Thursday, 16 December 2010

Applying to Cambridge Uni... what it's reeeaaally like

This year, Cambridge University was named the best. Full stop.  I'm not talking in the UK, but the whole flipping world! That is one scary thought, considering I've applied to study there next year.

Life in Cambridge colleges

Having always done well at school, all through my life as a pupil people have asked me "D'you think you'll apply Oxford or Cambridge?", and as a 14 year old struggling with spots, bras that don't fit, and boys you swear you're in love with (just me? really?), you don't really know what to say.  But then eventually, things change as you grow up (well, they're meant to. I may still be struggling in the bra department... but that was probably too much info.)  As I entered 6th form and turned 17, I realised that I really did want to study, loved learning, and wanted to educate myself (pah - may sound a bit nerdy, but it is true!).

Choosing Unis
So I visited loads of unis, read all the prospectuses, spent way too much free time on their websites yada yada yada, and eventually decided on my five choices. Yes, bloomin UCAS only allow you to apply to five unis, which can make things very difficult.  I mean, you don't want to waste one of your spaces applying to Oxbridge if you've really got no chance, but at the same time, you really don't want to look back on the whole experience and think, well "What if I'd applied there?"

And so, I applied to Cambridge (better course for what I wanted to study - French and German; aaand... I think the shops are better :D), and chose Downing College (if anyone doesn't know, Oxbridge like to be a bit special and have a college system.  Bit of a faff to explain, but if anyone really cares, I'll provide this link to the Cambridge website which should explain everything for you. I know, I'm too kind.)

Choosing a College
It's hard to say why I chose to apply to Downing College. Originally, when visiting my shortlist of colleges, it didn't even make the list. But ole Daddio persuaded me to go and have a look. It was a bit of a walk from where we were, and quite frankly, I kinda CBAd (=couldn't be arsed, not really sure is that works in the past tense, but hey, let's start it). It threw a bit of a spanner into the works, because beforehand I'd been set on applying to Queens, but Downing was bloody stunning. Really gorgeous architecture, beautiful style (dining) hall, amazing open grounds... but what clinched it for me was the rooms. Frick me. We went into some of them and they were like bloody hotels! And I'm talking nice hotels, 3* plus, not shabby youth hostels! Of course not all the rooms were like that, but most of them seemed good enough. People might think that's a silly thing to care about when choosing a college, but to be honest, it's where you're going to live, so it's really important if you ask me.  Moving away from home is hard, and you want to be somewhere you'll feel comfortable.  And hey, is it such a crime if I don't want to live in a complete and utter hole like a lot of students do?

Downing College

All the colleges are fantastic, so you have to find some way of distinguishing between them.  I found I just got a feeling, an instinct, when I visited them, and knew whether I could feel at home there. (oooh that was a bit cringeworthy!) Also, you'll learn that keeping in shape is rather important to me (mainly because I love food so much and have a killer sweet tooth, so have to offset all my munching), and at Downing, they have their own gym, which only costs £12 per year to use!!! Equally, to balance out all the hardcore cross-training the students undoubtedly spend all their time doing, Pizza Hut and Pizza Express are both right outside! Oooh yeah... pizza is a raison d'etre for me. I know, I lead an exciting life.

The Application Process
You have to apply to Oxbridge before all the other unis, as Oxford and Cambridge hold interviews. They like doing things in their own ways I guess... So I sent off my application in early October.  After that, I had to send off two pieces of written work, and fill in Cambridge's SAQ (Supplementary Application Questionnaire, don'tcha know). After all that, I found out (a mere two weeks before the date I was given) that I'd been invited for interviews! Don't get too excited though, Cambridge interview about 90% of applicants, but at least they didn't just completely laugh at my application!

So after two weeks of desperately trying to prepare, but not really knowing how to, I realised there wasn't really much more I could do. Either I'm right for Cambridge, or I'm not. And ce sera sera and all that. I was nervous to say the least. I'd had a practice interview at school, and teachers had told me I should be alright, but no-one really knows what the admissions tutors are looking for, or if realistically I have any chance at all.

The journey to Cambridge was not the peaceful start to the day I'd been hoping for, what with manic traffic jams, and my mother then proceeding to stress both of us out.  But we got there in time, and it was all OK (I'm sure you're very relieved.) At the porters' lodge at the college I met a boy who was there for his interview too. It was so strange to think that potentially we could both be there next year, and could be friends. Unlikely, but possible all the same.

My first interview was not ideal to say the least. Well, before the interview even started actually. I'd found the room number I was looking for, and there was a sign on it that read "Modern and Medieval Languages Interviews - please take a seat and wait to be called". So, stupid little me, thinking this meant I should take a seat in the room, walked in. Idiot. Complete and utter douche. That was in fact the interview room, and I'd just disturbed the girl before me having her interview. Needless to say, this threw me into a bit of a panic after apologising, blushing and hurrying out.

So I had the interview with two people. We spent some time discussing a French text they'd given me 15 minutes beforehand, and also spoke in French for a bit (though for a surprisingly short amount of time).  "How did it go?" everyone asks. Well, I couldn't possibly say. Looking back on it, there were times when I felt like I needed lots of prompting and couldn't get it at all, but also bits where I thought I may have actually said something remotely intelligent.  I felt the same after my second interview later on. However while waiting for this one (outside the room - I'm a quick learner!), I heard the guy before me, and dayum he seemed good.

I also had a written test that day.  Got a couple of subjunctive constructions in, so hopefully they'll like that.  It wasn't my best writing ever or anything, but meh, I guess that's the nerves.

So we shall see.  It's kinda impossible to guage how it all went.  I actually really enjoyed the day because I love talking about my subjects, and the interviewers are such incredible intellectuals to talk to (and also because Mama and I went shopping afterwards!) But I'm not expecting to get in. Not in the slightest.  Of course I would absolutely love to... Mother has joked that she'll buy me two goldfish if I get offered a place, which would be nice. It was a brilliant experience - the whole thing.  From reading extra books, to the actual interview technique... it's all good practice.

And now we wait. And wait some more. Apparently I'm going to find out in early January, which seems to be taking FOREVER to come around. In my opinion, the waiting is the worst bit.  I just want to know, whether I'm in or out. If they don't offer me a place, it'll be completely fine, because Cambridge know what they're looking for, and what the right fit is for them.

I'll keep you updated on things, and I'd love to hear from anyone else who's been through it.  If you have any other questions about the whole things just drop me a comment and I'd be more than happy to help.  (Trust me, I know I've rambled for aged here, but I could say a hell of a lot more... it's basically the main thing on my mind right now! Sigh...)

All pictures taken from Cambridge website.

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