Application

 Cambridge

 Sidney Sussex

 Geography

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Independent – selective

 yes (8 A*,2 A,1 B)

A-levels

(A at AS)

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

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A 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

AAB

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Prefered the structure of the courses, liked the idea of a college environment, and then of course there’s the prestige!

I prefered the course at Cambridge as well as the atmosphere, and also couldn’t face the idea of a three or four day interview which is what happens at Oxford.

Really lovely gardens, one of the old colleges, in the centre of town.

Preparation

yes

I met with different members of the geography department for half an hour once a week for about four weeks before the interview to discuss a topic I’d researched. It helped motivate me to read around the subject, but wasn’t that useful as I was talking about stuff that I knew rather than being asked tough questions.

The form: Talk about what you like about the course, why it is you want to study at Cambridge. I wrote a lot so I typed it on the computer, printed it on blue paper and then stuck it on, which was probably cheating a bit but I don’t suppose they minded.
The interview: Read around the subject, get a subscription to New Scientist and Geography Review, read the books you say you’ve read on your personal statement a long time in advance (I had a horrible time trying to speed read three massive books in two days).

Interview

no

no

no

I arrived about an hour early and went and collected a map and information about where my interview would be from the porters. I then had a bit of a snoop round and found out exactly where my interviews would be so I wouldn’t get lost later. I then went and sat in a cafe (where I would spend most of my day) and desperately tried to finish a book I said I’d read.
I was interviewed by an economist for my general interview who told me that it was his job to ‘see the way your mind works’. He started off fairly gently, asking me what he should read/watch in order to inspire him (geographically speaking) but my mind went completely blank and I ended up waffling about an edition of Costing the Earth about farming in Cambridge which really wasn’t very inspiring. We then discussed issues relating to the environment but I often felt that I wasn’t answering the question in the way he wanted me to – he did a lot of huffing and shuffling of his notes, often interrupting me and repeating the question. I was then told to come back an hour and a half before my subject interview in order to pick up some information that I would be tested on.

I was feeling pretty nervous before my second interview because I was expecting another grilling and also because I was going to be interviewed by three people. However, it was much nicer than the first, the tutors were all very friendly and it generally felt very easy and comfortable. They seemed to want to talk to me about areas that I wanted to talk about (asking me to describe a geographical book that I’d read and then taking their topics from there). The only slightly tricky bit was when they showed me a satellite image of an area of forest with some areas of deforestation, but also with some very strange looking features which I couldn’t really identify. They asked me to comment on it and I basically talked a load of rubbish. However apart from that it was fine, in fact I was quite worried because it was so easy, I didn’t feel that they’d pushed me at all and was concerned that this was because they had already decided that I wasn’t good enough and couldn’t handle tougher questions. I also felt that it didn’t give me an opportunity to really ‘shine’ or show off at all, for example I’d thought of quite a lot to say about the information (about floods) that they’d given me but they forgot to ask me about it until two minutes before the end and I didn’t get a chance to really say anything before they said that we had to stop. Still, it was actually quite a pleasant experience and I came out of it feeling very relieved.

Tell me about a geographical book that you have read lately. How is geography relevant to me? How do you decide how much land should be conserved? What exactly is environmental degradation? Can you change the environment without destroying it? Is soil erosion ever a positive thing? Should we conserve the environment? When is the outcome of damaging the environment positive? Why do you want to do geography here? If I brought a group of geographer to your local area what would you show them and what would your topic be.? What’s an example of an unsuccessful urban regeneration scheme? Do you find the idea of fluvial morphology, a very physics based subject, scary?

Smartish trousers and a white jumper. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing something really smart but didn’t want to be overly casual.

Impressions

Sidney Sussex seemed lovely – nice gardens, pretty buildings, friendly geography tutors.
Emmanuel had beautiful buildings, but I wasn’t as keen on the atmosphere.
King’s I found very intimidating and didn’t feel very comfortable there.
St Catherine’s seemed nice – really friendly porters who showed me round after hours and even gave me cake (very impressive), but it had no gardens.
Didn’t really like the feel of Magdalene.
Downing was very different – all faux-Grecian temple type buildings and kind of scruffy parkland, but it had a nice feel to it.
Jesus felt a bit like my secondary school, again like Downing very different to the style of the other colleges as it had lots of open space and no small little courtyards. It seems like quite a long walk though to the centre of town and especially to the geography department, I wouldn’t like to try hefting food shopping all the way back there.
Corpus Christi was very small but also very pretty.
St. John’s was absolutely lovely, very impressive, seemed like a grand country hotel, had incredible beautiful gardens.

The geography tutors were really lovely, really tried to put me at ease. The economics tutor wasn’t quite so lovely.

Only saw a couple but they seemed very friendly.

Final stage

I felt numb. It took me forever to open the letter and when I finally did and saw that I’d got a place I just couldn’t take it in. I still don’t think that the fact that I’m going to Cambridge has realy sunk in.

Looking back

Definitely, it took a lot of effort but it was worth it in the end.

Read around the subject and follow current events in the couple of months prior to your interview, try to appear friendly and enthusiastic about your subject; the people interviewing you are going to be teaching you so they’re going to want someone easy to teach and who they’re going to get along with. If you’re interviewed by several people try not to just focus on the person in the middle. Make sure that you really want to go because you think that you’ll enjoy being there – don’t apply just because it’s one of the ‘best’ Universities. A lot of people at my school got pushed into applying and had to endure all the negative aspects associated with it like the interviews and the anxiety when they didn’t really know if that was where they wanted to go.