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I have to say I entirely agree with the talk about students having to take everything that comes to them.
As students we're supposed to be extremely grateful and happy for the astounding opportunity to study here, and also supposed to think that it's extremely hard. This means college stuff - academic and administrative - get away with being rude and restrictive. They'll tell you it's for your own good - we're just looking after your own best interests. When one gets a little distance from the place one comes to realize that there is NO need to be horrible to look after anyone's best interests. Equally, the idea that we're lucky to be there is idiotic - perhaps, compared to some of the godforsaken towns of England, Cambridge is paradise, but in global terms there are some equally lovely places with just as good teaching. But if you're not entirely enamoured of it ..hm, well both staff and fellow students will think you're strange! Why wouldn't you be happy with a bedder checking up on what you do in your room, and porter watching your every move, a college secretary sending impertinent emails and a director of studies not only failing to direct you studies but also insulting and demeaning you?
Oh, and that's the other thing - they make such a tremendous fuss in the literature and promotion about directors of studies looking after you and personal tutors for your non-academic problems, but in my experience at least the former was half way across the world most of the time and the latter just said things I had thought of myself. Brilliant.
I remember after my first year I went off travelling and expected that, when talking to people from other countries I would come to realize Cambridge was very pleasant compared to other universities - the horror stories of France and hundreds in lectures for example. Instead it turned out that, surprise surprise, they got just as much academic support, more freedom, lived in just as beautiful towns, had civilized (as opposed to no sink, size of a matchbox) accommodation, and didn't have to go through hell on Earth to get there. Yes, France is probably not too great in terms of sheer numbers, but most other places are fine!
Oh, and guess what, the best science - which is what I studied - isn't necessarily done at Cambridge. Yes, they have accomplished researchers, no doubt, but surprisingly the best place to study the sea is ..by the sea.. the best place to study the rainforest is ..in the rainforest. And the reason they had some many Nobel prize winners? They have lots of money, or rather Trinity College has lots of money, so they bought them it. Much like Harvard. One can't produce genius - it crops up all over the place.
But I should say the departement and the staff therein was in fact very civilized and pleasant to the most part - they actually treated you as an adult, and are pleasant and professional. Thank goodness that teaching moves away from colleges and towards departments by the end of the course - I would have left by now otherwise. But in other universities one can have the lovely department, without the hideoudly restrictive college side of things.
Other students - there are of course some very nice ones, and I did make plenty of friends. There are also some people who were more unpleasant than anyone I had met in my life. As someone from a non-grammar and non-public school, the culture shock was rather extreme. I think this depends an awful lot on the college though, as again I got on with people on my course fine, but only really got to know international students at college - maybe because they felt equally out of water ..or because they too came from the real world! How much the college system is a continuation of what many know from school was something I completely missed - some people just automatically knew how things worked as soon as they arrived: I, having not lived in an educational prison camp myself, did not.
I am writing this from an entirely different angle as I happened to work for the University which probably have different views from some the previous reviews. Having come from working in a completely different sector, I am fortunate enough to get a job with the university due to my relocation. Although the post is more of a junior position, I still have to go through a lengthy interview process and sitting in front of a panel of 3 is quite nerve wrecking and unexpected. I have research a lot prior to my interview as this is somewhere I really would like to work for and I am impressed by how organised it is considering the governing system is a rather complex one compare to other universities. Being one of the top univerisities in the world, the staff no doubt take there role very seriously and I have learnt to be very careful even little mistakes are immediately picked on. It gives you a feeling of going back to school as offices are generally in a very formal hall or building. Staff development are plenty, with many one day courses or presentation to attend throughout the year and because of the diversity that each department or even the colleges offer, internal job transfer is common and the benefits e.g. Pension and holidays are probably one of the best I have come across especially in this worrying times, working for a great education sector is probably a very good bet.
I really do believe that there aren't good or bad universities but rather the right or wrong university for you. I loved my MFL course at Newnham (yes, all girls, I know - I've heard every joke) and I wouldn't change it for the world. I had fun, learnt loads, met people, had fantastic experiences and came out with a good degree. But you have to be ready for the pressure that comes with 8 week terms and such a lofty academic reputation. One word about state school applicants - I was from a state school, half the people on my course and at my college were. Go for it!
I've loved my 3 years to date at Cambridge, but opinios are polarised for, as I see it, the following reasons. A number of people do not put enough thought into applying to Oxbridge -- assuming that it is a question of whether or not they are capable, not whether or not it is a place they want to go to. I think this is wrong on two counts -- firstly the standard is by no means formidable; secondly I think life at Cambridge will suit some personalities far more than others. Press reports refer to the people who got 6 A's at A level but chose to go to Newcastle rather than Cambridge, because they couldn't live without decent clubs. Good choice. The Cambridge system produces a pretty distinctive lifestlye. It has a lot going for it. In terms of facilities, the town (no transport time or costs), spending on students (including hardship grants, funds), teaching and reputation it is unlikely to be beaten by any other Uni in Britain. The teaching may be variable but it can be outstanding. The eight week term system may be intense but it teaches you a lot about dealing with workloads and pressure. Most important of all are the opportunities for involvement -- reputed to have more clubs/socities than any othher Uni in GB -- certainly you can do whatever takes your fancy. And going to Cambridge keeps your options open -- it may not make getting a job easy, but no-one will turn you down just because you went there. On the down side, Cambridge life is easy to hate. It can be exhausting, demoralising and frustrating. It is not conducive to the most outrageous social life nor is it easy on relationships. If you don't like working under pressure, or don't like working hard, then you won't like Cambridge. But for me, personally, the balance comes out on the overwhelmingly positive side. What swings it for me is that so many people choose to take on so much beyond work -- it is not unusual to find people spendign 4
0 hours a week on extra curricular activities. What this makes me think is that Cambridge is what you make of it. IF you want to relax, or if you want to go out every night then just do the minimum work and spend the 40 hours others manage to free up just chilling in the bar. IT is not that simple -- there will be fewer others to just chill with and the atmosphere probably discourages this -- but people do manage it. Anyone reading this probably knows what they want out of life. If you like a challenge, like to throw yourself at whatever comes your way, and want to be at the pinnacle of things you won't find a better place on earth than Cambridge. But if you want to just be a student, get up at lunch and go out every night, then go to Newcastle, or Liverpool, or Nottingham etc. Hence why I say it is a choice to be thought carefully about. MAny people get a lot out of their busy stressful lives here, have lots of fun on the way and leave with every opportunity; some regret not going elsewhere. Your call...
Having read some of the other reports on my university, I could not resist seizing the chance to scream at the top of my voice "IT'S WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT!" This is a decision I have come to having completed two years on my English BA course. And I think it is quite possibly the right attitude to have. The workload is heavy, yes. Two essays a term is the average output for English BA's at most other universities. Here, one term I ended up doing the equivalent of about two and a half per week. But this does not mean you have to lock yourself in your room, or scream, or sit on the floor looking lost, or throw yourself off a building. However, sadly, Cambridge attracts a good few people who take work, and often also themselves, far too seriously, and it is easy to get sucked in. In such an intense and condensed atmosphere, unnecessarily over-stressed people tend to create a kind of domino effect, making everybody they come into contact with stressed. Add to this smatterings of post-teen angst, and you have potential for a heady cocktail of carnage. BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY Yeh, you have to study a bit harder than you would elsewhere, but it's possible to fit it all in and have plenty of time off if you organise your time reasonably. If you don't then it's equally possible to have plenty of time off. You'll just end up doing all-nighters the day before the deadline. People tend to forget that it is quite possible to blag things at the last minute. Even here, you can *gasp* not write a perfect essay each week and get away with it. After all, you go to uni to learn how to improve, don't you? Let the supervisors who are teaching you earn their keep. Most important of all, don't hang around too much with super-stressed people. Find some chilled friends to hang out with when you're not studying. They do exist. Cambridge has so many beautiful buildings, decent pubs, nice grassy bit
s, a big clean swimming pool, a river with punts, a cluster of cheesy nightclubs in the town centre, a couple of which are half-decent, a huge number of clubs and societies, and best of all, loads of wonderful people to share it all with for three or four years. The only ivory towers here are the ones people build for themselves. Don't let anyone build one for you.
There are two main factors that set Cambridge apart from most other universities -- the college system, and the supervisions (tutorials). When you apply to Cambridge, you must apply to a specific college. Life in Cambridge revolves around the colleges. They provide your home (some colleges offer accomodation for your entire degree), your education (lectures are arranged centrally, but the all-important supervisions are at a college level) and your social life. There are huge numbers of student societies both university wide and within the colleges, and if no-one has exactly what you want then there is help on hand to start your own. While many university societies (particularly in sport and music) seem extremely competetive, their college level equivalents will allow for anyone who just wants to have some fun (I have represented my college in the 5th table tennis team and the 3rd bridge team!) 'Supervisions' is the Cambridge term for tutorials. These usually consist of 1-3 undergraduate students with either a lecturer or a postgraduate student (depending on the subject). My own subject was Mathematics, and with this I could expect to have around 3 hours of supervisions per week. The supervisions perform two main functions. Firstly, they make you do some work! Some people will tell you that Cambridge is really hard and stressful and you have to work very hard, but I have known plenty of people get through here doing as little as possible and if it wasn't for regular supervisions they would probably have done nothing at all. Secondly, the supervisions give you the opportunity to ask questions and to clarify things you did not understand. The supervisors may not know everything, but they are always happy to go away and find out for you. Cambridge is an excellent place to study, and provides top class facilities and opportunities.
I've done a year now at Cambridge as an English student, although you'd better forget that as you read this! I think it's fair to say that judging Cambridge university in general is very hard. Ignore whatever you get told-which college you go to willmake or break your time here. The opportunities are amazing; the student theatre scene is very much alive and well, and there are loads of sporting societies. However, as with all of Cambridge, it is hard to find anything that isn't extremely competetive, making it hard to do something purely for the fun of it and to relax. This is made worse by the lack of a student union building, which is why the college is so important. They all have their own bars, of varying standards and of course common rooms, but it can be hard to mix with people from outside your college. The work is intense. Very intense. The trems may only be 8 weeks long, but that means an awful lot has to be crammed in into those 2 short months. And be prepared to spend the holidays reading for the next term, regardless of which subject you study!However, the facilities are excellent, with every college having its own library, plus a faculty library plus the university library which in theory has a copy of every book published in England since 1977 and many more from before that date. The support system is improving, but still needs addressing. Again, this varies according to college. This is a university that you will either love or hate. It's very hard to feel nothing for this place. The history can be both inspiring and very daunting, as can the academic expectations. Don't go here without thinking what you really want from a university. If you want mainly the social side, then this probably isn't the place, but if you want more books than you can imagine, come to Cambridge!
Being a successful applicant to Cambridge, I think it's only fair that I spill a few secrets about the interview process for the benefit of others. I'm not a current undergraduate; my interviews were last December, so I haven't secured my place yet. I'm actually in the middle of the exams that should determine whether or not I make it there. But since my interviews were so recent, I'm in a good position to advise you... 1) Firstly, choose your course well. This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but I assumed I'd be doing History until I saw the page on Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. Look carefully at the course descriptions in the prospectus, including what grades and subjects they prefer you to have. 2) Secondly, choose your college well. This is often overlooked by people who live outside of Cambridge - they assume it's not very important. It is. Each college has a different atmosphere, ranging from the posh and traditional (Trinity, St John's) to the laid-back and casual (Fitzwilliam, Churchill). Some colleges are in much better locations than others (Girton is several miles away from anywhere, while King's is right in the centre), and some have much better facilities than others. Some only accept women (Newnham, New Hall). Consider all these factors before you choose. I would also consult the college league tables (often in Oxbridge guides) to find out which colleges are 'harder' than others to get into. 3) On the application form, don't worry about the photo; concentrate on the personal statement. If you're applying for a very popular subject (e.g mathematics) the interviewers will have lots of applications to read - yours must stand out. Don't just put you UCAS statement on there - if they read both you'll look like you've made no effort. Mention why you want to study the course, and what evidence there is that you're seriously interested in the subject (e.g
relevant work experience). Mention also some varied hobbies and experiences so you don't look like a bookworm. 4) If they ask you to send in work, then take your best essays and improve them as much as you can (unless they specify marked class essays, in which case you can't improve them). Don't send in any essays that are much more than 2000 words; the interviewer won't want to read anything too lengthy. 5) Practise your interview technique. This cannot be over-emphasised. You should try and get as many adults (preferably slightly imposing ones that you don't know well) to interview you as you can. A teacher at your college is a good start. Even if they're not a teacher in the subject you wish to study, they will provide practise for your general interview. Make sure that you can talk intelligently about everything you've mentioned in your personal statement, and about any essays you sent in. You should be able to explain why you wish to study a) that subject and b) at Cambridge; why you go to aerobics classes or collect stamps; why that trip to Russia was so inspiring; and how that work experience affected your decision to apply. 6) The best thing is to get a real Cambridge academic to interview you as a practise run. For most people this isn't possible, but as I live in Cambridge I had enough contacts to get me a practise interview. Sometimes, if you impress enough, the academic will put in a good word for you (this actually happened to my sister). What was revealed to me at the practise interview is that all interviewers have set criteria for acceptance. You must a) demonstrate real enthusiasm for the subject (you can show this by relevant work experience and by generally being really upbeat in your interview); and b) demonstrate that you are teachable (you can show this by listening carefully to the interviewer and his/her opinions, and by modifying your opinion if the interviewer shows it to be wrong).
These are the main points you are marked on. 7) Don't worry about the small details of the interview. Often, you won't be given specifics of where your interview is. Just go to the college and there will be people there to look after you. Don't worry about the way you're dressed - as long as you're not in jeans and a t-shirt, they don't really care. After all, it's not as if you can make up for a bad performance by your ability to accessorise. Forget what you might have been told about Cambridge being a labyrinth of rules and customs. It's not, and the interviewers understand that you're new to the place and a bit intimidated. They'll make a few allowances. So relax, eat a good breakfast, and do confidence exercises. I find that dancing around in my room to Mariah Carey does the trick. 8) If you realise mid-sentence that you're waffling, then stop, say 'I'm waffling', think, then re-start. When you're asked a question, give an extended response (although make sure it's appropriately extended). If you don't know what to say, then say, 'That's an interesting question, I hadn't considered that before...', think, then say something. Sit slightly forward on your seat, because you'll look more alert and concentrated. If you're not sure what they're asking, say 'Do you mean...?', not 'I don't understand you'. Those are the more basic tips. In general, just remember: enthusiasm. Lengthy advice, I know, but for many people the interviews are scary unfathomable things. The simple steps I've outlined should improve your performance, if only because knowing more about the interviews should increase your confidence. Cambridge is a great place, and a place worth fighting for, so give it as much effort as you can.
Cambridge isn't full of the sort of stereo-typed students that people make out. Yes there are people like that around, but you get some at all universities. And yes maybe Cambridge has more than some others, but that doesn't mean you have to socialise with them. There are plenty of 'normal' people there as well. The collegiate system is a very good way of getting to know people - its like living in halls of residence for your whole time at university, with the bonus that all the college social events are on your doorstep.
in November 1998 I attended an interview at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge. Being the first person from my family to go to uni and a rare Oxbridge applicant from my college I was naturally rather nervous. Indeed I believe this rather than lack of academic ability contributed to my rather inauspicious interview performance. I tried too hard to compensate for my working class background and I suppose the only person I was fooling was myself. I had 3 interviews, and as was usual at this sort of thing one interviewer played the bad guy. The aggressive, assertive manner of the first Cambridge academic took me by surprise and knocked the little confidence I entered the room with. The next two interviews went better but I still think I knew the outcome long before I received confirmation of my suspicions. However, far from discouraging comprehensive school students from applying, I would actively encourage them. My failings were caused by lack of confidence and lack of practice in interview situations. I genuinely believe that there is no reason why diligent working class students cannot make Oxbridge.
Cambridge - top of every league table, best funding around, but what is it really like to study there? For me - it was fantastic. I studied Natural Sciences, specialising in Psychology in my third year. This course is the only one in the country with the flexibility for a maths/chemistry/physics 'A' level student to end up doing Psychology. Yes it was hard work, but I ended up with an incredibly broad knowledge base, and I enjoyed it. The really special thing about Cambridge is the college system. Your college is where you live (for all 3 years!), and also organises your teaching. This means, rather than at other universities where small group teaching is about 10 people, in Cambridge small group teaching is 1-3 people. You can learn alot more when you have to actually take part in the tutorial, which with 10 people you don't have to.
Cambridge is a strange place to be at university. If youre deciding whether to apply or take up a place there this can be a difficult decision to make. My recommendation is that you try to see the lifestyle first hand, there are schemes that allow potential students to visit for a few days. Though how true a picture this will give you im not sure. If everyone you talk to tells you its a great place then youre getting a distorted opinion. Many, if not most, students at cambridge do love it. Its a unique place where you work incredibly hard and if you can find the time you play hard too. Its possible to do pretty much anything while youre there if you put your mind to it. There are others who dont find it such a great place. The tradition and work ethic can be stifling. Even though you were bright enough to get a place you'll still find work daunting. It may not be the university experience you were expecting - people say students dont work - well they do at cambridge. Be warned! But if you like nice old buildings and the idea of formal dinners in a gown turns you on then go for it. The perks once you get to the job market are unbelievable, and in the end youll probably find all the work was worth it. Best way to find Cambridge enjoyable ? Take time choosing your college and find one that really suits you. Don't be wowed by fantastic architechture - the newer colleges have a lot to offer too.
The main thing I thought about Canbridge after about the first term was that it was like nowhere else on earth and it really does take some getting used to. It's no exaggeration that you can walk round the city centre on any night of the week and eventually you'll spot someone in a gown or a bow tie and dinner jacket. After the first couple of term I'd finally got used to it though and although all the poshness and ceremony is overwhelming at first, with stuff like 'formal hall' where everyone has to dress up in jacket and tie and gowns (although really it's just an excuse to get dressed up and get pissed), you get used to it and if you don't like it you can just not do it like I tend to do. Everyone goes on about the work and it's true that you do far more than the equivalent courses at other unis but it really does depend on the course. I do geography and do about one essay a week (compared with about 2 a term elsewhere) After the initial shock I learnt to cope with it (which is a good skill to have) and I have a decent social life which involves the pub most nights, a budding career as a DJ and rugby and cricket. However, if you do sciences the work is, to be honest, stupid. You can guarantee that if someone I know that is doing a science isn't coming out it's because they've 'got work to do' which happens very often. Although I've heard all these horror stories about interviews and supervisors my experience has all been good. My interviews were all relaxed informal affairs and I get on and am taught extremely well by all my supervisors. Another true cambridge stereotype is that there's loads of posh public schoolboys who love nothing more than to wear a blazer and get blind drunk and be annoying and posh but there's also loads more really normal down to earth, good people and although it will take a while to find your level once you have you can ignore the public schoolboys and eve
n hurl some abuse at them like a few of my mates. The nightlife's not great but the event put on by colleges are often pretty good although they often finish quite early at 12 or 1am. If you just fancy going out for a drink though there's loads of good pubs and bars. Although it took me and a load of my mates quite a while to feel at home in Cambridge I now really have got a great set of mates and know where to go for a good time and know exactly how much work to do and how to balance this with my social life (it IS possible to do well at both) and I can't wait to go back next term despite the disadvantages of the poshness and the work. JUST DON'T DO A SCIENCE SUBJECT!!!
I came up to Cambridge like most of the poor sods there do, having spent all of my years at school being groomed by parents and teachers for Oxbridge. When I finally got my grades and went up after a few years travelling, I think my family and teachers were actually more pleased than I was. Given a second chance, there's no way on earth I'd have applied to Cambridge. I'm in my fourth year now, and am so glad to have got out of the bloody place for the long vacation that seratonin is bubbling out of my ears. Students at Cambridge are remarked upon by academics at other universities for our astonishing ability to lie back and take the most obscene treatment from faculty, college and university without complaint. Typically, we're supposed to be so grateful to get to the university that we'll jump through as many hoops as the place sets in front of us, and not complain. As a result, Cambridge boasts the highest level of students on antidepressants of any university. The counselling service is booked up to the gills, and the suicide rate is high. Work is hard. We expected that when we came up. What you may be surprised to find is that there's actually too much to do in a week (a recent week's reading list was worked out by a friend to contain a month's solid reading if you went at it from nine to five; this ignores time you'll have to spend on lectures and essays.) Friends at other universities I know turn in one essay per paper per term. This year I've done five papers and have been expected to turn in around three essays a week. When (as invariably happens) an essay is not produced, certain supervisors ensure that there's hell to pay. Social life? Not if you want decent grades. The lectures, although often given by people who've written the leading books in their fields, are often atrocious. I go to all of mine (about ten hours in the week; not a huge number, and th
e notes are always useful at the end of the year), but I really can't say I benefitted from more than about 20% of them. One guy with tenure in my faculty spent all of the lectures he gave in my first year (I've not had him again since) rolling drunk. This at nine in the morning. It's Cambridge, so nobody complains. Supervisions, too, can be shaky. I had a charming man supervising one paper this year; I'm sure we should both have got a great deal out of the meetings if he had been able to speak English with any fluency. In my second year, we had two deaths in my close family. I had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to defer for a year so I could help the family sort things out, and repeat the year; once I was allowed to and came back, my college has behaved as if I am slightly retarded, having plainly not been able to cope intellectually under what was perceived as a trifling amount of stress. Sympathy is not the University's strong point. A supervisor called me stupid in front of four other students last term when I was having trouble with a particularly difficult essay question. Needless to say, I found it harder and harder to deal with her subject as the term went on, and didn't send her a thankyou card after exams! Cambridge's excellent results are not a little influenced by the fact that they select for the country's most excellent students. The teaching I've received has been on occasions excellent, but is more often extremely poor. Of course, it has its good points too. It's a beautiful town, accommodation's often brilliant, and you'll meet people just like you. And, of course, it looks great on a CV; you'll have the pick of jobs when you come out. All the same, I'm going elsewhere to do my Masters.
I have to agree with the others that it's not this magical place it's cracked up to be at school. I went to an independent school and was reasonably heavily pressured to apply. It is a good University, but so are most of them. I did Natural Science and was thoroughly offput by the course (mostly due to the fact that it's twice as much work as the arts ones which does not help your social life). It is old fashioned in some respects but since I've left I've been surprised my the amount I do know. the quality of the teaching is very variable, it makes an enormous amount of difference which college you go to. No one tells you that when you apply, if your college doesn't have fellows in your subject area (which mine as a small college didn't) the quality of the teaching you receive is going to be significantly worse. This didn't change until my final year which was much better and departmentally organised instead of college based (Psychology is a great department). Of course the reputation tends to be more effective with employers than the degree - the real problem with the place. If only future management consultants (and the milkround companies that seek them) could be persuaded to leave the place alone it would be an excellent training ground for future academics and would have more places to widen its access. As for the full of snobs reputation - I hit the reverse (inverse snobbery), my background is not my fault but the grief I received made me very miserable at the beginning. Though I did make friends (all from comprehensives incidentally) who didn't care relatively quickly.