Application

 Cambridge

 Wolfson

 Theology & Religious Studies

 2001

 pooled, offer made (Lucy Cavendish)

Applicant

 A-levels

 post-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (2 A*,5 A,4 B)

A-levels

(NA at AS)

(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)

Took A-levels in English Literature, French and History in 1999, AS Philosophy 2002

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Philosophy

A required in AS-Level Philosophy

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Cambridge offered the elements I was looking for in a university: the collegiate system, an interesting course, an attractive location.

Oxford’s course is very ‘traditional’, and it didn’t really inspire me as Cambridge’s did. I also had a vague feeling that I’d feel more at home at Cambridge.

I had read the online prospectuses of most of the colleges and had the feeling that several of them were a little luke-warm in their attitude towards over-21s. I contacted the Director of Studies at Selwyn (very good for theology), who wrote a lovely response but stressed that their Admissions Tutor recommended that ‘mature students’ (although I’m only 21, that includes me) consider the four colleges specially designated for them.

Wolfson is near Newnham, a little way from the city centre, and I liked the idea of being able to retreat away from the hub of things. It also seemed friendly from the prospectus, and I thought it was pleasant enough when I went to visit.

Preparation

no

I applied independently, although Ginnie Redston (plugplug: scintillae.org.uk) was a huge help to me with checking statements and things. I read some information about the interviews and thought of answers to possible questions, but nothing particularly organised.

Filling in the CAF: I used it to write some Cambridge and college-specific information, and also to explain why I had chosen theology and which aspects of the subject interest me. I’d be afraid that not writing anything would smack of arrogance, but, from what I can tell, it doesn’t make much difference.
Interview: Background reading will improve your confidence, which is a big plus. I’d recommend preparing answers to the questions I mentioned above – what is religion/sin/evil, etc, because they’re the ones that are likely to leave you the most stumped at interview.

Interview

no

no

no

An hour before my interview at Wolfson I was told that Lucy Cavendish also wanted to interview me a couple of hours later. That threw me a little at first, but it dissipated a few of the nerves.

When I arrived at Wolfson, the Porter showed me to the interview room, and I was called in by a very meek female tutor. The interview was before a panel of three, the other two being your typical Cambridge don-types.

At Lucy Cavendish I was interviewed only by the Director of Studies for Theology, who is also the admissions tutor, and that was far more relaxed.

In the first one, I was initially asked why I had chosen theology, before the difficult questions kicked in. “What is religion?”, “what is evil?” (I started to answer a slightly different question and was brought back on track), “what is sin?”, “how would you define salvation?”. After I answered the question on sin, they commented that that was “a stab at a difficult question”, which was difficult to interpret, and my waffle on salvation was just rather amusing. Thankfully, though, one of the interviewers reassured me by saying “these are difficult questions to which they are no real answers”, to which the other responded “and I’m glad you’re not asking me!”, which put me at my ease a little more. After dealing in the abstract, I was then asked whether I thought different religions should try to increase their credibility by seeking common ground. I was able to tackle that one a little more easily. At Lucy Cavendish the main question was about the ‘quest for the historical Jesus’: how would I try to find out more about the man rather than the religious figure. That was a really good question, since I could draw on what I’d learnt in history to tackle it. I was also asked, again, why theology and how I would prepare for the intensity of studying at Cambridge.

Black flarey trousers, purple top, black cardigan and black ankle boots. It was smart but also the kind of thing I would ordinarily wear to work, and I felt very comfortable in it.

Impressions

Wolfson isn’t quite as nice inside as outside. Their bar reminded me of a 70s-decorated working man’s club. Their porters are really lovely, though, and their library is stunning.

Lucy Cavendish is really pretty and seemed quite informal. I was impressed that they offered me a cup of tea before the interview!

Both colleges have lovely rooms – small but perfectly formed and often en-suite. I think modernity in a historical town is welcome in this sense.

I only met four but they were each quite different. One of them hadn’t been able to find the college and I was both impressed and nervous that people were coming from outside to interview us.

Funnily enough, the only one I saw was someone I’d met on a visit before and she’s really lovely. Having stayed with friends at various colleges, though, the students are so different that you’re bound to find somewhere you fit in.

Final stage

When I heard that I’d been Pooled I was pretty pleased (I was sure as I opened it that it was a rejection) but it meant more waiting. I’d already had an interview at Lucy Cavendish, so I knew that my best chance was being picked up by them.

My mum brought the final envelope in to me on a Saturday, waking me up with “it’s here!” It was large and stamped by Lucy Cavendish so I knew it was an offer.

Looking back

Yes – it was an experience and I learnt a lot from it. I would have regretted not at least trying.

Don’t let any assumptions or people’s views put you off, whether they come from teachers, parents or friends (at my school, I remember, it was considered pretentious to apply). They mean nothing when you’re in the interview room.