Studying at Cambridge is a unique experience, and this interview with Fran who studied Natural Sciences will shed some light on what it's like to attend Cambridge.
SnapRevise: What did you study at A-level?
Fran: I studied Biology, Chemistry, Maths and German at A-level.
SR: What drew you to your particular course.
F: Firstly, the course is really broad. It's technically Natural Sciences, and in your first year you can choose a whole bunch of modules, be they Physics, Chemistry or Biology, and there are many of each to choose from. When I was at A-level I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do yet, I just knew it was Science related, so I really liked that choice. On my open days, I was really impressed with Cambridge. From speaking to people there, you can just tell that they're so switched on and I just wanted to be part of that environment.
SR: Did you do a lot of open days?
F: I did visit Oxford as well, aiming for Oxbridge. I went for Imperial and UCL as well. So that was useful in getting a sense of what they're like. When you apply to Cambridge, you have to apply to a specific college. I ended up at Corpus Christi College, which is fantastic and I loved it to bits - but it actually wasn't my first choice. I'd gone for an open day at a different college, and it was just on the way out that we saw Corpus and decided to walk in and have a look around, so that's how I chose that!
SR: What is the main difference between colleges at Cambridge?
F: Some colleges offer a different range of subjects - though that doesn't really affect mainstream subjects. Mainly it's size, location and societies - which we didn't have many of as a smaller college! But we're really central and I liked the small college vibe because you get to know everyone really well.
SR: What's different about studying at University compared to A-level?
F: It's a big step up! The underlying mantra at Cambridge is that they don't want you to get to the final exam and regurgitate a bunch of stuff. They really want you to think for yourself and on the spot, so learning is designed totally differently to A-level. They basically give you an amount of information that is impossible to memorise... So you have to understand the logic behind it all and use that to drive your learning. Supervisions are also totally different to school. There are two or three students and you'll be with an academic, and in those you're driving the conversation, asking them questions, getting as much information from them as possible.
SR: What is the application process like?
F: Very similar to how it is in class. It was a lot more two-way than I expected. They will ask you a question that they're not expecting you to know the answer to, and it's about how you then process that. Good interviewees will be asking questions back to find out more information - it's more of a discussion.
SR: What is a typical day in the life of a student?
F: It changes a bit from year to year, but it would often be a lecture at 9am, there might be an hour in between the next lecture at 11am, and then it would be straight to labs for the afternoon, finish about 5pm, grab dinner, and maybe then head to a supervision. It was pretty full on in the first year, a lot of contact time, and on top of that you get given work to do.
SR: What are some tips you could give GCSE or A-level students?
F: I would say stop making your notes pretty! Unless it's a master set of notes, it's just a waste of time - it's all about repetition and making sure you're thinking through your notes when you're writing them. I would start with a blank piece of paper and brain dump everything. It would always be rough and disgusting to look at and there would be diagrams everywhere! But that was the process that really helped me iron things out in my head.
You can watch the full interview here: