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Cambridge Admissions Office

Dr Mike Sewell, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges
Friday, 11 October, 2013

It is sometimes alleged, and often assumed, that studying at Cambridge must be an expensive business. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the University is one of the most cost effective places to be a student in the UK. So how come we are such a cheap place to study, misconceptions notwithstanding?

  • Student living costs are kept low by the collegiate system.
  • Our facilities mean that routine expenditure can be kept low.
  • Hardly any of our undergraduates pay full market rents or pay rent for the whole year.
  1. Annual rental costs are low. Our undergraduates do not have to pay market rents or large deposits for private accommodation. Almost all Cambridge undergraduates live in College-owned accommodation. Cambridge students are guaranteed such accommodation for at least three years of study,1 and usually for all four years if they pursue a four-year course. Cambridge students only pay rent for the period in which they are resident in Cambridge - most College accommodation contracts are for 30 weeks which is short compared with many other universities.2

    Colleges offer accommodation in a range of price bands to suit different budgets, and rents can vary depending on size and facilities (e.g. en suite or not). We estimate the range of room rents, depending on size and range of facilities, to be mainly between £100 and £140 per week, with the lowest rents falling well below £90pw.3 These rents include routine maintenance, heating, lighting, and utilities.4 The average weekly figure across all Colleges in 2012-13 was £104.25.

    Our students can expect to pay somewhere between £2,400 and £4,000 in 2013-14 in rent, whichever year of study they are in, and with considerable choice over their preferred room type. All of this compares very favourably against other universities.
  2. The Colleges each provide a cafeteria and other catering facilities at low cost. Students in my own College in the middle term of 2013 (January to March) spent an average of £3.50 per day on food in College. On average, students across all the Colleges paid standing charges of around £16pw towards the fixed staffing and other costs of providing catering in 2012-13. Even the optional, waiter-served ‘formal hall’ evening meals come in at less than £10 - exceptional value, we think, for a three-course meal. Add in departmental and other low-cost catering that is available, along with the self-catering facilities to which all students have access, and it adds up to a remarkably affordable package.
  3. Colleges provide social and academic facilities from libraries to bars, and from laundries to sports grounds or music practice rooms at no extra cost or a nominal charge to their students. Central University facilities are also available at low or no cost.
  4. Academic resources are extensive and free to use, helping to keep students’ course costs to a minimum. For example, with 114 University and College libraries there is rarely a need to purchase textbooks.
  5. Daily travel is inexpensive or free. There is no need to run a car or spend a long time on public transport as the city is small and the vast majority of accommodation is within easy walking or cycling distance of places where students study and socialise. The University also subsidises a bus service which links most parts of the University.

Financial support available

The Colleges and the University are committed to the principle that ‘once students are admitted, we ensure that they are given the academic, personal and, where appropriate, financial support necessary for successful completion of their course at Cambridge.’5 Support can include College travel or equipment awards towards specific costs, help from dedicated University or College student support funds, and, in cases where students experience serious financial problems, we will step in and assist however we can. Financial support also encompasses generous, non-repayable Bursaries for many students. In 2012-13, 2,672 students received Cambridge Bursaries totalling £6.81 million. We are proud to have one of the highest student retention rates in the UK (98.4 per cent, in comparison to 90.7 per cent nationally) and the availability of financial support is part of the reason for this high completion rate.

How does Cambridge really compare?

The National Union of Students (NUS) estimates that for the academic year 2013-14 students will need, on average, around £12,000 to cover their living costs (more than £13,000 if they are studying in London).6 At Cambridge, we advise students that they should allow approximately £7,850 for 2013-14 to cover accommodation, food, course costs, travel and day-to-day living expenses. The respective figures for rent alone are estimated at £4,843 nationally (£6,143 in London), whereas last year the average combined annual rent and kitchen charges for Cambridge students came to £3,725.

Cambridge is an affordable place within the means of all students and has a strong record for providing excellent value for money, not only during the time that undergraduates are with us but also beyond graduation due to their excellent career prospects. Affordability is not a barrier to coming to Cambridge.

For more information, see:

1 Accommodation guarantee applies to single undergraduates without children at all Colleges except St Edmund’s.

Accommodation contracts at a small number of Colleges are for 39 weeks, and some Colleges offer a choice of contract periods. The advantage of the longer agreement is that students do not have to fully vacate their room for the Christmas and Easter vacations. In neither case do undergraduates have to pay rent during the long Summer vacation from June to late September.

3 All figures quoted are for the academic year 2013-14 unless otherwise stated.

4 The only standard add-on might be a low (£5 or less per week) charge for access to superfast broadband and Colleges’ computer support.

5 Admissions Policy

6 David Malcolm: What are the costs of study and living? Another recent study estimated a national average of £9,250 would be needed for the academic year 2012-13, of which more than £4,000 would be rent, see:

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