Name: Michael Thorne
A-Level subjects/equivalent: Religious Studies, French, History, English Literature (AS-Level)
I went to a Catholic state school in Loughborough, in the East Midlands. I was one of two from my school to get into Cambridge. My parents have modest public sector jobs. They went to uni but not Oxbridge.
I did well in school, and enjoyed the small amount of philosophy I’d read (though it wasn’t until quite late that I decided on that subject). I had visited Cambridge and fantasised about sitting in cafes in a big black coat, agonising over big, serious books and inventing revolutionary philosophical systems. In reality it was much less dramatic, which I’m thankful for.
Size, location; plus, on the open day I met the Director of Studies (the person in charge of your academic life) who was very friendly.
Application felt like one hurdle after another, with no end in sight. I went through about six personal statements. The last one was the simplest, basically just giving evidence for (a) interest and (b) proficiency in my subject.
Better than expected, but probably because my interviewers were nice people. I tried to heed the advice given to me by the Director of Studies on the open day: ‘don’t bullshit’. I’d repeat that advice, and add that you shouldn’t be afraid to say you don’t understand something or ask for a minute to think about your response to a question.
I expected Cambridge to be full of elitist millionaire snobs. Happily, pretty much everyone I met when I arrived was friendly and open-minded. The few slimy people I have come across I’ve managed to pretty much avoid.
I write one essay of 2-3000 words, and go to about six lectures. I try to read for four days, plan on the fifth and write on the sixth. On the seventh day I discuss the essay in a supervision with someone in the department, but otherwise try to treat it as a day off.
Coursework, in the form of ‘extended essays’ (2 x 4000 words) allows you to break the weekly essay cycle and spend more time on something that really interests you. Writing these has been the most challenging and enjoyable part of the course.
My loan saw me fine in my first two years. In my third year I splashed out on a beautiful and slightly more expensive room, so have had to rely on my parents a bit. Peterhouse has been very generous with prize money for good grades, and grants for foreign study and travel in the holidays, which has helped a lot.
Semi-productively: reading fiction; socialising; seeing plays; organising small talks and sometimes musical events.
Every moment of every May Week (the week when everyone’s finished exams (not in May…)) is my best Cambridge memory. In those seven days Cambridge is a sun-filled, worry-free paradise.
Keep the application simple; cultivate an interest in your subject; don’t worry. The cliché is true: Cambridge is one good uni among many. If you would thrive here, you’ll probably get in; if you wouldn’t, you probably won’t, but you’ll go somewhere else and thrive there instead.