Sathya is from Harrow (London) and wrote this at the end of his final year of History here at Christ's College, Cambridge. At school he did A-levels in History, English Literature, Economics and Mathematics.
When did you definitely decide to apply for History?
My choice to study History was solidified during Year 12, when I realised it was what I was enjoying the most and what I felt I could do best at. Added to this were the History teachers at my sixth form being the ones who were the most intellectually stimulating in general. I did flirt with the idea of studying History as a mixed course, such as History and Economics or History and Politics, but the freedom afforded on the Cambridge History Course, particularly in Part II, attracted me greatly.
The supervision system at Cambridge particularly lends itself to essay subjects in my view. Cambridge History features a large amount of one-to-one teaching time that sets it apart from studying the same thing almost anywhere else. I felt that this would be particularly useful when it came to writing the dissertation, and that the expertise that Cambridge fellows have from a wide range of fields would only serve to enhance the usefulness of supervisions.
What influenced your College choice?
The location of Christ's College was extremely attractive, being right slap bang in the middle of town, I thought I’d be able to get stuck in quite easily, whilst being able to ‘retreat’ into College when required quite easily! I quite liked some of the alumni and thought they did cool things. Beyond that, it came down to very basic things like being next to Parkers Piece and Christ’s Pieces (large public areas of grass), and being close to two shopping centres - and Nando’s! I think the important thing with choosing a College is not overthinking it – speak to people who go to / have been to Cambridge and see what they tell you and embrace the basics.
Has the College lived up to your expectations?
No, but in a good way. I was surprised by how welcoming it has been - I’ve made friends here that will be friends for life and that is definitely a sentiment shared by many. Christ’s has a bit of a reputation for being more close-knit than other Colleges, in that a lot of people’s friendship groups seemed to contain more friends from their own College than a typical Cambridge student. I think that is one of the College’s great strengths.
"I’ve made friends here that will be friends for life."
What advice would you give sixth formers considering History?
First and foremost: read a lot. This will both enrich your capabilities as well as prepare you for the rigorous application process that lies ahead. In a History interview your wider reading may be discussed, and your interviewers will be able to gather a lot from the discussion you have about this.
Tying into this I would say that showing you have a genuine interest in History, beyond what you will have been set to study throughout your education, will go a long way. This is something you shouldn’t stress too much over, but rather think broadly about and try and see if you can see the history in things you haven’t necessarily thought of before.
What was being in the final year of the course like?
I actually preferred the final year to either of the years before it! History currently has a two year Part I and a one year Part II, and I felt that by the time I had come round to being a finalist I was much more equipped to handle any task that was set.
I wouldn’t say that the final year was necessarily the ‘easiest’ year – there was definitely more work to do – but I felt I coped a lot better. An underrated aspect of Cambridge in my view is the sheer step up itself, but if you meet the challenge with a positive attitude you will excel in ways you didn’t realise you were capable of.
What papers did you study this year?
As well as doing my dissertation on the London Underground in the Second World War, I had two papers on various aspects of Indian history, and Historical Argument and Practice (the only compulsory paper).
I was always keen on doing a dissertation as I felt it would be a challenge that was unlike any I had taken up until that point, and it eventually proved to be my favourite thing of the three years. Not only was I researching and writing about something that thoroughly interested me, but the trips to various parts of London and how my week was oriented around them made me feel like a different kind of University Student. It was a thoroughly rewarding endeavour in the end, and I actually really enjoyed the long winter nights spent working on it.
Covering Indian history so extensively happened quite by accident, being that both papers were my second choice. In the end I learnt so much about the history of a rich subcontinent, but also about my own history and how the nation of my ancestors came to be.
"In the end I learnt so much about the history of a rich subcontinent, but also about my own history and how the nation of my ancestors came to be."
Was your timetable different to previous years?
Whereas in my first and second years the lectures were set fairly regularly over terms, with supervisions and the occasional class in and around them, third year was altogether more different. My typical week would contain a couple of Part II Specified Paper lectures, as well as a seminar class on a special paper, a supervision on either my dissertation or the specified paper, and perhaps a Historical Argument and Practice lecture.
I particularly enjoyed my timetable in Michaelmas term (the first term of the academic year) because it was quite flexible with how I could schedule dissertation meetings around other, more rigid things. I think it took me a bit of time to adapt to what Part II was going to be like, given that it was so different from Part I. You feel like you have a lot more time at first, and then you don’t, and then you do again, and then…
What I think helped was the realisation that having self-imposed deadlines around certain dates would help especially in Michaelmas – when actual deadlines are so few and far between and you can become unstuck motivation-wise without them.
Have you been able to manage a reasonable balance of work and other things you wanted to do?
Yes, I think by the time third year rolls around you get a lot better at determining your own work/life balance. It’s harder at certain points of terms than others to do this so I think the key is being as on top of things as you can when it’s calmer so that you have an easier time of things the rest of the year around.
For exams, I tried to get as much done in the Easter Holidays as I could. Thorough planning of what I had left to do on the days before I came back, so that when Easter Term started I knew a fairly solid timetable right up until my first exam. In the end exam term was a lot better than I feared it could have been, and I put it down to being prepared
"In the end exam term was a lot better than I feared it could have been, and I put it down to being prepared."
What have you most enjoyed about your time at Christ’s?
Meeting so many friends that I’m going to keep for life. Having late-night chats with them over the most inane subjects; the third court benches are all amazing to sit on both in the day or the night, and probably my favourite spot in College. Having the support of these people both in an academic and pastoral sense for three years and giving it back alike. College were great with financial support for a surprisingly wide range of incomes. I think overall my university experience has been more affordable than many of my friends’ at other unis.
Where did you live this year?
Staircase 2 in New Court (also known as 'the typewriter building'!) was where I lived both this year and in second year.
Having an en suite was a huge priority for me. I feel like having a bigger room as I had in first year in the Blyth Building (Third Court) might have been nicer, but near winter I did really appreciate how warm the New Court rooms are.
Looking back over your time at Cambridge, what do you feel like you have gained from being here?
More than just making you better at your subject: it’s really character-building and makes you appreciate a much wider range of perspectives of all kinds. Being surrounded by people who are so are so smart and driven really changes you for the better in loads of intangible ways. My fondest memories are just a lot of the random nights I’ve bonded with a lot of brilliant people in a really weird and surreal University. Cambridge is the best kind of rollercoaster.
Is there anything you would change about how you tackled life here?
I wish I’d realised sooner that I totally merited my place at Cambridge. It sounds silly but impostor syndrome is an absolutely huge thing for many at Cambridge, and you can only begin to realise this when you get to a point in your time there where you open up a bit more with everyone and realising they’re all generally feeling the same things as you about it all!
Part of going to Oxbridge is accepting that whilst you may be extremely clever, there will probably be a few people above you who are the absolute Elite in their subject, just because of the nature of the place. Realising that this doesn’t make you any less intelligent and worthwhile can be disconcerting for many at first but it’s an incredibly important part of coping well with it all, and from this you will start to appreciate more the tangible things that *do* make you the kind of person worthy of a place.
Do you have any plans for what you’ll do post-graduation?
I’ve got a job in Access which I’m really enjoying! Longer term I might be looking to do a post-grad at some point. A lot of the other people in my year are continuing with further study, or doing a lot of things ranging from Law to Finance to Music!
What will you miss most about Christ’s?
The little enclosed space in the middle of Cambridge that became my home.
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.