Emily - Law
Emily is from Ipoh, in Perak, Malaysia and wrote this at the end of her first year studying Law here at Christ's College, Cambridge. Emily did Cambridge International A-levels in English Literature, Economics, Biology and Mathematics.
How did you choose your College?
I didn’t actually choose a College (but I should have!); instead I made an open application and was allocated to Christ's. I think I should've chosen a College because by making an open application I could've been allocated anywhere, perhaps to a College I'm not very suited to. For example, I have friends who applied to Colleges further away because they preferred to live outside town further away from faculty. I, on the other hand, don't enjoy cycling, so I might've dreaded staying too far out. If you prefer to stay right beside faculty, you could choose a College based on that, but I prefer to stay nearer shops and restaurants. If you want to dedicate yourself to rowing, you could perhaps choose a College which is very near the boathouses. As you can see there's no College that's 'better' than another objectively, just factors that make some better suited to my needs than others. The university website provides some guidance.
I'd suggest opening up a map of Cambridge and looking at the locations of different Colleges relative to faculty, shops, meadows, etc. - anything that's important to you. Some of my friends looked at the Chapel services, music facilities and sporting facilities. Imagine daily life in university and think about what might be important to you! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year and Christ’s has been a big part of that.
What do you think of the collegiate system in general?
It’s great! You don’t need to take much effort get to know people from other courses, because you live and eat with them every day. It's difficult for anyone to really ‘fall through the cracks’ and get left out. It’s also nice to have a group of lawyers to go to lectures and supervisions with right from the start, and the second year lawyers to guide you, rather than wandering to faculty on your own and making friends from there.
The tutorial system is great – it’s always nice to know an academic is looking out for your non-academic needs. Financially, I’m not on any bursary, but the first-year book grant available to all first-years has been helpful (for my year it was worth £120, which is more than I needed for essential textbooks, so I got my hands on further reading material as well at no personal cost).
Did you find it easy to settle in?
Before coming, I was looking forward to the Harry Potter-style traditions like wearing a gown and dining at formal hall. I was most worried about being unable to cope with the work and having no one around me feeling the same way, considering how brilliant everyone around me would be. Thankfully, my staircase neighbours have been great! The international freshers’ week organised specially for international students a few days before UK freshers came really helped us to settle in and make friends. These days are probably my favourite memory of arriving because there were small welcoming events like College tours, tea, movie night, etc., all with international freshers who were feeling much the same way about being so far away from home for the first time.
What attracted you to Law at Cambridge?
For Law generally, the orderliness of society fascinates me:
- How do people with such diverse values and ideals live together peacefully?
- How are the gazillion potentially conflicting interests in society ordered and dealt with?
- Why do people generally obey the law and respect its authority?
For Cambridge in particular, Cambridge is very highly ranked for Law, and the faculty members are super! It’s so encouraging to have a renowned academic frequently cited by the Supreme Court hand you back your work and say “Well done”, and better still when they specifically and constructively guide you on how to improve.
"It’s so encouraging to have a renowned academic frequently cited by the Supreme Court hand you back your work and say “Well done”, and better still when they specifically and constructively guide you on how to improve."
Was there anything that you were nervous about, in relation to the course?
There were a few things that worried me.
(1) The amount of reading, given that I’d always been a very slow reader. Since being here though, my reading speed has not only tripled, but I’ve also strategically learnt to sift out the important information and not waste mental energy carefully reading the less relevant parts.
(2) The skill of arguing: Although I’d been quite involved in school debating, I always found it nerve-wracking as I hated putting forward my own opinions - I would always pick the safe ground. At the end of most argumentative essays I would weave both sides together somehow and sit on the fence, not wanting to pick a side. I wasn't confident enough to put forward my own ideas, thinking they were too immature to be heard and valued. Amazingly, I’ve become much more confident putting forward my ideas, and actually thinking through the things I’m reading rather than just committing them to memory. Initially I would just memorise the views of different academics and not have my own view, but as the months of study went by, I realised the value in actually having my own view, disagreeing with some academics and agreeing with others, or disagreeing with them all and following my own course! 😉
How did you find the application process?
