St. John's CollegeWikimedia Commons

I’ll be honest with you, I’m a bit of a snob (and that was even before I ended up at John’s). Typing up my UCAS application, I thought I’d save time and let the system pick a college for me. It would all be oak panels and Harry Potter halls, right?  But then I came across a photo of Churchill, and physical pain set in as beauty drained out of my brain at the sight of the concrete jungle. It was the nightmares of brick upon brick upon brick that made me specify a more oak-panelled option in the end.

Please be honest about your inner snob, too. Whether concrete floats your boat or not, we all rank colleges into hierarchies, and the banter is to Cambridge life what ‘The Circle of Life’ is to Cindies: like it or not, you just can’t escape it. How many Girtonians have heard ‘oh, I wish I’d applied there’ instead of ‘did you actually choose it’? And hands up everyone from an all girls’ college who hasn’t had very unladylike thoughts about the stereotypes they encounter: you can repeat the spiel about great empowering environments with a history in feminism and strong women as much as you like, but the ‘one third Christian, one third lesbian, one third pooled' mantra just won’t rub off. How do you flirt with a Johnian? ‘I’d fancy being beneath you physically in addition to socially,’ Memebridge tells us. Oh you’ve ended up at Magdalene instead? Don’t worry, because who needs classism when you can have sexism!

"Please be honest about your inner snob, too. Whether concrete floats your boat or not, we all rank colleges into hierarchies"

Procrastination wouldn’t be quite the same without the endless stream of ‘Which Teletubby/hummus variety/Love Island couple is your college’ pieces (feel free to use these ideas, The Tab), but most of us treat the stereotypes and hierarchy banter for what they are: a bit of fun. After all, the official party line in the University prospectuses is that you'll enjoy your Cambridge experience just the same, independent of where you end up. Your uni years are defined by so much more than whether you get pâté (hello Pembroke) or pitta (thanks Caius…) at formal, and if that really is the essence of your existence, maybe you should have picked Le Cordon Bleu as your institution instead.

For quite a while, I believed that official mantra. After the Churchill scare, I’d applied to Christ’s but got pooled to the somewhat less vibrant Corpus Christi, and ended up loving my three years of close-knit undergrad there: the disappointment at the absence of a college cat à la Christ’s was soon replaced by the joy of being able to tell the name, subject, and an array of other information about most people in college (okay, some of it was a bit excessive; I didn’t really need nor want to know who was Magnum-sized, who was a starfish, and who took on the name ‘Big Bear’). But that was all because I was in Plato’s cave and didn't realise how much greener the grass was on the other side – until I switched to John’s for my postgrad.


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I’m not saying that I’m sat writing this with a signet ring in one hand and a glass of college port in the other (honestly. It’s just a splash of sherry), but the perks started pouring in as soon as I’d signed the matriculation book, and they go far beyond access to the seventh best party in the world. At Corpus, I toiled away memorising examples from everything from Gujarati to Xhosa to earn the necessary class mark in linguistics to get a £200 book grant; all I had to do at John’s was turn up and, ka-ching, I, along with every single student there, had access to an annual £500 for study-related materials. It took one email to housekeeping, and in the space of one week, the communal areas in my college house were deep-cleaned and repainted, and the kitchen fixed with new hobs and a shiny fridge-freezer. I think the mould that graced some of my friends’ undergrad accommodation is still there.

Keep the banter and keep the stereotypes, but it’s about time we stopped pretending college hierarchies are nothing more than that. I’ve loved both of my colleges – but with an extra £500 in my pocket, I know which one I love that bit more

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