Application

 Cambridge

 Corpus Christi

 Modern & Medieval Languages

 1999

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

Applied for Spanish and Italian

 yes (8 A*,2 A,1 C)

A-levels

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

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

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

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAA

yes

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

My Dad went to Cambridge himself, and my parents had encouraged me to think about Oxbridge for some time. I knew I was capable of it, and when I read the online Cambridge prospectus I liked the look of the course. Other factors that persuaded me were the excellent accomodation provision, the supervision system, the good reputation of the Languages department, and the fact that Cambridge is a lovely city.

My Dad went to Cambridge, so I’ve grown up in the knowledge that it’s by far the superior place. But I did look at the Oxford website, briefly, and from that and other sources I did get the impression that it was more stuffy and old-fashioned than Cambridge, and of course Cambridge tops the league tables.

It’s small, and has a friendly atmosphere – you get to know nearly everyone in your year, and there don’t appear to be any cliques. The food has a good reputation, unlike in some colleges. There is a good drama group, with its own theatre. The architecture is nice, especially Old Court, the oldest surviving college buildings in Cambridge I think.

Preparation

yes

Not specially. My Spanish teacher/Head of 6th form encouraged me and gave me the odd bit of advice, and I was offered a mock interview, but I declined on the grounds that it wouldn’t really help me to be interviewed by teachers I already knew. In fact, a friend of mine who applied to Trinity Hall for the same course did have a mock interview and said it was nothing at all like the real thing.

Try and get two forms, if your school has enough copies, so that you can practise. If you’re applying to Cambridge I don’t think it’s necessary to do a separate personal statement; I deleted a paragraph from my UCAS statement (because it wouldn’t have fitted otherwise), printed it out in a smaller typeface and glued it on. And of course (this applies to the UCAS form as well) check and double-check your exam record. I nearly missed off GCSE Maths.

If you are taking a language from scratch, read all you can about the country in question. (Obviously it helps if you’ve been there, but I haven’t been to Italy and I found reading a good substitute.) I bought the Rough Guide and read especially the sections about modern politics, culture etc., and was able to talk a bit about the North/South divide in Italy – helped by my memory of GCSE geography. In your A-level language the subject of what you’ve done during the course is bound to come up, so make sure you can talk about that – in the language in question. (That didn’t happen with me but it probably will with you.) Talk to yourself, out loud if no-one’s listening, in the language, about questions you think might come up. Read other books, fiction or non-fiction, about the countries and cultures, if only so that you can say that you’ve read them if they ask. (You needn’t read them all, just read the first chapter and say you’ve recently started reading it.)

Interview

no

no

yes

Yes, one half-hour exam, which I took along with about 7 or 8 other candidates sitting around a large table. There was a passage with some comprehension questions, and some sentences to translate into Spanish testing things like use of the subjunctive and passive.

I had 3 interviews in total. The first one was with the Director of Studies for Languages at my college, and was on more general matters such as why Cambridge?, why Languages?, A-levels in general and extra-curricular activities. This one went pretty well, and I found I could direct the course of the interview to stuff I could talk about fairly easily. Then I had one for Italian, with a native speaker, which concentrated mainly on what I knew about Italy; because I’d said that I had some knowledge of the language she asked me to read out part of a passage and say what I could about the meaning. The last one, for Spanish, was in another college (Queens’) and was a bit more challenging; we talked about a passage I’d been given to read (the interviewer asked questions like: when the author said she stood there for a minute, was she exaggerating?), then about the books we’d read in lessons, and I was able to explain why I didn’t like one of them. Rather surprisingly, we didn’t talk in Spanish at all, contrary to what I’d been led to believe.

Impressions

Corpus felt a bit dead when I went, perhaps because there weren’t many students there. But I think that in term time it would live up to my expectations.

I stayed in a smallish but modern and quite comfortable room, with a wash-basin. There was a shower on my landing and another on the landing above, but I couldn’t get either of them to work.

Excellent

All very friendly, and not at all scary.

I only talked to a couple, one of whom just happened to live 10 miles away from me, and they were very nice.

Looking back

Yes, I would – well, I’ve got an offer to show for it haven’t I?

Make sure that Oxbridge is right for you – I’m sure the atmosphere and all the traditions and oddities would put many people off, and I don’t feel happy about some of them myself. Having said that, don’t dismiss it on the (false) grounds that you need to conform to some kind of stereotype to get in. And try not to feel bad if you get rejected – there are plenty of other universities around whose teaching quality is just as good.