Application

 Cambridge

 Trinity

 Philosophy

 1999

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (5 A*,4 A,1 B)

A-levels

(A at AS)

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

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

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

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAA, Excluded General Studies

yes

Firm: Cambridge, Insurance: Durham (Van Mildert)

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Best course, intellectual atmosphere

Oxford didn’t do the right course – you could only do philosophy with another subject, ie. physics, politics. Cambridge does straight philosophy.

[the full list of subjects that you can study alongside philosophy at Oxford are Physics, Maths, Politics & Economics, or Psychology and Physiology]

The first time I visited Cambridge, it was so spectacular it stuck in my mind. Thus it was the college I wrote to about open days. At open day, I fell in love with its sheer majesty.

Preparation

no

*My* school was spectacularly unhelpful, but a nearby one (also an unselective state school) was a lot better – they gave advice, checked my personal statement, gave a practice interview, etc..

Get your personal statement checked by someone who knows what they’re talking about. You should be familiar with the subject through background reading, though you’re certainly not expecting to know everything, and they don’t mind you admitting that you’re not familiar with various ideas or philosophers. Having said that, my interviewers avoided expecting me to know anything specific at all (both discussions were based on questions, not previous answers to them; the logic was fully explained) and the only times other philosophers were mentioned was when I did so. You should have various opinions of your own, be prepared and able to defend them, and be able to think fast on your feet. However, you can’t really prepare that.

Interview

no

yes

They asked for two essays, and said they should be ones I’d done already for school, rather than specifically for them. However, as I wasn’t doing any essay subjects for A level, I had to write two from scratch. I wrote one about “what is philosophy?” and one analysing the calendar (the old millennium problem – clichéd, but it did the job)

no

After meeting some other students, going to lunch in hall and having a quick tour, I had two interviews, which were both with one interviewer and each about half an hour long.

First interview: Epistemological discussion – how do we know something exists, how do we know it continues to exist when we’re no longer sensing it, etc.. Then the interviewer asked “Have you seen The Matrix?” and we talked about the possibility of our whole world being an illusion. The second half of that interview was on logic. The interviewer explained three different properties that a relationship can have (eg. “is a sibling of” is ‘symmetric’ because if A is the sibling of B, then B is the sibling of A), then asked me to analyse a short list of given relationships and work out which properties they had. All the technical terms were explained fully and I didn’t need to have any prior knowledge for this bit. The second interview was about personal identity, based on the scenario of someone having their whole body gradually replaced by some advanced medical science, and whether they would stil be the same person. Both this discussion and the previous one were friendly and informal, and although the interviewers pushed me to defend my statements and produced counter-arguments, they weren’t aggressive (like my practice interview was). The second interviewer gave me the opportunity to ask questions about the college, course, university, etc., and also asked me the inevitable “why do you wish to study philosophy?”.

Impressions

Cracking 🙂

Very good. Large, comfortable rooms. Old style and modern, depending on which college building they were in.

Excellent

[Some might disagree about that 🙂 ]

Friendly, helpful, very impressive.

I met students at both open day and interview, and they were all chatty, friendly, welcoming… Trinity’s big though, so I guess you get all sorts.

Final stage

Immense relief, turning into overwhelming joy and excitement. “My god, I did it!”

Looking back

Of course.

Other than what I’ve said already, you pretty much have to fend for yourself.