Simran Rakkar

Simran is a first-year history undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. She identifies as BME, was a carer and comes from a single-parent low-income background.

1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?

Before I Applied…

Growing up, the prospect of university offered the chance for escape. With an abusive father and a mother with severe mental health issues, home was always a challenging place to be. I thought that even if I could manage to get into Oxbridge, I could not possibly fit in. Having been brought up on benefits without even a household car, I was most worried about the lack of extra-curricular activities I had participated in. I didn’t know if I could be honest about where I came from, or if I would have to lie and then seem lazy for having not spent my time on anything CV-worthy. However, with the encouragement of my teachers, I decided to give the application a shot.

The Application…

These experiences did shape my application in several ways, especially since I was unable to mention my personal circumstances at any point through the application due to the sensitivity of the issues (my mum was undiagnosed, my dad had avoided charges, and I did not want to go into care). Firstly, I did not manage to read an entire history book. I was finding it difficult to focus at home and frankly did not want to stress too much when I thought I would not get in regardless. As I have mentioned, the extra-curricular paragraph of my personal statement was a bit sparse. However, I don’t think either of these ended up being impediments. I was able to write a good personal statement from the super curricular activities I had undertaken, such as EPQ, Realising Opportunities and Summer Schools, and from the things I found interesting relating to my subject.

When it came to my admissions assessment (HAA), I had completed some past papers by myself but I didn’t receive any other help that I know some schools provide. Similarly, I had one mock interview with a graduate over zoom. In both these cases, however, structures had put in place to help ensure equal opportunities. Cambridge does not publish mark schemes for the HAA, meaning that no student or school really knows what they are looking for, and interview styles change from year to year, from interviewer to interviewer. Mocks are very important to help you feel confident but you can’t really be trained for the HAA or interview.
Overall, then, my personal circumstances were not too much of an impediment.

2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?

Arriving at Cambridge was a huge culture shock! Perhaps Trinity in particular lived up to many Oxbridge stereotypes: it seemed everyone was private-schooled and intimidatingly accomplished at first. It must also be said that racial diversity was extremely low. That said - and without denying the representation issues that truly are inexcusable - within less than a week I felt right at home! For the first time, I could be honest about my background without feeling any shame. The fellow state-schoolers came out from cracks and a really friendly community sprung up. I enjoyed my first term at Cambridge so much, in fact, that I was empowered to move out fully from home and try harder to get my family professional help.

3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?

My student loan, as well as generous Cambridge bursaries, made the playing ground feel much more level. Academically, I noticed I was finding it difficult to keep up with those who had attended private schools at first. I am confident these differences are balancing over time though. My college’s mental health provisions unquestionably need improving, but the student union does a commendable job at filling in these gaps. Overall, being at Cambridge makes me forget many of my previous concerns and has been a great new leaf to turn! For anyone questioning applying, I recommend it strongly!