Christ's College, CambridgeCreative Commons 2.0.

Athena, pressure cooker, the 1989 setlist: there is only one acceptable opening to any “Cambridge colleges as …” Camfess submission, namely that Christ’s be listed as the cleverest, most successful, and most intense of any list of Greek gods, kitchen equipment items, or Taylor Swift Eras Tour songs.

The 2022 Tripos saw a stunning 45.7% of Christ’s undergraduates achieve first-class results, significantly higher than the University average of 29.9%. The College also far surpasses its closest competitors, St Catharine’s and Trinity, at which 38.5% and 37.9% of students were awarded a First, respectively. But exactly how is the College achieving these results?

There is certainly a culture of hard work. Across a range of subjects, Christ’s students appear to be doing more work than most. Medicine students usually produce weekly essays of around 1200–1300 words; at Christ’s, 2000 words is very much the norm. The pattern is similar for humanities students: more essays and more deadlines. First-year English students at colleges such as Queens’ and Pembroke were focused on editing one essay for their coursework portfolio weekly in Easter term. Meanwhile, their counterparts at Christ’s were still producing two essays from scratch every week.

There is focus on the quality as well as quantity of the teaching offered at Christ’s. Natural Scientists recount being assigned as many as three different supervisors for any one module, demonstrating an access to specialised teaching largely unrivalled by other colleges.

“Any pressure from above is importantly matched – if indeed not surpassed – by that of the peer group”

If there is a push towards academic achievement on the part of the College itself, any pressure from above is importantly matched – if indeed not surpassed – by that of the peer group. As one student explained: “If everyone around you is getting a First, you want to get one too.” Academic pressure is of course especially acute during exam season. While some students had previously not given much thought to their college’s academic reputation, witnessing their peers go into a kind of revision “hibernation” certainly reminded them. One finalist even went so far as to blackout their entire room to eliminate distractions, and seemingly also daylight.

Strikingly, the majority of the students I spoke to were unaware of the College’s academic reputation before applying. Most chose a central, pretty college, as opposed to the college that achieves most first-class degrees. Indeed, the rationale behind a few students’ decision to apply was simply that Christ’s appeared first on an alphabetical list of Cambridge colleges.

Such students do become very much aware of the College’s academic status on arrival, however. They explain their eagerness to work to maintain the College’s reputation. One interviewee described the First as almost “omnipresent”. A First feels expected of you, by supervisors but mostly by peers, and in this way the academic culture at Christ’s is almost self-perpetuating.

“A first feels expected of you, by supervisors but mostly by peers”

The environment can of course be uncomfortable for some. Two students, studying Natural Sciences and Medicine, explained that revision sessions in the lead up to exams were aimed at helping students to move from a high 2:i to a First. This assumption that all students are aiming for Firsts can be difficult for those really just concerned about passing. And yet, students were also quick to compliment the College’s approach towards welfare and wellbeing. They all seemed well acquainted with the procedures for accessing pastoral support, and emphasised that the College puts in particular effort to promote the use of such services.


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Outside of the academic culture, one also wonders how far Christ’s financial position influences their results. Of the 31 colleges, it sits solidly in the middle, ranking 14th in terms of consolidated net assets. The College is certainly able to invest in its students: all undergraduates are given a £1,000 flexible grant on matriculation, intended for academic or extracurricular purposes over the course of their degree studies.

Christ’s spending power is, however, significantly less than competitors such as Trinity. While students at Trinity recount being encouraged to ask for extra contact hours, Christ’s has seemingly been less quick to fund teaching outside of its standard provisions. Indeed, one student who went to their director of studies to ask for extra supervisions was told the College could not afford to give them more than one.

It seems, then, that the results at Christ’s are most attributable to a uniquely rigorous academic culture, a culture primarily driven by students themselves. There is a huge amount of work, but it is worth underlining that most Christ’s students very much want to be doing this work. They speak warmly of their college and are proud of its reputation. More than anything, it is this pride and sense of expectation that produces results.