Application

 Cambridge

 Jesus

 Geography

 2003

 rejected

Applicant

 Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes

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)

Other universities

yes

yes

I think I’ll put Durham first (Collingwood College), and i’m not sure what i’ll put second as all my offers are very similar. I think I’ll turn down UCL and Nottingham though.

Decisions about the application

There is a fantastic atmosphere, and so much going on. You’re taught by people who are world-class experts. The supervision system sounds amazing, especially to someone who has always been taught in massive classes at school. I really liked the friendliness of the colleges, too.

I visited both but Cambridge seemed friendlier and the course looked better. The town was extremely pretty, too, with a good atmosphere.

Neither too big nor too small; lovely spacious site; relaxed, unpretentious feel to it 🙂

Preparation

yes

No, i had to organise my Guidance teacher through every stage of the application, which was a bit irritating. Every day i’d turn up at her office and ask her to sign something and explain what it was for. She was really surprised when i handed her the cheque for the application fee, because she didn’t seem to realise that you had to pay for the admin. Ah well, it provided a source of entertainment! I had a five minute chat with my head teacher about interview technique (ie don’t stare out of the window etc) which wasn’t very useful but it made me feel like i had at least attempted to prepare! I also met up with a former pupil who is in first year at Fitz college and he told me about his experience.

The form: Well as I didn’t get in i’m probably not the person to ask for advice, but i’d say that it’s best to be yourself. I didn’t write an extra paragraph about why i wanted to go to Cambridge, but my teacher wrote a little bit that went something like “Ailsa is a hard-working pupil who works hard” or something similarly terrible like that. I had another opportunity to say why i wanted to go to Cambridge in a form which Jesus College sent me after i’d applied.

The interview: Prepare if it makes you feel better, but don’t expect that you’ll be able to predict any of the questions. If you have a general interview, i think preparation would probably be a good thing- be able to talk about yourself. As I didn’t have one of those, all my preparation was a bit useless.

Interview

no

yes

I had to submit two essays, with a 2000 word limit. This was a bit problematic as the Higher Geog course doesn’t involve producing essays. I’d completed my first Adv Higher essay, which was 1500 words long. I emailed the college to ask whether it would be OK to exceed the word limit, as i didn’t have anything to send that was only 500 words. They said that it would be all right to do that, so i sent my 1500 word essay about the Alqueva Dam and an old English Essay about a Scottish novel… not particularly relevant, but i had nothing else and we’d been instructed not to write something specially for Cambridge.

no

I stayed over for two nights as the timing of my interviews meant that I didn’t have time to travel from Edinburgh to Cambridge in the morning, or back in the evening. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to wander round the town a bit and chat to other interviewees. My first appointment was with Dr Kearns in the early afternoon, and my second was with Prof Dowdeswell, at about 5:15 i think. Both were subject-related, and held in nice studies. Prof Dowdeswell’s room was like a lounge, with sofas and a big window, which made me feel more relaxed as my first interview had been in quite a messy room(!) which was a bit distracting.

My first interview was really weird. I’d read over my Higher Geography course and lots of Geographical magazines and thought about answers to obvious questions….the preparation was completely useless. Dr Kearns didn’t seem to have read any of my forms and seemed surprised when i mentioned that I lived in Scotland. Unfortunately, the first question he asked was: “What Geographical issues are particularly topical where you live?” I said congestion (because it was true!) but then the next 10 minutes or so were focussed around traffic, which wasn’t what i’d have wanted. He didn’t seem to believe me when i said that congestion charging was being planned in Edinburgh, which was a bit frustrating. In fact, he didn’t look like he believed a word i said. As soon as i’d started to answer one question he would come in with another one, so i really found it difficult to take the time to think. It seemed to me like he was trying to imply that Scottish people were prejudiced, as well, which was difficult to cope with. For example, he asked: “Are Scottish people more accepting of English people who live in Edinburgh, now that there is a degree of devolved power?” And “do you think that people are more xenophobic now than they were 30 years ago?” I would have needed a week to think about some of the stuff he asked me. One of the worst ones was “How would you make sure that people who were skilled in shipbuilding could get jobs in shipbuilding, even though there was no longer a need for ships to be built?” That was a nasty one and i can’t really remember what i said… probably something along the lines of “um…er…” followed by something not particularly profound. The interview also didn’t really conclude properly. He just told me we’d finished! NO questions abou my essays whatsoever. He didn’t seem to have read them. When i was answering a question about the French novel i’d been reading, he flicked through my Dam essay halfheartedly and then ignored it. I could have talked about that stuff!! My second interview was really nice. Professor Dowdeswell was very friendly and relaxed, and my answers were better as a result. I knew he was the director of the Scott Polar Research Institute so i managed to steer conversation towards that and he got quite enthusiastic 🙂 . We talked about the possibility of another Ice Age and the disruption of the Gulf Stream. I really felt like i was getting somewhere in that one and it made me feel a lot happier. I also taked about Globalisation as I’d read a few articles on the topic quite recently. Not once during either of my interviews was I asked about anything extra-curricular, like music, or about the essays i’d sent in.

I wore smart black trousers, a white top and black shoes. I didn’t feel at all out of place like that. Everyone was dressed smartly and i felt comfortable. I would say that it’s best to look like you’re serious about wanting to go there, but there were a couple of people in suits who did look a bit uncomfortable. Most of the obviously quite well-off guys wore blazer things, which i thought looked funny but was seemingly quite normal.

Impressions

Absolutely adored Jesus College. It was stunningly beautiful, and the people were so friendly (a couple of the students were still around even though it was the 16th of December, and the porters chatted to us for a while).

My room was very spacious, with a single bed, L-shaped desk and internet socket thingy, wardrobe, a couple of chests of drawers and two semi-comfortable chairs. There was a sink in the room and a toilet/shower just along the corridor. I had a lovely big window looking out over chapel court. The room was freezing as it was abou -4 degrees outside, but by the end of my stay i’d managed to work out how to use the radiator!

Good

I’m a veggie and i was pleased to discover that the vegetarian option did vary slightly from meal to meal. Bit heavy on the Quorn but it was quite tasty nevertheless!

Dr Kearns was scary in an informal way. Apparently he’s a great guy once you get to know him…but I never will, so I won’t have the fondest memories of him. I really liked Prof Dowdeswell; he was so friendly and down-to-earth.

One second year showed us the library as we hadn’t been given an official tour. She was really nice, as were the rowing team when they turned up briefly after a training week in Spain(!). I only saw one really geeky-looking student the whole time I was there….he was your typical comic-strip nerd but I’m sure he was actually a very nice guy, if the other students were anything to go by!

Final stage

I was away over New Year and got back today (New Year’s Day). The letter was waiting on the doormat and it looked suspiciously thin, though I don’t know if there’s anything to that theory. I opened it by myself and read over the “sorry, just too many applicants per place stuff”. Went through and told my parents/brothers and went up to my room. It’s an overused word, but i genuinely fet gutted. I’d put so much effort and energy into my application and had wanted to go to Cambridge since I was 13 or something. Had short cry :S phoned a few people, cheered up slightly. Now I think I’m in a false good mood which is a bit scary. But hey, life goes on I suppose.

Looking back

Definitely. Otherwise I’d always have wondered… Plus, I had a fantastic time in Cambridge at both the open day I went to at Corpus Christi and at my interview.

Go for it! It’s a great experience. I went to Jesus and he turned me away (lol) but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a good chance of getting in. There were 40 or so people (I’d estimate) who made it to interview stage at Jesus, and only 4 places, so the odds were pretty bad, but someone has to get a place! Just not me…