Today, Natacha Maurin, one of The Oxbridge Launchpad’s Content Team, hears from Madeleine McLure, a third year languages student at Cambridge University, to discuss Madeleine’s experiences of Oxbridge as a state-comprehensive student coming from the North East of England.
Madeleine McLure is a third-year student at the University of Cambridge studying French and German at St Catharine’s College. She is currently on her year abroad in Austria teaching English with the British Council. Maddy attended a comprehensive state-school in the north east and has been involved in access work throughout her time at Cambridge, doing tours throughout her area to encourage students to apply. As part of her year abroad she is conducting research in the representations of gendered violence during the end of the Second World War in Germany.
1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?
First of all, I would say that there wasn't a culture of applying to Oxbridge where I'm from. People tend to go to Northern universities. It was not something that I felt my school was adequately equipped to deal with. We had Catz (St Catharine’s College, Cambridge) and Brasenose (Brasenose College Oxford) come in and talk to us and without that, I don’t think I would have. Quite a few people in my year did end up applying and I think it was purely off of the back of those visits. I think the school lacked any kind of understanding of the Oxbridge application process, both on a general sixth form level and also on a subject basis so without those sessions, I think we would have been really lost actually.
There was one that particularly stood out to me in year 12 where someone told me that the French degree you have to do two languages and that it's mostly literature, and I hadn't known that previously. Indeed, I could have gone on the internet, however potentially the idea hadn't occurred to me at that point. I didn't feel that I would have any less of a chance of getting in because I was from the north or from a state school, however, that potentially says more about me than it does about my background. I also think I have the advantage of not sounding like where I’m from which means I’m not sure my experience is the same as over people who potentially do have more of a regional accent, so that might be something they worry about more in interview whereas I didn't worry about that at all.
2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?
I wouldn’t say Cambridge is the same as what I thought it would be but then I didn’t know what I thought it would be. I think it is a very strange place I think the people are much more down to earth than what I assumed they would be again I don't know if that's because you choose your social circle or if it's a reflection of the fact that Catz is a very state school college but I certainly don't feel like people were trying to emphasise their wealth or their background and actually that if you do come from a wealthy background it was something that you would downplay rather than discussing, which is actually not something I've seen with other friends' experience at other universities.
I don't know if I discovered, or this dawned on me during the application process at some point, but you don't get into Oxbridge because of your family lineage or how much money your daddy has but rather because you are willing to work very hard or you are naturally very gifted at your subject. That's really nice about Oxbridge, it’s sort of a coming together of like-minded people, both in their enthusiasm for the subject and also in their work ethos. However, I was shocked by the lack of people from the north, or even from north of Cambridge, that is definitely a thing.
There is definitely not an equal distribution of north-south students. I can count on my fingers the number of people I know from the north but again I don’t feel like I am out of place.
3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?
I would probably say to a student from a similar background that there is literally no reason why they can't apply. They have just the same chance as anyone else. Private schools may be doing more Oxbridge workshops or whatever but the whole point of the application process is that they try and tease out of you your intrinsic ability or how well you could be taught. You may as well apply because at the end of the day you just don't know. It’s definitely not a place where you're going to find so many princes and dukes and things that you're going to feel particularly out of place. Also, if you don't apply and if everyone thinks like that and then, unfortunately, Cambridge can throw as much money as they want at the northern problem, but nothing is going to change if they haven't got any applicants to choose from. Until the representation cycle is broken, then it's going to stay the same and this inequality is not going away.