Application

 Cambridge

 Gonville and Caius

 Oriental Studies

 2005 (deferred entry)

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 United Kingdom

 Independent – selective

 yes (9 A*,1 A)

A-levels

(A at AS (281 UMS))

(A at AS (254 UMS))

(A at AS (278 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (289 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (254 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

Took Spanish AS in Year 13

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Computing, A in English Literature, A in History

AAA

yes

yes

yes

I applied to SOAS, and was given a very generous offer of 280 tariff points. To say I wouldn’t have minded to go there, instead of Cambridge, would be a lie, but this is only because I dislike London. The course itself is at least the equal of Cambridge’s however, and I would urge everyone applying to Oxbridge for Oriental Studies to apply to SOAS as well.

I also considered applying to the Ivy League due to the fact that only a small selection of UK universities offer Japanese as a degree. Took my SATS (I and II) and obtained relatively good scores, but in the end, an administrative oversight at my school meant that I missed the deadline to apply. Though I was pretty angry at the time, it’s unlikely that I would have gone to any of them even if I had been offered a place (and definitely not after having received an offer from Cambridge), because of the exhorbitant costs.

 offer met

Decisions about the application

I’ve always wanted to go there (I suppose it’s partly the image that appeals, if I’m being honest). There’s also the valid point that they ARE 2 of the best universities in the world. Furthermore, they number amongst the very few universities in the UK that offer Japanese as a course.

I had originally intended to apply to Oxford, when I was younger and had no idea about the differences between them. After I began to seriously consider Japanese as a subject, however, I had a closer look at the respective courses, and it became clear to me that Cambridge’s was far better for me – principally because the entire 3rd year is spent in Japan, as opposed to only a couple of terms in the Oxford course.

Partly because it’s a very broad course, with plenty of options for specialisation – the degree covers all manner of subjects: economics, literature, politics, history, etc. Partly because I wanted to come out of university with a tangible skill, and not having spent 3/4 years of my life just reading books I could have read at home. Mostly, though, because I have a passion for Japan and Japanese culture, and decided that it was something that I would genuinely like to study for 4 years.

Chiefly because it was central, and the facilities looked sound. I only found out later just how good a choice it was; at the interview, one of the students informed me that they were building brand new accommodation, ready for the year I go up, directly across the street from the Oriental Languages Faculty. However, it could just as easily have gone the other way and I’d advise all applicants who pick colleges because they’re “central” to check where the ACCOMMODATION is – it’s rarely in the college itself, especially in your first year.

Preparation

yes

As my school doesn’t offer Japanese as a subject (and hence has no Japanese teachers), I was given a practice interview with one of the economics teachers. Fortunately it turned out that he’s a phenomenally intelligent man, who easily knows enough about Japan to fill an interview, and enough about Oxbridge to make it challenging.

‘Specialist’ (read: obscure) courses such as Oriental Studies attract very few chancers, as opposed to more popular subjects such as English. Therefore, although the statistics may seem to be in your favour, you can reasonably assume that the majority of your co-applicants will be well-read, verging on the fanatical – so make sure that you have done at least SOME background reading. This isn’t to say that, in the quite likely scenario that you *haven’t* spent every free second since your 11th birthday boning up on your kanji and reading waka poetry, you don’t stand a chance against the guy who has (there’s always one…) Do, however, make sure that you make your specific interests in Japan known in your personal statement, whatever they may be, so that you can talk about something you’re really enthusiastic about at interview.

Also, if at any point you decide to contact the Director of Studies (or anyone at the college for that matter), make sure you get their gender correct. You have been warned.

Interview

no

no

I suspect that this could have been a mistake on the college’s part. On the Cambridge website, there’s a table within the Oriental Studies section that tells you for each college whether you need to submit written work, take a TSA test etc. Under Gonville & Caius it DOES say that written work should be submitted – however, after not being asked for any (and double checking via email with the admissions tutor), I didn’t send any. When I got to the interview, one of the tutors seemed quite surprised that he hadn’t had anything from me. However, it wasn’t a problem – I explained that I hadn’t been asked for any, and we moved on.

no

On the whole, they were enjoyable.

