I’ve lived in a suburban town just down the road from the centre of Manchester all of my life, which still has the grammar school entrance exam system. I failed every exam, but it didn’t stop me from working hard and realising that my heart has always been captivated by English Literature and how the world shapes and is shaped by it. I was certainly not a straight A* or A student, but I’ve always been determined to try and ask myself ‘Why not?’ when faced with opportunities. However, what really convinced me to even realistically think about applying to Cambridge was a fateful HE+ scheme trip to Murray Edwards with other local schools and colleges. On the coach home, I knew that if anywhere was right for me, it was here.
Enjoying my subject
I’ve always been interested in words. Reading and writing them, as I grew up I took in every text that we studied in class as much as I could; I still remember my Year 8 teacher reading to us Jacques’ famous speech that ‘All the world’s a stage’ in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and thinking that it was so clever and relevant. Although I knew that I probably wanted to study English early on, this can be a more gradual process which varies for everyone.
For me, the best thing about the Cambridge English course is that you are encouraged to think beyond the literature itself. At first this can seem daunting, but my Director of Studies was so supportive towards me developing interests which I never knew that I had before arriving at Murray Edwards, such as art. For instance, I am now fascinated by the relationship between visual culture and literature after writing essays about Tennyson’s poetry and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, as well as exploring visual representations of Milton’s Paradise Lost. I never would have imagined being able to understand such texts in the first place, let alone finding my own personal paths into them.
This is mainly because of how caring our college community is, both academically and pastorally. Also, because of the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that college prides itself upon, you quickly become close to course mates and support one another, even by doing little things such as sharing the notes of a lecture which you missed!
As an English student, I typically attend 1 to 2 lectures (sometimes 3 at the beginning of a term) a day, but the freedom of the course enables you to manage your own time and decide which topics are suited to your personal pattern of learning and interests.
Instead of a lecture, I might go to the English Faculty Library at the Sidgwick Site, where English and other arts/humanities students are lectured, and browse through some books which I think would be useful towards my current weekly essay. I will then go back to college and work on my weekly essay and other class work such as for the Practical Criticism paper by analysing a text or writing a timed short essay (which you quickly get used to – it’s less scary than it sounds!) I usually do this preparation in our beautiful college study space, the Rosemary Murray Library, which has practically every book you could ever need. I’ve definitely learnt at Cambridge that study habits are very individual, so in terms of where or when to study, you gradually learn to do what suits you best – there is no right or wrong way!
The weekly supervision is also a great chance to develop your argument to an expert in a friendly way and to consolidate your knowledge for the week, ensuring that you really progress and gain confidence in your abilities.
There is a perception that all Cambridge students can do is work, but this is simply untrue. Some of the best memories from my first year here have been created when I’ve taken time out from the books to go and spend the night dancing with friends, or have gone to see an inspiring talk or presentation in the evening. There’s always something going on here to cater for everyone’s interests, and there are so many opportunities to gain skills and confidence beyond your studies. In college, being a member of our Junior Combination Room (the JCR committee which represents our college Student Union) as Access Officer has furthered my passion towards the value of education and working towards equality.
The confidence that I have gained in the past few months has enabled me to take a break from writing essays to articles for student newspapers, start rowing, and to develop my public speaking skills to name a few. My advice to anyone starting university would be to not be too hard on yourself in finding the perfect work-social balance immediately, as it comes with individual experience. For me, Murray Edwards has been the most supportive place to learn this!
What Murray Edwards means to me
For me, Murray Edwards is a really special place which offers you the traditions of Cambridge with the best of both worlds. Whilst you can have a moment to cycle down King’s Parade, you can go home and escape the pace of the city centre to a genuinely supportive and empowering community. I have made friends from a variety of different backgrounds who are all equally caring, even if we just have a quick chat about our days in the Dome or over a fun event organised in the bar which brings everyone together to have a laugh. Also, our onsite gym means that I can quickly exercise any stress away, 5 minutes away from my room! I don’t think there is anywhere in Cambridge or the world where I would rather live and study than Murray Edwards.
Advice to English applicants
I would firstly say to not to worry too much, and have faith in your abilities – you have been drawn to study English at Cambridge hopefully because you love and enjoy it, and this will guide you through the application process and your time here! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your school or even the college itself, as our Admissions Team are more than happy to provide information about the process. In terms of preparation, don’t be fooled by anyone who tells you that you must have read a specific amount of texts by a certain author – there is no catch to the process, and your interviewers are genuinely interested and supportive of your own interests, and will work with you to develop them. I found that the best way of preparing was to read, write and even talk (to myself in the mirror sometimes, or my dog) about texts which excited me as well as practicing my close reading skills by finding interesting elements to write about, even if this was just a single word in an unseen poem! Don’t be afraid to be confident in your ideas and above all, in yourself.