Victoria - History and Politics
Victoria is from Antrim in Northern Ireland, and wrote this at the end of her first year on the History and Politics course here at Christ's College, Cambridge. At school, Victoria studied History, Politics and Religious Studies for her A-levels.
What attracted you to the History and Politics course?
I am a very indecisive person, so the prospect of being able to study History and Politics together was really appealing to me. The modules which we get to study looked fascinating, especially ‘Pol2’ -International Conflict, Order and Justice - which is basically an International Relations module. I was also really excited by how wide the range of options on the History side were. Even within modules there were many choices, and I loved the idea of being able to study exactly what I'm interested in.
What was it like getting your Cambridge offer?
When I got my offer I was initially so excited to get into Cambridge that I barely realised I hadn’t gotten into the College I'd applied to (St Catharine's College - I'd applied there initially but when they couldn't offer me a place, Christ's took me via the Winter Pool). At first I was a little apprehensive, as I hadn’t been to an open day, and being from such a long way away, the only time I'd visited Cambridge was for my interview. I'd never been to Christ’s. But when I visited the college I couldn’t believe how lovely it was, and how friendly everyone was. It seemed strange at first, but it felt like home so quickly.
How do you find the College structure at Cambridge?
I really like the collegiate system, as it allows you to meet people from different years and make friends across different subjects. I love that I live so close to all my friends, that we can share the same library, dining hall, TV room, etc.
The collegiate system also helps with support for students. Alongside a grant from the uni called the Cambridge Bursary, I also got a generous grant from College in second term, as they paid over half of my termly bill. This really helped me deal with living costs across the whole year. Another great thing about Christ’s is the College book grant for all freshers. This not only enabled me to get books I need at no personal cost, but also allowed me to buy books about things I’m personally interested in which fall under the category of ‘history’ and ‘politics’.
Finally, Colleges also offer great pastoral support through a Director of Studies and a Tutor. While so far I've never needed to go to my tutor about any issues, it's reassuring to know they are there if I ever have problems in the future.
How did you find the application process?
I applied for Cambridge on my year out, which made it a bit trickier as I was mostly figuring things out by myself. I come from a school which doesn’t send many people to Cambridge, and applying as a post-qualification applicant was a last minute decision after I did better in my A-Levels in than I expected. Thankfully my teachers gave me as much help as they could through email, giving advice about the kind of things to read and what to include in my personal statement.
I prepared for my interview by having another look over the books I had written about in my personal statement. I also looked over the essay that I’d submitted, and tried to find articles and videos online where people talked about their interviews.
For the admissions assessment, I used the specimen papers that Cambridge provides to practise, and this definitely helped, as it gave me an idea of how the paper would be structured and how to manage my time while sitting it.
What specific advice would you give prospective applicants?
Read about things you care about, not things you think will impress! They may come up in your interview, and you’ll be able to show your interviewers that you are passionate about your subject.
Did you find it easy to settle in?
I really had no idea what to expect in Cambridge, so while I was excited about coming to study here, I was pretty nervous. Hardly anyone from my school had gone to Cambridge, and I didn’t really know anybody very well who had was studying/had studied there. I think I was most nervous that people would all just be so different from me, and have such different experiences of life that I would never find people who I clicked with.
Because of this, I was so surprised by how quickly I settled in! The great thing about starting uni is that everyone is in the same boat as you – while a few people will come with friends, everyone will be keen to meet new people and make friends. Even though I was nervous about the more formal aspects of Cambridge, these events – like the formal dinners in freshers week – really helped because they gave so much time to chat to other freshers.
Is the course what you expected it to be when you applied?
I didn’t really have any expectations about my workload, other than expecting it to be difficult. Of course, you can never enjoy going to the library or a lecture all the time, but one of the best things about my course is that a lot of the stuff is genuinely material that I’m interested in and enjoy reading and talking about! The great thing about History and Politics is the flexibility, which really allows you to study things you want to. I guess the hardest thing about my course is time management – doing a joint degree definitely has its challenges, as there’s sometimes clashes with lectures and supervisions, but thankfully all my supervisors were super-understanding. The supervisors are another amazing aspect of my course – it’s so fab to be able to discuss topics with people who know so much about it!
How does your teaching work?
This year I had nine supervisions over eight weeks, which were sometimes more evenly balanced than others! I also had about eight hours of lectures a week, split across the four modules I was taking. As well as this, every other week I had the Evidence and Argument seminar.
How do you manage your workload?
I’m definitely a planner, and this helped me to manage my work. Even though there were times when I had loads of work, I was still able to get involved in so many other things - I’m a part of the Christian Union, rowed for Christs and was on the Christ's May Ball Committee. I would usually plan my week at the start of the week (which is a Thursday in Cambridge!), writing out my definite commitments, then figuring out when I could do my own work and have time to spend with friends. Each week tended to look pretty different, but having only a few contact hours means you’re flexible to work in a way that suits you.
I almost always work in the Christs library, but sometimes if I need a change of scene I really like going to some of the cafes in Cambridge for an afternoon. One of the fab things about Christ's is being close to so many of them! During exam term I preferred to work in the libraries on the Sidgwick Site (where my lectures are), and I tried out most of them to figure out where I liked working best.
What do you do when you’re not working?
As I mentioned, I’m involved in a few things outside studying. Rowing was something that I’d never done before, and never really considered doing, but Cambridge is such a great place to try it out! I really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. As well as the Christian Union, I’m involved in a church called St Andrew the Great, and I loved my time in both of those this year. Finally – the Christ's May Ball committee!! I was Head of Food, which so much fun, as it (initially) mostly involved trying lots of different food and drink to decide what we wanted to serve at the ball. While the days surrounding the Ball were crazy and exhausting, it was so worthwhile when we saw it all pull together on the night!
Where was your room this year?
This year I lived in Third Court, in the Blyth Building (on the right in the photo).
I absolutely loved my room, which was so spacious and had lovely big windows looking over the garden in the middle.
I lived on a corridor with six other freshers, and some of my favourite memories from last year were made just sitting chatting outside our rooms for hours. I absolutely loved living just steps away from my friends this year. As someone who really enjoys cooking, I would have preferred a larger kitchen though so this will be a priority for choosing my College rooms for the next years!
Do you know which papers you’ll be taking next year?
This year I had more flexibility in choosing my papers for next year, and while I’m still not sure exactly what topics I’m going to be studying, I’ve picked quite a variety of papers. I’m going to be studying World History after 1914, Comparative Politics, The History of Political Thought to c.1700, and doing a History project. I love getting to study things that I’ve never thought about studying before, and that I know nothing about – while it can make it a little trickier at times, I think it’s a great way to figure out what I’m really interested in.
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I am really looking forward to getting back to College for another term. This year I’ll be living in a house with a bunch of my friends, but it’s still really near to College. Heading back to Cambridge and Christs for a second year feels completely different to heading to Cambridge the first time – even though I know I’ll have loads of work, it’s so much easier knowing how it all works and knowing all the people around me.
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.