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A Guide to Entering Trinity College's PhD Program

written by: Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 7/27/2010

Here is what you need to do to get into a PhD program at Trinity College, Cambridge University's most famous institution and the alma mater of many illustrious global leaders including 32 Nobel Prize winners.

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    About Cambridge and Trinity College

    In 1209, some of the sharpest minds of the time left Oxford to set up a modern University in Cambridge. Since then, Cambridge has become an aspirational higher education destination for students from all over the world. Thirty-one colleges make up Cambridge University, and the departments and faculties of these colleges deliver the programs that lead to a Cambridge University degree. Trinity College, established in 1546, is the largest among them.

    Trinity College alumni include 32 Nobel Prize winners, 6 British Prime Ministers and an impressive number of foreign political dignitaries including Prime Ministers and Presidents of countries like Ireland, India, Singapore, Jordan and Australia. The 2009 Chemistry Nobel winner Venkataraman Ramakrishnan is a Trinity alumnus as were Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russel, Amartya Sen, John Dryden, Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Tennyson and many more famous names from history, including a few members of the English royal family.

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    Graduate Study at Trinity College

    Trinity College has place for around 350 graduate students as its members. Generally, about half of these are students have completed their undergraduate education from Trinity College and now want to continue their education at the master's or PhD level. For the 100-150 seats available, the college receives thousands of applications every year from prospective graduate students who have selected Trinity as their first or second preference on their Cambridge University application forms.

    Obviously, it is extremely difficult to get a place at Trinity College's PhD programs. The entry requirements are very high and you must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 or another equivalent of the UK 2i Honours degree for your application to be considered by the Board of Graduate Studies (usually called BGS).

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    About Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge University's PhD Programs

    • To get into Cambridge University, you must apply to both the Department or Faculty and also to the College of your choice. However, the application to both must be made through the Board of Graduate Studies (BGS), which is the centralized authority that deals with all graduate admissions into Cambridge University.
    • You can only select two colleges on your application. If both the colleges you select refuse membership to you, your application is sent to the other Cambridge colleges for consideration.
    • You cannot change your selection of colleges after your application has been received by the BGS.
    • If you do receive an offer of membership from one of the other colleges after your chosen ones have rejected you, you are generally expected to accept that offer.
    • You can send in parallel applications to several Departments or Faculties, but you have to pay a non-refundable fee of GBP 35 (USD 55) for each application you make.
    • Most courses at Cambridge University begin in October (Michaelmas term). However, it may be possible for your Department or Faculty to allow you entry in January (Lent term) or April (Easter term).
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    Find out all you need to know about applying to Trinity College at Cambridge University for your Masters or PhD degree
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    About Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge University's PhD Programs

    • Admissions into most programs open in September and close about two months before the term of entry. The earlier you send in your application, the better your chances are. In any case, you must meet all deadlines or your application will not be considered.
    • You can apply online and you are encouraged to do so. However, your supporting documents must be sent by post. Your online application is activated only when the BGS physically receives all your documentation.
    • The Department or Faculty you're applying to may have some additional language proficiency or other requirements and may ask you to furnish additional documentation. You must ensure that all your documents are complete and as required. Incomplete or inadequate paperwork is one of the easiest reasons to have your application summarily rejected.
    • Graduate study in the UK is extremely expensive and it will cost you an annual total of between GBP 25000 (USD 40000) for Arts and Humanities subjects and GBP 42000 (USD 65000) for Clinical courses to study and live at a Cambridge college. You must furnish the BGS with proof that you are able to fund your graduate study before you get your formal letter of confirmation.
    • Most full time graduate courses will not allow you to work more than 6-10 hours a week. There are several scholarships, bursaries and grants available to master's and PhD students at Trinity College and Cambridge University. Unlike the United States, financial aid at Cambridge does not require the graduate student to work as a teaching or research assistant. There are, however, some teaching and research stipends you can apply for and these will help towards your living expenses if you get a partial scholarship that covers tuition.
    • If you are applying for a PhD grant, scholarship or bursary, you should be aware of the individual deadlines for those scholarships or grants. These deadlines may differ from the normal admissions deadlines and you should apply early if you want to be considered.
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    The Admissions Process

    Here is a step-by-step description of the admissions process at Cambridge University:

    • All applications should be made through the Board of Studies of Cambridge University. The BGS is the only authority that can issue you a formal letter of confirmation of your place at a Cambridge University college.
    • You make your application to the Department or Faculty of your choice and include the names of your 2 preferred colleges in your application.
    • You can choose to use the online application process or to download the application form and send it physically through the post.
    • You ensure all the paperwork required is complete and according to stipulations and post the supporting documents to the Board of Graduate Studies within the deadline mentioned.
    • After considering your application, the University may make you an offer.
    • This offer does not mean that you have been finally accepted or that the college of your choice will grant you membership. You application is now sent to your preferred college for acceptance or rejection of membership. If that college decides to offer you a membership, it will send you a conditional letter of acceptance. If not, your application is sent to the second college on your application. If that college rejects you too, then your application is opened to the other colleges for consideration.
    • When you get your conditional offer from a college, you are expected to fulfill all the conditions of your membership into that college and to accept the conditional offer in writing.
    • Finally, you receive a letter of confirmation from the Board of Graduate Studies and this is the only formal document which can make you a bona fide student of Cambridge University.
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    1. For an interesting account of the history and the terminology of Cambridge University, see
    2. for Cambridge University's Graduate Admissions page
    3. for Cambridge University's Graduate Studies Prospectus
    4. Go to to see the current funding available for Graduate Students at Cambridge University
    5. The official Trinity College Cambridge website: