Today Rachel Gould, a member of The Oxbridge Launchpad content team, is speaking to Imran Mulla, a first year history student and Jesus College Student Union’s Ethnic and Religious Minorities Officer, about his experiences at Oxbridge.
1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?
I attended a state comprehensive secondary school in Leicester, and then did my A Levels at a sixth-form college. Cambridge itself seemed like a completely different and almost fantastical world – elite, majestic and steeped in history and tradition. I didn’t think I was a typical Cambridge student, and that made me hesitate to apply – but in the end I chose to do so on the basis that it’d be an adventure I’d probably regret not going for. Sometimes, it’s good to take a leap into the unknown.
2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?
I think my time so far at Cambridge has not been what most Cambridge students would consider a typical experience. The pandemic massively limited the things we could do compared to other years. But the semi-lockdown situation also meant my household became very tight-knit and I’ve made some really wonderful friends. My household is also far more diverse than I’d expected it to be, and that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Cambridge so far – meeting all sorts of people from completely different backgrounds. It’s like a massive melting pot, and that’s a great thing.
In terms of work, they do make you do a lot but it can be perfectly manageable (disclaimer: I study history, so can’t speak for any other subject). The key is not to do too much, but to try and work efficiently instead. The first term will probably be chaotic, but you can eventually identify the ways you work best and the routine that suits you most. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that it’s probably not good to try and study at night. I stop working after dinner and socialise in the evening (that’s a strict personal policy) – it’s kept me disciplined and efficient during the day and made me look forward to every evening!
3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?
Think a lot about whether you’d actually enjoy studying at Cambridge. The ‘prestige’ factor is short-lived; it might feel great to get an offer but what about when you have to actually move there? I’ll be honest – it’s not for everyone. But on the other hand, don’t be put off from applying just because you don’t think you’re a typical Cambridge student – lots of people feel that way (I did too), and in all likelihood you will find people that you click with! Cambridge is, if nothing else, an experience – and it might be a risk going there (you don’t know if you’ll like it) but the potential upshots are massive.
If you do go ahead with the application, don’t focus on Cambridge too much and don’t obsess over it. If you don’t get in, it’ll have been worse if you spent months fixating on it. And if you do get accepted, all your expectations will probably bear little resemblance to your actual university experience! If you’re from a typically underrepresented background and you end up attending Cambridge, it’s common to feel that you might be there for ‘diversity’ reasons, or that you were somehow advantaged in your application. But Cambridge colleges don’t use quotas, and their application processes are so intense that if you get accepted, it’s implausible that you don’t deserve to be at the university.
One last thing – extensively research the different colleges before you apply to one. They vary wildly!