Hey! I’m Chloe, a second year Geography undergrad at Murray Edwards or, more affectionately, ‘Medwards’.
Coming from a high achieving girls grammar school in Watford, I’d always been pushed to set my sights on the biggest dream I could imagine; so when it came to choosing universities, the question wasn’t ‘what about Oxbridge?’ but ‘Oxford or Cambridge?’ The Oxbridge I pictured however was one of grand castle-like colleges filled with old male dons, to which stupidly clever and unquestionably posh students belonged and spent all day churning out essays, reading a million books and thinking revolutionary thoughts in their turret-rooms. The idea was a romantic one which I flirted with, undeniably, but I never really thought I could get in, let alone belong, to such an academic world. I applied anyway, rashly selecting a college based on its aesthetic and the fact that they asked for no essay submissions prior to interview. Seeing a small, rectangular letter drop through the door one morning in early January sank my heart: it wasn’t a thick envelope filled with fresher’s advice and congratulations because of its shape, surely, and, hence, I hadn’t got in. I opened the letter brashly and skimmed the first line: ‘Unfortunately, we have been unable to offer you a place…’ before running upstairs and resigning myself to the reality that I hadn’t made it to my romanticised world of academia. I’d missed a small line consigned to the end of the letter, though: ‘However, another college has considered your application from the pool and wishes to make you an offer…’ The following day, an email came through telling me the mysterious other college was Murray Edwards. Unlike several people who are pooled to Medwards, I’d known of it before I was pooled, and hence the first thoughts that came to mind were: ‘OMG, another three years of all girls!?’, ‘It’s so ugly and modern and far away from the city centre!’, ‘It’s going to be full of weird people who didn’t really get into Cambridge’ and, worst of all, ‘I don’t deserve to go to Cambridge if I only got in through the pool’. All wrong.
The reality of Medwards
Medwards is, without a shadow of doubt, the friendliest college in Cambridge and, though it reads as a cliché, 'Dome' really is 'home'. The all-girls aspect, besides being of fundamental significance in continuing to address the unfortunate statistical bias towards male-representation in several faculties, ensures a completely welcoming, relaxed vibe more akin to living with all your best girlfriends and less the trope of a terse girls school, which is a concern many of my friends harboured before starting here. As to the guy ‘issue’: they’re everywhere, and you’ll have opportunity to meet them. The architecture and unusual artwork collection are both things I have come to love about Medwards; though I still dream of the old spires and historic quads of Cambridge, coming home to dome from the city centre is such a refreshing experience and allows a small haven from the compact pressures of the Cambridge bubble. But it’s not far away from the city centre at all. I walked the entirety of first year and could get everywhere within 20 minutes, and with a bike this year, I’m able to get anywhere within 10. As to my worry of weird people: everyone at Medwards is totally normal, and just like you! The only ‘weird’ thing about them is our common passion for our chosen subject. Everyone I have met, across all three years, is absolutely lovely and everyone, fellows, staff and porters included, will smile at you or say hello as they walk past, irrespective of whether or not they know you. It’s the little things like this, or the free spinach the gardeners provide, or the chocolates put in your pigeon hole in week 5, that make Medwards such a special space to live and learn in Cambridge. And, if you’re pooled to Medwards, or any other college for that matter: you do deserve to go to Cambridge. That’s why you were chosen. Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome at some point in their time here, regardless of whether or not they were pooled, and Medwards is the most supportive, encouraging and emotionally safe place I could imagine for going through the Cambridge experience at and with. I still get to live my romanticised Cambridge world: but it’s one into which I’m unquestionably welcomed into and belong to with Medwards at its core.
As a Geography undergrad, I generally attend around 6 hours of lectures, 2 hours of lab and 1 hour of supervisions a week, submitting one essay that week, and working towards coursework projects due across longer time periods. The vast majority of my time is spent reading, which we do a lot of; whilst lectures provide a broad outline of the subject historically and contemporaneously, highlighting key themes and debates, it is very much left up to you to explore the subject yourself and grasp a sound understanding of it. In this respect, Geography is a very independent and subjective course, both in how you work and what you get from it. The Geography course at Cambridge is unique in its simultaneous breadth and depth, and correlation of, both human and physical aspects, ensuring an unparalleled grounding in the subject prior to specialising further into your third year modules and dissertation. The diverse nature of the subject ensures that you never lose interest in your studies: one week I’ll be writing an essay on climate change across the last 65 million years, and the next I’ll be writing one on the geopolitics of The War on Terror, to name just two of the many things covered. A small field trip is undertaken as part of your coursework in first year, and a larger one midway through second year, both preparing you for the main trip you individually undertake for your dissertation research at the end of second year, leading into third year. As a faculty, Geography is relatively small compared to other subjects, with approximately 100 students in a year. Medwards generally takes two or three geographers a year. Both ensure that the subject has a very social, friendly atmosphere, allowing you to meet people from different colleges and backgrounds and get to know one another really well. Indeed, a lot of my best friends are those I have met in Geography standing around before a lecture or bonding over hours spent huddled over books in the Geography library.
Besides Geography, I am on the Blues team for athletics (competing in both long jump and triple jump) and I'm a co-editor for the Human Geography section of the university Geography magazine, Compass. I'm, also on the committee for the student-led Delight ministries, and attend a number of other societies such as CUGS and CIS throughout the week. Outside of formal commitments such as these, I make time to catch up over tea at least once a week with friends, enjoy a formal together, skype friends at other universities and write a blog. I have also loved exploring other areas of Cambridge in things I’d never previously been exposed to, going to several drama productions and talks throughout my time here. It’s so important to realise that Cambridge is not all about work, and neither are you expected to work all the time. There is so much on offer for any and every interest you may harbour or wish to explore, and it would be such a shame to spend all of your time in the library.
Advice to Geography Applicants
I wasn’t sure I wanted to study Geography when I started Cambridge, let alone when I applied. I’ve always loved engaging with the world, both real and imagined, through reading and writing, and so was torn between English Literature and Geography. In the end I chose Geography, for reasons I don’t really know. But it’s a decision I’m so thankful I made, and I’m so in love with my course. If you enjoy a diverse range of things, are curious about the wider world and your place in it, and want to engage with learning through a variety of platforms (essays, statistics, mapping (not drawing…), travelling), I couldn’t recommend Geography more to you, especially at Cambridge. Interviewers are not looking for people who can name the capital city of every country in the world, know what the weather will be like next week by looking outside the window and have travelled the world on amazing gap-yahs, but people who show genuine interest in the subject. So read broadly about what interests you, write about ideas and discuss them with friends, and be confident in yourself. Good luck!