Application

 Cambridge

 Jesus (open application, allocated college)

 Geography

 2003

 pooled, offer made (Christ’s)

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Grammar School

 yes (10 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

Profile submitted before pool offer made/rejected – outcome unknown!

yes

Unless a) I get picked out of the pool and b) by a college I want to go to, I’ll be taking University College (the castle!), Durham as my firm and Edinburgh as my insurance (if they make me an offer). If they don’t then either Sheffield (Geography and P

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

The prestige of Cambridge and the strength of the Geography department

Cambridge is better at Geography than Oxford and its Gegraphy department doesn’t look like it could fall down if you pushed it…! Plus the ‘University is the City’ idea appealed to me.

I knew someone there who loved it and raved about it being ‘the best college in the world ever’, it has a reasonable number of Geography places, an internal Director of Studies, an average applicants to places ratio in 2002 and it’s a very pretty college. It also has its sports facilities on site so it’s very green and there’s lots of space, plus everyone lives either on site or just opposite which seemed nice.

Preparation

yes

I had one practice interview with my headmistress and one with each of my Geography teachers (except I know one of them too well so the interview didn’t quite happen!)

The form: Don’t stress over them because they’re unlikely to read them? Hmmm maybe that was just my interviewers…
The interview: Read newspapers for Geography related articles, reading the National Geographic and Economist magazines is also a good idea. Don’t sress over reading loads of *real* Geography books – I had read 3 and they didn’t come up at all. If they do ask specifically about your reading, it’s likely to be about one book.

Interview

no

yes

2 essays (one human, one physical) on: ‘Is the world overpopulated?’ ‘Why is the flood risk in the UK increasing?’

no

I arrived early and was told where to go by the friendly Porters. It’s quite intimidating walking into a room full of fellow applicants but everyone’s very nice and very normal (apart form the one obligatory genius) so it’s actually fine. We had lunch and then everyone waited around in the mail room until their interview. I had 2 interviews, both subject specific and with Geographers.

My first interview was at 3pm with Professor Dowdeswell and lasted 20 minutes. He was very nice, very interesting, very interested. I said some stupid things (mostly after he picked up on something I’d said in passing which I had scant knowledge of or was just guessing about) but was able to convey my enthusiasm for Geography. Like Ailsa (http://oa.waveflex.com/profiles/prof_disp.asp?id=657) I knew that he was head of the Scott Polar Research Unit and asked him a question about an article written by one of his collegues in ‘The Independent’ and thus got him talking about ice. I thought this was a cunning idea but clearly it occurs to a lot of people! However he seemed genuinely pleased that I was interested. Overall I learned a lot and actually quite enjoyed the interview!

My second interview was at 4pm with Dr Kearns. I’d be told that he was fantastic and very interesting, so with this *knowledge* and after my first interview, the reality was something of a surprise and not a good one at that. He seemed very uninterested – he clearly hadn’t read my essays before the interview and the interview itself didnÂ’t even last the 30 mins it was supposed to. I couldn’t work out whether Prof. Dowdeswell was being good cop and Dr Kearn bad cop, with his complete lack of interest being an act, or whether he was genuinely bored out of his mind. If it was an act, he was very good actor! I also don’t think he’d read my Personal Statement and I didn’t feel like I was actually asked any questions – I felt like my interview didn’t go anywhere which was both frustrating and disappointing. Certainly it was hard to convey enthusiasm for Geography and acquit yourself well in that interview – I don’t think I succeeded in doing either. Having gone nowhere, my interview didn’t really finish either. Prof. Dowdeswell was all ‘Oh it was lovely to meet you’, Dr Kearns ‘Okay, we’re done’. Er, great.

1st one: both standard questions and Geography ones Why Geography? Why Jesus? Any other issues you want to discuss? Questions about my English coursework (!) Question about National Trust conservation work I’d mentioned in my personal statement What’s a rendzina soil? How deep is a rendzina soil? Question about attending Kingston Uni GA and what IÂ’d learnt there – I talked about a lecture by Greg OÂ’HareÂ’s on natural hazards and how they affect LEDCs and the most marginalised people most Questions about ‘project work’ – I talked about fieldwork in Abergavenny Something about how we date landscapes Questions about dating layers of sediment (not something I know much about!) How do we know that Abergavenny was glaciated? What glacial features did you notice in the Abergavenny landscape? 2nd interview: Some questions relating to my overpopulation essay – What conclusion did you reach (ha! pity he hadn’t read it) – I ended up just summarising what I’d written which was a bit pointless as he could have just read it, and I could have said much better things (criticisms o what I’d written, other things I could have said etc) – Why is Limits to Growth wrong? Some questions relating to my flooding essay – Why donÂ’t we just let areas flood? Should we tax airport fuel? Plus more questions (in both interviews) that I can’t remember. Sorry to be so unspecific, but it’s hard to remember excatly what you are asked and in any case, you are asked very few specific questions – most are are progressions from something you’ve said.

I wore smart black trouser, a green jumper, suit jacket and coat, more for layers than for smartness (it was v cold!). I wanted to look smart as then I feel more confident, but other people were wearing normal clothes. Basically it doesn’t matter – wear whatever you want to and feel comfortable with.

Impressions

Jesus: very green, very spacious, very nice, but hard to get a real feel for as I didn’t go to an Open Day there
Sidney Sussex: I went to an Open Day here – great Geography department, an incredibly nice Admission Tutor and lovely students, but a little bit cramped.

Edible but not great

It all seemed fine but a little greasy. Although it didn’t help that everyone was too shy to tackle the salad bar!

Prof Dowdeswell: Lovely! He was very good at putting you at ease and seemed like a really nice bloke. Dr Kearns: I wasn’t so enthused with – I’m told that he’s fantastic normally but he didn’t show that side of himself to me. Maybe he was having a bad day, but he could have tried at least a bit!

The one I know is lovely but I didn’t meet any other students whilst I was there.

Final stage

My letter told me that I was in the pool so I felt, well, not a lot really. Both pleased and disappointed all in one, although definitely more disappointed at not getting in to Jesus college than pleasure at being considered ‘good enough for Cambridge’. I’m not holding much hope out for the pool (chances of getting an offer from the pool are about 1 in 5) so I spent the next couple of days falling in love with Durham again.

Offer/rejection unknown

Looking back

Yes because it was worth a try. However with hindsight I would apply to a different college.

Be aware that it you mention something in passing, you’re likely to be picked up on it. This happened to me a lot in my first interview. Try not to say things that you know nothing about or have made up!

Also, don’t get too hung up on going – nearly everyone who applies is worthy of a place and the admissions system is a complete lottery. Besides, there’s a hell of a lot of work and pressure at both Oxford and Cambridge, and virtually everyone loves wherever they end up at University and wouldn’t change a thing. E.g. my brothe rreckons being rejected from Oxford was the best thing that ever happened to him because he loves where he is now so much.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions.