Graduate study at Cambridge should be a life-changing experience. Whatever your ambitions for the future, you will benefit from participating here as fully as you can in each of the communities, large and small, to which you belong, and from contributing to the future of the institutions with which your life here is involved. Most of those institutions will sound familiar to you. Departments, Faculties, Museums, Libraries and Laboratories: one or more of these will be where your course is taught, where your research is undertaken and supervised, by specialists in your discipline. But like every Cambridge student and many of the academic staff, you will also be a member of a College, where enthusiasts from every discipline meet and enrich each other across subject boundaries and generations, and you will remain a member of your College for life.
Throughout its history, Cambridge has had Colleges, which are intimate social and intellectual communities of scholars. They are educational charities, each with a particular mission and character, and they have evolved in response to different social pressures. They remain flexible, reacting to the changing needs of their members. But all are devoted to study and research across the range of disciplines and generations. Governed by Fellows, who are mostly academics employed in the University, they remain integral to the University's educational and research environment today. They can offer you a home and other facilities that Universities usually provide centrally. They also give you experiences and opportunities that are unique to Cambridge.
A key element of College life is the Middle Common Room (MCR), a term widely used both for the graduate student body, and for the shared space and associated facilities that graduate students enjoy in College. Using such facilities and participating in your College's graduate society can be rewarding -- and you can make a real difference by ensuring that the College knows about current and future student needs.
Some of the advantages of College membership are material, and obvious. These include induction in your first weeks; on-going academic and pastoral support from your Tutor and Graduate Office; accommodation and catering; financial advice and assistance; social, cultural and sporting facilities; opportunities for research, teaching, and professional development, through interdisciplinary seminars or intergenerational networks of College members. Colleges administer formal processes, including matriculation (formally joining the University and College), monitoring international students' status for visa purposes, and graduation. But they also work closely with the University's central bodies to shape University policy on a range of educational and financial issues affecting graduates, and to negotiate with the University on behalf of their own students.
And some benefits of College membership are intangible, but just as real, and equally indispensable to your experience of Cambridge: conversations and friendships that take you out of your area of expertise and stimulate new ideas; the satisfaction of representing your fellow graduates in College or the University; the excitement of belonging to a truly international group. The friendship and advice individual graduate students find in Colleges make these communities indispensable elements of your Cambridge life.