Great! The emails from the College admissions coordinator always felt warm and personal, and made me feel like she really cared for every single applicant and their needs. This was especially clear in contrast to the other universities I applied to, whose emails always seemed glossy and automated. Perhaps this is a product of the collegiate system whereby the one admissions coordinator focuses on a small pool of applicants throughout the entire admissions process.
I had an overseas interview in a College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I also sat for my law admissions test. The interview also wasn't what I expected it to be. The interviewer made me feel calm and drew out powers of legal analysis that I never knew I had – she asked questions not to trap me but to find out how suited I would be to the Law course. When I came out of the interview I actually felt I had learned something and grown in my interest in Law.
"The interviewer made me feel calm and drew out powers of legal analysis that I never knew I had – she asked questions not to trap me but to find out how suited I would be to the Law course."
How did you prepare for your interview and the admissions assessment?
I read a book by Lord Denning called What Next In the Law?. I also watched YouTube videos produced by the university about the interviews (such as preparing for interview and the interview). The Cambridge University Malaysia Society ran a series of mock interviews, the 2nd years acting as mock interviewers over Skype.
There were two specimen Cambridge Law Tests on the Law website (here), which I downloaded and attempted for myself, writing out full answers and comparing my answers to the marking criteria.
What specific advice would you give prospective applicants?
Remember that the university is not looking for the one-in-a-generation genetically brilliant genius… They are looking for people who are genuinely interested in their course and have skills suited to it. Think about what your course entails – e.g. for Law, you need both the ability to think about the abstract wider picture of the function of law, and also the ability to analyse very specific words of a statute, or to distil the principles from a decided case. Show the interviewer that you know what you’re getting into, but also show that you know how much more there is to learn and how interested you are in it: you’re not meant to know everything – you’re meant to show you can think about it meaningfully.
"For Law, you need both the ability to think about the abstract wider picture of the function of law, and also the ability to analyse very specific words of a statute, or to distil the principles from a decided case."
What surprised you about starting at Cambridge, if anything?
People are generally so humble and friendly. They will listen with fascination as I talk about Malaysia (my home country) and about Law (my course), even if they are neither from Malaysia nor studying on the law course. People here are genuinely interested in talking and finding out more. They don’t look down on you or speak in a condescending way and make you feel inadequate, which were my exaggerated fears before coming here.
How did you find starting lectures and supervisions etc.?
Comfortable! The second year lawyers had brought us to the faculty and showed us around, and our Director of Studies had met us and briefed us about lectures and supervisions. The Christ’s lawyers went around together, so I was never left finding my way on my own.
The contact hours also weren't what I expected! They were much warmer and friendlier than I thought they would be – especially supervisions. Before I came, I thought supervisions must be stressful sessions where supervisors coldly looked over your work and criticised its amateur quality. But it turns out supervisors really enjoy teaching and bringing out the best in you! They address you as if you matter, not as just one of their many students, but as young lawyers they want to build up. It’s hard to explain!
Did you take a gap year? If so, what did you do during the year?
I sort of did – in Malaysia the timing of the year is different so I finished by A-Levels in November 2016 and could only come to Cambridge the following October. Specific to preparation for uni, I read What About Law? (a book written by some of our lecturers for prospective law students), watched lots of Cambridge Law videos on YouTube and binge-watched Cambridge student vloggers to find out about the Cambridge lifestyle. I also helped out a lot at my local church and did a bit of travelling.
How does learning at Cambridge compare with what you experienced at school?
In school I was taught facts that had been settled by academics in universities, then simplified and printed in A-Level textbooks. Even if I was asked to think critically about the facts that I learnt, critical argument wasn’t as richly rewarded as being able to churn out textbook answers that match the mark scheme. Now, at Cambridge, I see myself standing at the edge of legal learning, the front. There are areas which are simply unknown, such as whether or not Parliament is sovereign, and we are invited not merely to memorise what the various academics say, but to actually have an opinion ourselves, and the quality of my essays hinges on such critical thinking, a lot more than it did at A-Level. It’s much more interesting and satisfying!
" We are invited not merely to memorise what the various academics say, but to actually have an opinion ourselves."
What do you think are the best and hardest things about being a Law student?
(1) Best: We don’t just learn what the law is. We also think about what the law should be. We are regularly challenged with essay or problem questions laden with moot points on which there is no settled law, and this pushes us to use our legal reasoning to come up with an original solution.
(2) Hardest: The amount of reading is a bit crazy, but I’ve learnt to speed read, to delineate the more important bits from the less important, and to take good notes so I only have to read my material once.
My favourite topic from the year has been Constitutional Law – it’s both abstract and practical at the same time, and it is in this paper that you see law meeting with the practical, real world, most easily, especially with all the Brexit developments that transpired whilst we studied the paper.
What teaching do you get, and does the Law workload balance OK with your social life?
We have 8-11 hours of lectures a week, but I learn most from my supervisions. For each paper there is a fortnightly supervision, hence eight supervisions per fortnight. We also have a few seminars (sort of in between a lecture and a supervision; about 20 people in a room with an academic), for a half-paper called Legal Skills and Methodology.
I have a great study group, in which we share resources and bounce essay ideas off each other. This has not only boosted my motivation but also made revision much more efficient. I carefully balance work against non-law-related things such as meals, movies and board games with friends, rowing and Christian Union stuff. This makes the Law workload much less overwhelming than would otherwise be.
In terms of holidays, I went home to Malaysia for Christmas this year. In March/April I spent a lot of time studying because exams were coming, but I also took a week off to head to Barcelona for a sunny holiday with a few friends.
Where do you like to work?
Library-hopping is great! I don’t work very well in cafes because I get distracted by even the slightest noise. The University has a site called Spacefinder which is super useful! During exam term I would open Spacefinder each morning and look for a new library to go to (there are more than 100 libraries in the university). The changing environment helps me concentrate better.
In academic terms, what do you feel is the most important thing you've got out of this year?
I’ve learnt how to argue. I’ve become much more confident with my opinions and putting them forward even when I know there are some who would disagree.
What stands out about Christ's?
Two things are tied as my favourite things:
(1 = ) The location is amazing. Christ's is near everything (except Girton and Homerton Colleges!). You can come out of your room at 8:25 for Wasabi’s 8:30 half-price japanese food.
(1 = ) Christ's is just the right size. I see people walking around College all the time, and most of the time they’re familiar faces, so the College feels homely.
Then, close 3rd and 4th favourites:
(3) The porters are the friendliest and most helpful ever.
(4) There's the subsidised Costa Coffee in College itself (in the buttery in first court).
At first I wasn't so keen on my room as I was in one of the older parts of College and it seemed really old compared with some friends in other parts of Christ's / in other Colleges. But then I got used to my room and I now realise that it feels cosier than a new hotel-like room. Also, the best and most important thing about my accommodation this year was the people ❤, and I've chosen a great room for next year.
What have you enjoyed most about life at Christ’s this year?
(1) In springtime the Fellows’ Garden looked amazing. It was so nice to picnic out on the grass.
(2) In Lent term I ran a programme called Text-A-Toastie with the Christian Union every single week. This meant making and delivering toasties and answering interesting faith-related questions. It was really good fun! When I'm not working, I’m actively involved in the Christian Union (both at College-level and at university-level), and in Holy Trinity Church.
(3) Rowing has been great. I've finally found a sport that I’m both sort-of decent at, and also thoroughly enjoy! I've learnt rowing from scratch at Christ's. Most of us were first-timers in fact. I'm in the second women's team, so I row three outings a week (two weekday mornings, one weekend evening) as well as one indoor rowing (gym) session. It might sound like a lot, but because the weekday outings are in the mornings before lectures start, they don't take very much time out of my daytime schedule, and it's always a great for de-stressing. I love rowing because we stay in the same 8's crew for the whole term, and so we get really close. It's also very much a team-sport: when we do badly there's no blaming anyone. We're all in it together.
"I've learnt rowing from scratch at Christ's."
What do you have planned for next year?
I’m going to be taking Contract Law, Land Law, Administrative Law, Human Rights Law and Jurisprudence next year. The first two are more or less compulsory for those who aspire to practice law. I chose the last three because my interest is in the notion of government under the law (governments must conform to admin law and human rights law), and jurisprudence will help me to understand the theoretical basis for law having a superior position to government itself such that the latter must obey the former.
More generally, I look forward to learning from my first year mistakes, which will hopefully mean I’m a lot more efficient at studying. I’m also looking forward to becoming more active in the Christian Union, organising law-related events, and also to doing better at the rowing 'Bumps' races - Go Christ’s!
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.