Luke - Economics
Luke is from Sevenoaks, Kent in the south-east of England and wrote this at the end of his first year studying Economics here at Christ's College, Cambridge. At school, Luke did A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Economics and History.
How did you come to apply for Economics here?
I was keen to apply for an Economics-related degree at Oxford or Cambridge so I researched PPE and Economics and Management at Oxford as well as Economics at Cambridge. These are all quite different courses, and I personally preferred the more mathematical approach to Economics in the Cambridge course over the political and philosophical standpoints in Oxford PPE or the theoretical approach in Oxford Economics and Management.
As for College choice, I visited Christ's when I was in Year 10 and I think I decided there and then that this was where I would like to go to University! Now I'm a year into the course, not only has Christ's lived up to my expectations but without a doubt it has exceeded them. This environment that pushes you to achieve your best not only ensured that I went beyond all my expectations of how I could perform this year but it created tight-knit friendship groups that I hope will last for a long time to come. Diamonds are formed under pressure and that’s what I feel that Christ’s and Cambridge in general bring out in us: the best.
Do you like the collegiate system in Cambridge?
Yes - it’s brilliant! Christ's has supported me in every way I could ever have wanted: brilliant pastoral care from my tutor who always took the time to listen to my concerns, financial support where necessary from the university bursary scheme and the College as well, and lots of academic support from my tutors including revision supervisions and one-to-one extra sessions that most definitely helped me: although I was nervous that there would be too much maths in the course for me to understand and to get a grip of - and I did find it very hard when I got here (I still do!) - I managed to get a first this year.
"Christ's has supported me in every way I could ever have wanted."
How did you find the application process?
I found the process time-consuming, but ultimately it's a rewarding experience. There were lots of step-by-step instructions to guide you through and working through everything I needed to do in succession was, by the end of it, an experience that was totally worth it.
My preparation for the interviews was just lots of reading and going over everything I wrote in my UCAS personal statement. My school gave me some interview practice and even at home, I found it useful to practice talking about Economics and trying to explain about the things I'd been reading / thinking! That probably made the most difference with the interview more than anything else. There were two interviews, which were academic and exactly as I had expected them. I have to say I thought it was a car crash as I knew I'd made a big error at one point, but I guess that perfection isn't a requirement as for some reason they still let me in!
Personally, my preparation for the Economics Admissions Assessment (ECAA) went as follows: I did all the Thinking Skills Assessments (even though Cambridge doesn't use this assessment for Economics), lots of STEP questions (Christ's doesn't ask for STEP but the extra maths seemed useful), went through a fair amount of probability and statistics and did loads of mental arithmetic to sharpen up. Whatever you do in the Economics Admissions Assessment, don’t get too hung up on a difficult question: stick to timings then move on if you can’t do something.
My advice to prospective applicants would be to do lots of preparation for whatever eventualities may come up and when something comes up in the interview or the Economics Admissions Assessment that you like, use it.
Before you started at Christ's, what were you looking forward to and what were you most worried about?
The thing I was most worried about was the same as the thing I was most looking forward to! It was meeting new people here. One of the biggest worries I faced was the thought that I would no longer be the smart one. We have all come from schools where we were considered at least relatively smart compared to our peers and at Cambridge this is definitely not the case! However, having said this, despite everyone at College being an absolute genius, I was very relieved to find that it makes no difference to how great they are as people - my fears were completely allayed when I arrived here.
The activities that Christ's put on for freshers week were brilliant at helping us settle into College quickly and make lots of friends. If I can give one piece of advice for fresher’s week then it would be to embrace that fear of missing out and just go to everything you can possibly go to in the space of one week! I don’t think I have ever done so much in one week; it was an absolutely amazing experience! I can’t remember all of the activities that I did, but I did as much as I could fit in and I would recommend doing the same. My only tip is don’t do so much that it destroys you for the next four weeks and get ready for the inevitable fresher’s flu that will follow...
As well as meeting people, another very specific thing I was looking forward to was enlisting with the RAF in the University Air Squadron, which I'd been planning to do before I arrived. If you want to be paid to fly planes and go on adventure training in places like Greece or Croatia, then I would honestly recommend it.
And the work, lectures and supervisions?
Starting the Economics course involved quite an adjustment. There’s a lot more work here than at school and it’s a lot more difficult. It’s also different in other ways: work here is a lot more self- and peer-centred rather than relying on the teachers feeding you the information all the time. On the other hand, it’s also a lot more fun than at school!
I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life and that really surprised me. I know they say you will have to work hard but what you will learn here is a new level of hard work! Don't worry - you do adjust though and you develop priorities and strategies. For example, I've found that supervisions are very personal and a brilliant learning experience. Therefore I make sure I'm prepared for my supervisions so I can definitely get the most out of them. I would also advise all Economics students to always go to your lectures if you can, unless you are incapable of doing so, and always catch up from missed lectures.
In my first term I did a very poor job of managing the workload and frequently had to pull all-nighters to finish assignments for the next day. By second term my study skills had improved a lot though, and I had plenty of time to do more sport and lots of flying at RAF Wittering in the afternoons / on days where I didn’t have lectures. I typically work in my room, although there are plenty of other great places to work at Christ’s - it's just a question of preference.
"Work here is a lot more self- and peer-centred rather than relying on the teachers feeding you the information all the time."
What are the best and the hardest things about studying Economics?
The maths is by far the hardest part of the course. Maths in Economics can sometimes feel overwhelming and it certainly is a step up from A Level or whatever maths qualification you did, however with lots of practice early on it can be bearable. There are two parts of the course: maths and statistics, with statistics definitely being the easier section after you have got your head around it (similar to S2 and S3 under the old A Level syllabus). The maths is a necessary part of the course and can prove very difficult, but once you understand it, it’s actually fairly straightforward (it is not even touched upon in A Level, unlike the statistics). The one thing to remember is that unlike at school, you can't just reproduce formulae here, it’s the application of those formulae that matters.
The best thing about Cambridge Economics is the breadth: even though all five of the first year papers are compulsory, the first year gives a very broad and well-rounded understanding of the problems a modern economy faces, and this is a really good part of the course. My favourite topic of the year was Political and Social Institutions, as the lecturer was really interesting and the development topic is one I had done research into.
I have 13 or 14 lectures per week and five supervisions which last between one and three hours a fortnight. I love the variety of work too: there is a weird mix of reading (as a humanities student would do) and being set problem sheets as if we were maths or science students. This is one of the definite perks of Economics at Cambridge.
Looking back over the year, what do you feel you have got out of it?
I thought about this question for myself some time ago when I first started my revision. As I looked over my notes I firstly thought about just how much I had learnt in the space of eight weeks of lectures each term at Cambridge. I then thought about all of the other stuff I had done with my life over the year and it was extraordinary just how much I'd fitted into such a short space of time. I have flown solo sorties with the RAF, played College hockey and rugby and formed not one but two bands, a series of achievements I would never have thought to be possible before. That’s the one thing you will find when you come to Cambridge: a year here is like a lifetime in the outside world! It's also a reason why you shouldn't be intimidated as a prospective student though - it's all hard to imagine yourself doing until you're in this environment!
"You shouldn't be intimidated as a prospective student - it's all hard to imagine yourself doing until you're in this environment!"
What is your favourite thing about the College?
The rooms and the environment are definitely the best thing about College itself. Not only is Christ's a very central College, which makes it great for ease of access to everything that I could possibly need, but there are lots of green spaces for us to work and relax. The Fellows’ Garden almost feels like the countryside if you go in the right parts of it.
The people I have met at College are definitely the best part of College life and I would not have been able to do anything I had done without their support. The people at Christ’s (especially the porters) are some of the most friendly and helpful you will ever meet.
Where have you lived this year?
I was in Y (that's in third court). If you can get your hands on a room in either Blyth or Y, you are in for a great year of large rooms at low cost with usually a great view (apart from half of Y which overlooks the car park). I loved my room this year so much I balloted for the room above me next year!
What do you do when you’re not working?
I’m either on some sort of RAF deployment, playing music with the band or not in College (either at my girlfriend's or in a club). I guess I don't really do much proper 'down time' although I know lots of my mates like to chill out in the JCR or TV room. Also I should probably mention sleeping and eating!
We all do different things in the vacations. I spend most of my mine deployed with the RAF. Over Christmas I spent a couple of weeks flying to get a good start on the flying syllabus. Over Easter I spent two more weeks flying and did my first solo flight and then decided to train on the SA80 assault rifle for 10 days. This summer I spent the first week sailing in Greece and the second week in the field on Squadron Deployment. Coming up I’ve got two more sailing courses, walking 4 marathons over 4 days in full kit, a STRIKE exercise and some more flying in September. The best bit is that I get paid for all of it!
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I'm looking forward to taking the three compulsory papers plus the International Trade and Economic Development paper because its one of my areas of specialty in Economics and is by far the area I have done the most reading on. I am really looking forward to living in my chosen room in College next year as I really like it, and hopefully I'll be continuing with my RAF flying until I get my Private Pilot’s License and my RAF pilot’s wings!
Please be aware if you're considering an application that our student writers describe their experiences. Although the majority of the information stays the same, some details may change from year to year. Do read the student profiles in combination with our undergraduate admissions pages for full information.
"The people at Christ’s (especially the porters) are some of the most friendly and helpful you will ever meet."