On Tuesday 8th February Mr Alexander and Mrs Osborne took a small group of aspiring Oxbridge applicants to St Catherine's College Cambridge to meet our recent Sixth Form alumni Gemma Deacon and get a feeel for life at an Oxbridge university. Three of the students who attended have written a review of their experiences below:
Rosy Morelli's review:
After a brief introduction to Cambridge and selective universities in general, we had the opportunity to ask current students in different years doing different subjects (including Gemma Deacon who used to go to TGS) any questions about their experiences at St Catherine's college. I found this very helpful to get an honest insight into university life! For example, the first question asked was "What is the worst thing about Cambridge?". While this might not seem like a very positive start to the session, I think it is important to consider all aspects of student life. The workload mentioned did scare me slightly as at the moment, I find it hard to imagine working harder than I am for A levels! However, the student ambassadors were reassuring that after adjusting to the learning curve, it is a manageable step up and they are all enjoying their courses now. It's good to know that they still have time for various societies and there is a supportive welfare system in place as well - there were definitely more positive things to say than negative!
Next, we were lucky to have a short tour of the college and even to see some student accommodation! I found it useful to be able to visualise what it might actually be like to live and study at Cambridge rather than just being told. There were more opportunities to ask any questions before lunch.
In the afternoon, an admissions tutor at the college gave a talk about the application process at Cambridge. Although it still feels daunting, the idea of an interview is a bit less worrying to me now, because we were told what the tutors are looking for. I feel motivated to do some super curricular reading as it appears that the interview is more like a conversation with academics. This could actually be enjoyable if I know my subject well and have a passion for it! I was glad to find out that Cambridge doesn't have a preference whether or not applicants take a gap year -especially that you don't have to spend the year doing something related to your subject - as this is something I would be very interested in doing!
Finally, there was a taster lecture about French literature (presented in English though!). For me, this was especially interesting as I have considered doing a degree in languages but have never properly experienced what it might be like. The lecture was about a novel, "Autoportrait en vert" by Marie NDiaye, which was very interesting as there are many possible interpretations of its meaning and significance. I particularly enjoyed the philosophical points it raised, such as the concept of being, and to what extent how a person views the world and their self-expression determines their identity (or is someone just defined by the "gaze" of others and other peoples' perspectives of them?)! I was also surprised at the style of the lecture as it felt quite informal with the speaker asking and inviting questions throughout. This lecture showed me that I need to explore my options for languages degrees more, as I had almost closed off this possibility in my mind. Moving forwards, I hope to attend more taster lectures for languages as well as sciences to get to know which subject I love the most. Overall, I really enjoyed the day and I have taken a lot from it.
Megan Turner's Review:
The trip to St Catherine’s college in Cambridge on 8 February was a fantastic opportunity to think about further steps after Sixth form, as well as the possibilities open to us. Although Cambridge seems a distant prospect to attend, meeting current students, especially TGS alumni Gemma Deacon, made attending Cambridge a realistic chance. It was great to hear their varied experiences of Cambridge - from the perspective of humanities and science-based subjects to the workload and number of lectures attended each week. The extracurricular opportunities provided by Cambridge in the form of societies appear an enjoyable way of getting involved in Cambridge life, as well as meeting others similarly minded. The tour of St Catherine’s gave us a chance to see what it would be like to live in Cambridge as a student, from the accommodation, to the people who look after student’s welfare; it was reassuring to know that welfare is treated so highly and lots of provisions are made to ensure that students are happy and safe. The application process was explained after lunch, not just for Cambridge, but also for Russell Group universities. The speaker told us what makes an outstanding personal statement, as well as the super and extracurricular opportunities which students should get involved in. The interview process was also explained; it is more a conversation with an academic and they are looking for students to have a passion in their subject, so reading around that passion is a good way of preparing for the interview process. The taster lecture in the afternoon explored the autobiography of French writer Marie NDiaye, called “Self-portrait in green”. It was interesting to learn how different her autobiography is to our typical expectation, that fact was mixed with fiction, and the possible reasons as to why she did this, and the events in her life which have shaped her outlook on life. Overall, the trip has motivated me to attend more online lectures, and make use of the opportunities given to me, as well as keeping a record of them for when the time comes to write my personal statement.
Ella McCrory's review:
Cambridge is a very beautiful city with an easy mixture of architecture, museums, and libraries, which is accompanied by a feeling of enthusiasm and motivation amongst the students. Tourists, students, and residents all appear to work well together to create a city of discovery.
The taster lecture explored the fictional autobiography by Marie NDiaye, which I found to be extremely fascinating, (if this is a taste of what is to come, then it is certainly tempting to me!)
An admissions tutor gave a clear insight into what is necessary to stand out and achieve a position at Oxbridge. I thought this was very helpful as it answered lots of questions and helped me to get prepared for writing my personal statement next year.
When talking to current students at St. Catherine’s, I discovered the dedication and caring approach that the college has for each and every one of their students, with a strong pastoral care service.
When exploring the college campus, I was surprised by how small some of the student bedrooms were. I’m sure that you would get used to it, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected. However, the view from the bedroom was stunning and made up for the shortfall in the size of the room.
Many courses are very research based, which I think would suit me, however I think some students may see it as a draw back if they are looking for courses with a higher practical content.
Although I may not join Footlights, I was very impressed with the array of clubs and societies on offer to students, from academic to sporting activities.
I think Cambridge would offer so many unique opportunities which would be a benefit for my future career.
All in all, I think the highlights and the Footlights outweigh the lowlights, and I am very tempted to apply to Cambridge.