The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, making it one of the world’s oldest universities. Although age does not necessarily imply quality, Cambridge has aged like a fine wine, and is to this day still among the absolute best institutions of education in the world. The university is world renowned for its state-of-the art research and teaching, as well as for its beautiful architecture and mythic traditions. When people think of Cambridge University, they often associate it with rigorous academics – and not without reason! The institution is among the world’s absolute best within many fields, and throughout history, 91 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the university – a European record! Check out the impressive list here.
In this article, we’ll give you an insight into the teaching at Cambridge, but also into the many marvellous opportunities that the university supplies beyond just academics.
Academics- the supervision system
As a student at Cambridge, one of the greatest educational perks is the supervision system. Supervisions are weekly sessions of personalised teaching. At a supervision, you sit down with a supervisor to discuss your essays and topics within your course. Sometimes you’ll be joined by one or two other students, but other times it will just be you and a world expert within your field, discussing your favourite subjects in depth! This style of teaching is an amazing opportunity to grasp foreign concepts, but it also sets certain requirements for you as a student: It’s kind of hard to hide in the back the class playing Tetris, when you are the class. If you want to get an impression of what supervisions are like, take a look at this video by the vlogger Jake Wright, a previous Cambridge student. Although Computer Science might be a foreign language to some, it does give an insight into the value and quality of supervisions as a way of educating. The supervisions are not just generic revisions of subject material, they’re actually focused on your personal work as well. Before supervisions, you will be assigned to write essays, which will be the basis of your discussion with the supervisor, your fellow students and you. If you’re curious as to what kind of super-genius you can become through a Cambridge education, check out this University Challenge match between Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Besides all this, there are two very important elements of the Cambridge educational system that characterises studying there: The first is the length of the terms. Terms are 8 weeks, which is much shorter than at most other universities. These short terms mean that there are very frequent and very long breaks, but they also heavily increase the workload during term. Fiercely studying your dream subject will hopefully be very enjoyable, but it is worth noting that Cambridge terms can be truly intense. Secondly, your efforts are only assessed by handwritten examinations by the end of each year. For this reason, it’s a pretty good idea to buy yourself a comfortable pen!
Living at Cambridge – the collegiate system:
When you’re a student at Cambridge, you’re not just part of the university, you’re also part of a college. Colleges are the places you live and spend most of your time, but they’re more than just accommodation. Think of them like the houses at Hogwarts, only there’s 31 instead of 4. Don’t worry about ending up at Slytherin, since everyone ends up being really happy about their specific college. The colleges have their own rules, traditions and societies, and they develop a great sense of community in their students. You will still study and hang out with people from all the other colleges, but your college is a great place to find a family away from home. Cambridge even has a “college-marriage” system, where students are “married”, and take care of two freshers together – their “children”. Since the colleges are fairly autonomous with regards to many logistical arrangements, the styles of accommodation vary greatly between the various colleges. Some places might have you live with a roommate, while other colleges generally arrange for solo accommodation.
When choosing a college, you have to decide: Do I want to live at a place that looks like it’s Hogwarts, or do I want heated floors and modern facilities?
Life beyond academics:
Cambridge is obviously a great place to study, but any student will tell you that you’re doing it wrong if that’s all you came to do. The university holds countless activities and a seriously impressive selection of student societies – in fact there are more than 700 of them! One of them is the Cambridge Union, a 200 year old debating society, where speakers like the Dalai Lama, president Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill have spoken. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that there’s a society at Cambridge for every imaginable activity, but in the unlikely case that you find that a society is missing, the resources and enthusiastic students are yours to seize!
Sports at Cambridge:
Among all the bookworms and geniuses at Cambridge, there are of course plenty of people who enjoy sports and athletics. At the university, it’s possible to do all sorts of sports, and at various levels of skill. You can of course play casually with friends, but there’s also the option to compete with the other colleges. Once a year, however, the entire university comes together for the most intense sports events at Cambridge: The varsity matches against Oxford. The stakes are high, and the Oxbridge rivalry is at its very best during these matches. Check out these two videos if you want to learn more about sports at Cambridge University.
– Formals: Formal halls or formal meals are dinner that take place in the college’s gorgeous dining halls. Each college have their own traditions and norms related to the formals, including various dress codes and frequencies. While some colleges may have dinners much more frequently than others, they in turn have “Superhalls”, which are occasional excuses to dress up in black tie and enjoy a delightful meal with fellow members of college. Under different circumstances, it is allowed to invite friends from other colleges to join your college’s formal, and it is a widely held goal to attend a formal at least once at each possible college, although not everyone get to cross of every college from the list. For the pre-arranged meals, the colleges do of course consider various dietary requirements such as vegetarianism or food allergies.
– Relations to Oxford (aka “The other place”): Cambridge University was originally founded by a group of scholars who were seeking refuge from hostile townsmen in Oxford. Ever since, there has been an ongoing rivalry between England’s two most famous universities, although there is also a sense of mutual respect between the two institutions – most of the time! Many Cambridge students insist to refer to Oxford as “The Other Place”, kind of like in Harry Potter, where it is forbidden to mention Voldemo… I mean, “You-know-who” by his name. Many of the university’s traditions, norms and internal jokes refer to this age-old British rivalry.
– May balls: A highlight at the Cambridge colleges are the May Balls. (Ball as in a fancy dance party, not a round object used for play) Ironically held in the month of June, the May Balls are extravagant parties with strict dress codes and fabulous entertainment. While the parties vary a great deal from college to college, they’re all known to be incredible fun.
– http://www.applytocambridge.com – Insiders’ view at life at Cambridge, written by students.. Prospectus’ for specific colleges can also be found online.
– http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses – Undergraduate courses
– http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses – Graduate courses
– http://www.becambridge.com – a more informal source of impressions of Cambridge
– Jake Wright youtube channel – Vlogs of the life as a Cambridge student. (British Computer Science student)
Joshua Teperowski Monrad, 18 May 2016