

I don’t know much about many of these colleges, so I’ll write what I do know.

Hughes Hall [mature only] -Most popular, about 30/year

Hughes Hall is very popular amongst MBA’s, with about 20% of the class there. Having so many of your classmates at the same college is great for people that like that.

St. Edmund’s [mature only]

Downing is the other college that’s very close to Judge. Very beautiful grounds, and it feels more like one of the “ancient” colleges.

[women only]

Modern Colleges (founded since 1950)

Wolfson [mature only] -Very popular, about 20 MBA’s

Another popular college for MBA’s. A surprisingly strong rowing club, too.

Darwin [grads only]

Darwin is fairly convenient to Judge, and is just past Queens’ on the other side of the Cam.

Clare Hall [grads only]
Murray Edwards (aka New Hall) [women only]
Lucy Cavendish [mature women only]

[UPDATE] — The post from James Barker of the Judge Admissions Office is an absolute must-read on this topic!

Best beer ad ever??

My first two exams of the MBA were yesterday (Finance and Accounting), and my last two exams for this term are tomorrow (Marketing and Organisational Behaviour). I’m a bit fried from yesterday, and still have to study for exams tomorrow morning.

In honour of this, a bit of an amusing video…

Very cool rocket photos and news from SpaceX

I’ve been following SpaceX for years, since they were building their first hardware and trying to launch it from a small island in the Pacific. I posted this fall when SpaceX became the first privately-funded company to successfully launch a liquid-fueled rocket into space. That was their Falcon 1 launch vehicle, with 1 engine. They’ve had their Falcon 9 vehicle (9 engines) in development for nearly as long, and just before New Years Eve it was fully integrated on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral! SpaceX took four tries to get Falcon 1 into orbit, and I hope that the first Falcon 9 launch works straight off.

The recent HUGE news for SpaceX is that they were awarded a $1.6 billion (yes, with a B) contract to launch 12 rockets and send 20,000kg (~22 tons) of cargo to the International Space Station. NASA may also elect for additional missions for a total of $3.1 billion total value! They will be competing for longer-term contracts with Orbital Sciences. One difference is that SpaceX will be launching Falcon 9 in the next couple of months, where Orbital doesn’t expect to launch their newly designed vehicle until at least 2010, putting SpaceX a year ahead. An interesting paragraph in this Wall Street Journal article regarding the contract says quite a bit:

SpaceX, which easily came out at the top of all the cost, management and technical rankings, is slated to start flights in late 2010, and the contracts stretch for seven more years.

Anyway, I thought people might enjoy photos of what will likely be the future of commercial spaceflight in the US for many years to come. (All taken from SpaceX’s Updates page.)

Beautiful shot of Falcon 9 at the Cape:

Fully integrated at the Cape:

Fitting the HUGE fairing to the rest of the rocket:

Another shot just before the fairing was attached:

Nine, yes NINE first-stage engines shipping from testing in Texas:

The second stage engine:

Cambridge MBA curriculum — Harvard’s moving closer to it

It’s only after experiencing the Cambridge MBA, talking to my professors and doing a little research recently that I really learned exactly how unique the Cambridge MBA curriculum actually is compared to other top schools. It comes down to two simple differentiators: our small-group “soft skills” classes and the projects incorporated into the curriculum. As I’ve read a little more about it, it appears that Harvard Business School is trying to move more towards the Cambridge MBA way of doing things… fancy that!

Soft skills

If you look at Cambridge’s required first-term curriculum you see a rather bland title: Management Practice. But this course is a very in-depth soft skills class, and not very bland at all!

Management Practice is a course that runs from 9am-12:30pm and 2–3:30pm one day each week in the Michaelmas (first) Term. The morning involves a highly interactive lecture/discussion and a group activity/game; a game that’s always highly competitive! The afternoon session reviews what happened in the activity/game, and follows that up with how those principles can be applied to the real-life situations we’ve already experienced and those we will experience in the future. The games, by the way, are always fun and make for interesting learning.

The Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) is also a unique part of the Cambridge MBA. For about four weeks, teams of five students work part-time with small, local entrepreneurial companies on consulting projects. This is far more challenging than it sounds; our class of 150 people come from ~50 different countries and a wide variety of backgrounds. Everyone is very accomplished, and most are highly competitive Type A personalities, but everyone approaches problems from their own perspectives. I mention this now because in the latter weeks of Management Practice, the afternoon session is a small group “therapy” session, where our teams discuss with our instructors on how we’re working in our groups.

Management Practice been described by many Cambridge MBA graduates as one of the main courses they’ve been able to use long after they graduate, no matter what field of work they go into. After last term, I have to say that I completely believe it.

What’s interesting is that Harvard is looking at doing more of this, but they’re having issues because their school is so damn big! (900 new students/year vs. 150–180/year at Cambridge) From the Harvard Business School article:

  • In an increasingly globalized world, deans and recruiters generally believe that business schools have not gotten globalization right. They want students with heightened cultural awareness and a more refined global outlook. [Like 150 students from ~50 countries? — ahem]
  • Notwithstanding mission statements to the contrary, many deans and recruiters complain that MBAs don’t understand the practice of leadership or have sufficient awareness of their impact on others.

and this:

Deans and recruiters told Datar and Garvin that MBAs in general need more soft skills, such as self-awareness and the capacity for introspection and empathy. They also found MBAs lacking in critical and creative thinking, as well as communication skills. “These skills lie much more on the ‘doing’ side of the scale than the ‘knowing’ side,” says Datar.

Such soft-skills development by its very nature involves labor-intensive small groups and requires “high-touch” faculty involvement with students.


For example, adding small-group, soft-skill development may sound simple, but doing so for some 900 students would have a significant impact on faculty teaching assignments, recruitment, and research, as well as on the School’s facilities.

I’m very happy and encouraged that instead of trying to bolt on key soft-skills classes onto a mature program, the Cambridge MBA has begun their development with them as a core part of the curriculum.


There are three main projects as part of the Cambridge MBA. They are here (with descriptions from the Cambridge MBA Handbook):

Cambridge Venture Project — For the CVP, you will work in designated teams of 5–6 with a local entrepreneurial company on a real management issue related to marketing.

Global Consulting Project — The Global Consulting Project is the culmination of the core courses and it will allow you to apply the knowledge and skills gained throughout the programme in a real world context. It is undertaken in teams of your choice with 5–6 students and lasts one month.

Individual Project — The Cambridge MBA concludes with an individually supervised project for which a 12,000-word report is submitted. This project allows you to make an in-depth exploration of subjects of specific interest to you, which will typically be of direct relevance to your career objectives.

I would contrast this to Harvard’s programme, where there are no mandatory projects as part of the curriculum, though they note about half the class completes optional projects as electives. Does this really matter? Perhaps not. But I’m trying to take advantage of these projects to get some experience and contacts in fields/industries/companies that I may never work in again, and also those that I might want to try applying to in just a few short months. I’m always a fan of doing new things over learning new things. (Create >> Consume)


If you’re reading this post in the hope of getting a little more perspective on the Cambridge MBA program, I hope you’ve gotten a little better sense for it. While a one-year versus two-year MBA program is a big decision, top-tier programs like the Cambridge MBA do have some advantages over better known schools like HBS.