Trinity fell from 1st to 3rd place on the Tompkins Table this year - how much does that really matter?STEVE CADMAN/FLICKR

As with many state school students, my choice of college was effectively random. I had visited Cambridge a couple of times and, fondly remembering Selwyn’s ivy-covered Old Court, I ticked the relevant box on my UCAS form without much more thought. I was one of the lucky ones, having been fortunate enough to be able to visit Cambridge before applying; every day I thank God for having had a chance to grasp what it means to be cast away to Girton, or to know that going to Sidney Sussex means using a Nectar card more than a CAMcard.

Many state-educated students aren’t always this lucky, which means that when it comes to applying, many are more likely to simply apply to a college whose name they recognise – think Trinity or King’s. When freshers’ week rolls around, whole swathes of students are too in-the-dark to know that mention of "Clare" and her "Hall" is not a coded reference to a BNOC, or, as in my case, that “Tit Hall” isn’t in fact part of an elaborate Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition.

More bizarre to new students, perhaps, is the hierarchical ranking of colleges. You freshers might be asking, "we all got in to the same university, so why are we still competing against one another?" There’s the Tompkins Table, published each year, which directly ranks colleges based on undergraduate examination results. Less formally, but arguably more prevalent, is the question of which college is ‘best’, a frequent topic of debate (and memes) among students. This can have dangerous repercussions: on one occasion, while I was having this discussion with someone from Homerton, they came to realise in the middle of their well-rehearsed argument about unique community feelings and dreadfully-misunderstood avant-garde sculptures that they had missed their flight back to college.

This archaic pecking order of colleges might make you, maybe even for the first time, insecure about your academic ability

Of course, as per the cliche, now that I’m studying at Selwyn I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. However, when I first arrived at Cambridge, I too was disappointed (but not surprised) to find that within Cambridge there exists an established intercollegiate hierarchy. I was struck by how much the academic ranking of colleges seeped into the consciousness and every-day lives of the student body. Students who possess the almost God-like status inherent in being a “Trinmo” – a Mathematician at Trinity – are so revered by all Mathmos that people will often clutch at any proverbial straw to forge a claim to Trinity. “My Uncle’s friend was a Trinmo, but I thought I’d pick Churchill because I liked the atmosphere,” someone who got pooled from Trinity might say.

Trinmos are as intelligent as they are mysterious. Midway through a lecture in early Michaelmas, every single Trinmo stood up and left to complete the Great Court Run, a ridiculous tradition in which students attempt to run around Trinity’s Great Court in the time it takes for the college clock to strike twelve. Obviously. The lecturer was as perplexed as the rest of us mere mortals, and the whole affair did make me question whether Trinmos go to lectures because they want to learn (or because they need to in order to learn), or because they go for what they count as a social event.


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Mountain View

Diving headfirst into the inter-college pool

This archaic pecking order of colleges might make you, maybe even for the first time, insecure about your academic ability – and, truth be told, it is bound to alienate any cohort of freshers. As a first-year, rumour had it that someone in my year had a number named after them. Meanwhile, there I was, proud of getting into what I was made to feel was the skimmed milk of colleges – although certainly white, it’s not quite the richest, thickest or, well, the best at maths. Still, I’d rather have water with my cereal than go to John’s. You might be left to wonder whether you, looking nothing like a member of the cast of The Big Bang Theory, got in by mistake, or worry that your college is one bitter Etonian away from being Durham.

My advice to you, dear fresher, is that ultimately, it doesn’t matter what other people say about your college. Beyond the walls of this university, who on earth is going to even remotely care about what essentially boils down to where you lived during university? What’s more, it is important to remember that not only are you in charge of the direction of your learning, but that you are not what other people say about your college: if you love your subject you will thrive. And if you don’t, then don’t worry - just change to HSPS.

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