Application

 Cambridge

 Sidney Sussex

 Classics

 2009

 offer made

Applicant

 Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

 yes (8 A)

Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A (AH) in English, A (AH) in History, A (AH) in Latin

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

In the very words of the supplementary application form that I was required to fill out, I applied to Cambridge as: ‘…The supervision system also appeals, as I relish the opportunity to be taught in a small group by an expert in the field. I also find the collegiate aspect of Cambridge life appealing. I like the idea of belonging to a smaller, diverse community within the University, that would be a home to me. I yearn to be surrounded by people who are passionate about their subjects, who want to learn new things and who are committed to succeed. In addition, I am eager to take part in all aspects of college and university life and, in particular, I am keen to partake in the music and dramatic societies.’ To add more to that, Cambridge is a lovely, dynamic town!

For me, I never really considered applying to Oxford rather than Cambridge, as (not that this was a big factor in my choice) my mother and my brother had both been to Cambridge and had both thoroughly enjoyed themselves there. To be honest, I could just imagine myself being at Cambridge, as I liked the look of the town and the Classics course, so it wasn’t a big decision for me.
For prospective applicants trying to decide between the two, I would look around both towns and universities and look at which course for your subject enthralls you the most and where you can picture yourself studying for 3 or so years at.

Again, in the words of my supplementary application form: ‘The sheer breadth of the Cambridge Classics Tripos, with its focus in Part II on a specific topic, is what makes Cambridge so attractive to me. I look forward to encountering new aspects of Classics, studying a diverse and fascinating range of topics, and discovering
where my true passion lies.’

I looked around a few of the colleges and tried to get a feel for one of them. Sidney Sussex (where I eventually applied to) was not my first choice in the beginning and surprisingly I did not feel that kind of spark about it (which I considered to be one of the most important factors in choosing a college) when I looked around. I did create a table of statistics to show the chances of getting an offer made for each college for my particular subject (Classics) and the chances of getting in to another college if you were rejected and put in the pool. For Classics in 2008, I think the best colleges to apply for, with regard to chances of getting in or getting a place at another college, were Kings and Clare–some of the more popular colleges. However, although Sidney was not the highest on the list for offers etc. I felt that it would be right for me, as it offered dramatic opportunities and seemed to be more comfortable and easygoing. Also in the prospectus, it seemed to be keen to take applicants from comprehensive schools.
My advice for prospective applicants would be to look around the colleges and try to get a feel for one of them or alternatively, make an open application if you cannot decide. Moreover, I have heard that if you get an offer from Cambridge you end up loving whatever college you end up in and it becomes your second home.

Preparation

no

Coming from a comprehensive school, I don’t think you get as much help with applications and interview techniques as you would from a private school (although feel free to disagree). I did not have a mock interview through my school before I had my actual interview. I think I was offered a more general one by a teacher at my school, but then nothing really came of it in the end. Also, it was more difficult as Classics is an unusual subject (especially for Comprehensive schools) and there was no one, other than my Latin teacher (who had taught me for so long and knew me too well), who could offer me a Classics-related interview. A few of my friends did ask me questions on my personal statement though and that did help a little (although I got asked almost nothing on my personal statement during my interviews!). I think that just reading over your personal statement and thinking about things that you could be asked about is the best advice. I have heard though that putting in prepared answers during your interview is a bad idea (the interviewers can tell…), but I think that thinking about what you might say is useful.

See a little above.
In general, as you have probably heard many a time, read around your subject and if you put anything on your personal statement that you have read or said you are interested in, READ UP ON IT! Emm.. Don’t panic if you hear that this or that person is doing loads of work for their interview, a lot of the time it probably isn’t true and although you panic at what everyone else is doing in preparation, you are probably doing just as much work as them in reality! Also, I think it is a lot more about potential and enthusiasm for your subject rather than what you already know. If you are passionate about your subject, I’m sure it will come across to the interviewers.

Interview

no

yes

For the Classics course at Sidney I had to submit two original relatively recent essays, which had not been edited or perfected for Cambridge. I think that submitting two essays was generally the norm for the Classics 3-Year course throughout the university. For me, this was okay, as I had an essay from the year before that I put in (about the Aeneid V1 if anyone is interested…) and then I had to hurry up an essay about Latin love poetry that had been set very near to the deadline for the Cambridge essays to be sent off. My advice for prospective applicants would be to obviously pick essays that you consider to represent some of your best work, but also to pick essays that if you are asked questions about them, you could expand or talk about them a little more. So another piece of advice would be to look over your essays and think of anything you may be asked about them beforehand. However, I was not asked ANYTHING on my essays in all three of my interviews, so you might not want to worry too much about this.

no

I think that my interviews went okay. I felt horribly sick in the morning (my first interview was around lunchtime), but then 10 minutes before my first interview, I started to feel much better. I think it was because I put it all in perspective and decided that I would just give it my best (which is all you can do). Anyway, the interviewers take it into account that you may be nervous. I even enjoyed some bits of my interviews, as it was an opportunity to talk about what I really love about Classics with people who were also really enthusiastic about my chosen subject (This was especially cool for me, as I am the first person to go on to study Classics at university from my school in around thirty-eight years! Also, having a teacher who has taught Classics at my school for around the same length of time, I think she has sadly lost enthusiasm for the subject…). There were points during my interviews where I got slightly confused about what I was being asked and I had to clarify the question with the interviewers. There were also times where I didn’t really know the answer to a question, but tried to relate it to something I did know, but I think that if you do get an interview, you have to expect that you do not know everything and that there will be questions that you will not know the answer to. I think it’s more the case of how you try to tackle it and work around the unknown. Also, you are not expected to know everything–you are wanting to go there to learn more!! In any case, there is no point going if you know everything (which is practically impossible anyway!).

I would like to say, before I put up a list of questions, that remember that these were asked in context and not just randomly thrown at me… (I mention this, as when i was looking at this site before my interview I panicked when i saw that people had been asked about some obscure part of Classics that I knew nothing about, but then I realised that they must have expressed some sort of interest in it to have been asked or it must have been something to do with what they said)
Right, I’ll try to remember most of my questions…

I remember being asked the typical question about why studying Classics is important to our society etc. This then somehow led on to if George W. Bush should take influence from the Classical World and their politics… (I found this slightly difficult to answer, as I had no examples to give–I just mentioned that the Classical World was different than ours and so we must take this into account when we use their ideas etc.) Then somehow my recent trip to Rwanda led on to the question about the differences between politics in the Roman World and today, which was difficult for me, as I have not really studied Roman politics at all! Also, I don’t know a huge amount about our politics today, but I think I made a point about Cicero and we began to speak about him. I was asked about Cicero’s speech against Verres (which I had studied) and whether without a defence speech by Verres, could we really believe what Cicero was saying etc. It was really interesting here, because I knew that they were aiming at something and just couldn’t work out what it was and when i finally got the answer after thinking around it, I saw the interviewer’s face light up and in my head almost saw a tick being made. It was the way that I eventually made my way around the question and came at the answer that did it. Later on in that interview, I remember being asked how Cicero gets across his message that what Verres had done by killing Roman citizens was terrible and I distinctly remember getting really passionate about it (like Cicero!) and using my hands to express myself a lot, but I think (i hope…) that this was a good thing!
My second interview (sorry for all the detail on all this…I just thought that when i was reading through all these experiences before my interview, i wanted lots of detail, so thought that i would share lots of information!) was quite good. It was the one in which I had to translate a passage of Latin. For me, this was the one I was most worried about, because of my lack of knowledge about Latin grammer (mainly due to the Latin Scottish qualifications, which do not encourage grammer or vocab learning and because of the various problems with my teaching of Latin. However, I did spent hours working on grammer and trying to get it up to the same level as the students following the A-Level Latin course. To anyone who is in the same situation as I was, I would advise you to mention on the supplementary application form about the problems with your teaching etc. (there is a space for it) and then try to do the best you can learning it by yourself–I’m sure the interviewers will take this into account, as I’m pretty sure they did with me…) Anyway, the Latin translation did not go as badly as I thought it would (then again, I expected it would go terribly!!) and the interviewer helped me along with it. I was then asked questions about archaeology (which I knew nothing about, but I think that they deliberately picked topics that I had not expressed an interest in, in order to test me…), which were ok. I remember getting asked if I had been to any museums and thinking that I was so pleased to be able to say that I had been to one! I was asked whether a knife could be biased, which was a bizarre question for me, but i somehow worked my way around it. By the way, I don’t know if this is obvious, but the questions I was asked did not have one-word answers and could be answered many, many ways… I guess the interviewers are interested in your opinion and interpretation of these matters. In my third interview, which was at Murray Edward’s college, I was asked about Helen of Troy and different translations of the Aeneid (which I had expressed interests in) and I was also asked about the Citizenship award I had won and whether I thought that the idea of citizenship was the same in the Roman world as today. Quite an interesting question really. All the interviewers picked up on the sam e sentence of my personal statement: “I believe that no translation can really compare to reading the texts in their original language”. Quite amusing really, because I never thought I would be asked about that! In general, I felt that my interviews went really fast and was even disappointed that I could not carry on talking about Classics for longer!

I wore my black school skirt (knee-length) and a comfortable arty white shirt with a purple cardigan and a red scarf. I also wore heels, but they were vintage and kind of individual… I wanted to look smart, but I wanted my personality to shine through. I did notice a couple of people wearing jeans when I was there though, so I don’t think it really matters what you wear. Wear what you feel comfortable in!!

Impressions

During the summer, I spent a night at Clare and a night at Murray Edwards and during my interview, I spent the day and night before with my brother, who was at Pembroke and the night after my interview at Sidney. I also had an interview at Kings, so I have had experience of a lot of colleges! I liked Sidney, as it had a great location and lots of friendly, laid-back people along with pretty gardens. Murray Edwards was probably the friendliest college I visited (no offence to any of the others!), as the people were so welcoming! Pembroke was beautiful and seemed really wonderful as did all the others. It is really where you feel comfortable, as all the colleges have their benefits and advantages…

My room at Sidney was quite large with a pretty nice view from the window. It wasn’t en suite, which didn’t bother me that much, but it didn’t even have a sink, which was slightly annoying as wearing contacts, I find it is useful to have a sink. However, it was perfectly nice and I could picture myself living there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any food at Sidney, as I was meant to have breakfast the morning after my interview, but my alarm didn’t go off and I overslept and had to run to the train station to get my train back to Scotland (which I ended up missing and had a terribly hectic time getting back home!!).

They seemed lovely, really friendly and willing to help. I know that they seem really intimidating, as they all have written incredible books and done amazing things etc. but it is useful to remember that they are all normal people!

I was lucky enough to go out for dinner with some students from Sidney along with other applicants like myself and it was great to talk to them, as they were really helpful and friendly. Later on, while the other applicants went to their rooms to prepare for their interviews the next day, I went to watch a movie with the current students as I had already had all my interviews!

Final stage

I think i went over in my head what i had said during my interviews and how i think i had done again and again and again. I think the best thing to do is just to forget about it all and enjoy relaxing over Christmas, although that is easier done than said! After my interviews, I felt that i had done quite well, as i had managed to answer a lot of the questions that i had known nothing about. Then, as i heard other people talk about their interviews, I felt really nervous and worried. I doubted myself a lot, but I think that everyone does that.

Surprisingly, at the time of writing this, I still haven’t received a letter from the college, because of the bad weather and snow! On the Wednesday, which was the day that I expected to hear a reply and when i didn’t, i eventually decided to phone up the admissions office and explain the situation (On reflection, I am so glad that I did this, as i didn’t realise that i wouldn’t have got my letter for another couple of days and i couldn’t bear to wait any longer!!). THe woman on the phone (who was lovely) said that she would add me to the list of all the people who had phoned and were in the same situation as me and that i could expect to get an email soon. It was horrible waiting for that email, as i sat glued to my laptop for a couple of hours, until she emailed back. When she eventually did and i saw it in my inbox, i really didn’t want to open it!! I eventually did, with my parents prompting and was incredibly shocked. I seriously did not think i had got an offer and was amazed, but so so pleased. It made all of my hard-work worth it! Then again, I think that if I hadn’t got an offer, I would have felt gutted, but I feel that the whole experience of applying and the interview process was so useful for the future.

Looking back

Yes, it was hard work (especially as i had to do all the extra work to improve my latin grammer etc.) and was challenging, but i feel that i have gained tremendously from the experience. I feel that if i hadn’t applied, i would have always pondered what could have happened and regretted not going for it and taking a chance.

Oh gosh! A lot! I think I have mentioned most of it above… For classics, I would really recommend going to the Bryanston Greek Summer School or the Latin Summer School in Wells (I think it is there…), as it is great to put on your application and although it is stressful and pretty hard work, you really learn A LOT. I felt like I had really achieved something! Don’t put yourself down, just because you feel like everyone else is doing more work or has got better grades or is smarter etc etc. the interviewers take your individual circumstances into account. Be passionate and enthusiastic about your subject and show commitment–i think this is what the interviewers look for… Answer questions in your own way and think about what you are going to say. Also, Be yourself! If you are feeling really discouraged and not very motivated to do some work, then (this may sound very silly to some of you) put up encouraging little notes on your wall or remember why you are doing this and why you want to try for Oxbridge etc. It really helped me! Good luck!!