I had one college interview with a professor of German choral music (as Caius doesn’t have a fellow in Japanese), a cultural interview that mainly focused on the aspects of Japan that I had expressed an interest in on my personal statement, and a testing linguistic interview to finish.

You can expect (and probably were already expecting) the usual questions on “Why <course>”, “Why <college>”, “Why <subjects>”. Don’t dismiss these out of hand – make sure you have good answers, especially to the first, but don’t reel off a prepared speech. Just make sure you have a general idea of what you want to say.

I promise that it would do you absolutely no good were I to tell you the specific questions I was asked during my cultural interview. They were specific to my own interests, as described in my personal statement/supplementary questionnaire, so don’t think about them – think about your own interests, of which probably a broad range will be discussed, in increasingly challenging depth. Don’t be put off when you’re asked a question you can’t answer. Just accept that, astoundingly, the professor of Japanese culture probably knows a fair bit more than you, and in all likelihood won’t hold it against you. As long as you can display a genuine enthusiasm, you’ll do well.

The linguistic interview is mostly about finding out if you have the ability to learn the language. As the course is ab initio, and most applicants don’t know much, if anything, about Japanese itself, this will probably consist of a lot of spot tests designed to measure your aptitude and understanding of different parts of the language. Most of these are instinctive, and so you can’t really prepare for them. If it makes you feel better, you can try to learn some Japanese, or learn about its characteristics beforehand. But some of these tests you’ll just fail embarrassingly at, whatever you do (I know I did).

I honestly can’t remember. I know I wore a coat, because it was bitterly cold. I don’t think I wore a suit, but I could be wrong. Either way, I hardly think it was the deciding factor in my eventual success.

Impressions

The JCR (Junior Common Room) seemed very basic compared to the image I had in my mind of big leather chairs, fireplace, maybe a billiards table. It was cosy enough, however, and had a pretty convivial atmosphere from what I could tell. And there was a fireplace.

The college itself is pretty, in an unostentatious kind of way. It also has a nice bit of character given by the famous gates it has (You enter through the Gate of Humility, pass through the Gate of Virtue, and then exit through the Gate of Honour upon graduation). There’s also the student-dubbed ‘Gate of Necessity’, next to the bins, which you have to pass through to get between the two courts. Which is a nice touch.

I also visited Fitzwilliam, during the languages open day. I liked it a lot – it’s all very modern and stylish, but, not being a morning person, I didn’t really fancy the prospect of waking up every day and having to cycle 2/3 miles to get to my lectures.

Adequate. Despite the poor reputation, I don’t believe it’s any worse than that served by any of the other colleges. The resentment seems to stem from the fact that, unlike the other colleges, Caius effectively MAKES its students attend a certain number of meals per term. However, no college that I know of has fantastic self-catering facilities, so I expect most people at the university end up eating in halls a lot of the time, whatever their college.

The one I met seemed to be pretty friendly and surprisingly normal. Mrs Laurie (the external Director of Studies of Oriental Studies at Caius) was also very friendly.

Friendly, happy – if I were a cynical man I could say it was because they were getting paid, but I won’t. Caius has a bit of a reputation for being full of elitist toffs, so I was glad to see that there didn’t seem to be any sort of marked divide between private and state educated students.

Final stage

I was calm, up until the last day, during which I was very nervous.

Happy.

Looking back

Yes.

Cambridge has a great Oriental Studies course, but if you are pursuing it for the right reasons, then it does not matter in the long run whether you are successful or not. I’d urge you to go for it, certainly, if you’re genuinely interested in it. Not going to Cambridge doesn’t mean though, that in 10 years you’ll know less, and be less employable than someone who did.