Three years ago I would have never thought I’d end up applying to Cambridge. Coming from a low-income household and attending a comprehensive school that didn’t challenge me, university was not something I was thinking about when I finished my GCSEs. However, I had always enjoyed learning and was supported by my family to transfer to a grammar school for Sixth Form. Although I did well at AS Level I still saw Cambridge as unattainable – cliché but somewhere only geniuses went. Again, it was largely with the support of my family and my Sixth Form that I had the confidence to apply but I saw it as more of an experience than as an actual possibility. Now I’m here I know that there definitely are geniuses but that most of us just have a love of our subject and an intellectual curiosity to learn more.
Enjoying my subject
I absolutely love HSPS which is why I’m now finding it so hard to decide on my options for Year 2! At A-Level I studied Government and Politics, English Literature, Early Modern History and Philosophy and Ethics. I enjoyed making links between my subjects and how my knowledge in one enlarged my knowledge in another. I therefore wanted a broad course where I could continue this and saw HSPS as the perfect subject to do so (which it has really turned out to be!)
In year 1 you study four subjects, the most common combination is Politics, International Relations, Sociology and Social Anthropology but you can also take Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and Psychology papers. I initially thought I’d specialise in Politics and International Relations but have really enjoyed Sociology so far as well. That is one of the great things about HSPS, you’ll probably be studying at least one new discipline which means you get to learn and view things in ways you’ve never done so before. Taking a whistle-stop tour of HSPS Year 1, I have found the study of ethnography, ethnicity, and gender fascinating in Social Anthropology. Equally engaging is the study of racism, power and ideology in Sociology. Furthermore in Politics I have covered thinkers such as Hobbes, to Nietzsche and Gandhi and in International Relations have looked at concepts such as sovereignty and debates around humanitarian intervention and the causes of war.
Murray Edwards is a fantastic college. It couldn’t be further away from some of the misconceptions about Cambridge and is simply a supportive and empowering community. Along with the students, the staff – from the porters and gardeners to the supervisors and tutors – are welcoming and friendly and do their best to make sure you have the best time during your university years. First Years all live in the same accommodation, Pearl House, and you are usually placed next to one other person on your course. You are also assigned a ‘college mum’ (usually someone studying your subject in the year above) who is there to help and support you – from settling in to college to essay questions and general Cambridge life.
I particularly like how Medwards is situated outside of the centre of town (even though I don’t have a bike) The hustle and bustle of town can be a bit hectic and returning to the peaceful gardens of Medwards always makes me feel like I’m home. Like I said, I don’t have a bike (and I’m definitely not the only one). It takes 20-25 minutes to walk into town for lectures so it’s completely up to you whether you get a bike or not – don’t feel pressured!
Supervision system/ average week
My average week consists of attending eight one-hour lectures per week Monday-Friday (the papers I take also means that I get Wednesdays lecture-free!) I also have one or two supervisions per week depending on when supervisors set essays. At first I was intimidated by the supervision system but supervisors at Medwards are very friendly and are there to get the best out of you. The supervision system really is one of the best things about Cambridge where you get to discuss your opinions, thoughts and ideas ‘one on two’ with an academic.
I spend most of the week doing independent study preparing for the essays set. This means that you can really control when you work and fit it around other commitments. Although HSPS gets more essays than say History or English (twelve essays per eight week term as opposed to eight) our essays are shorter 1,500-2,000 words and although at first it seems a lot, it really is manageable!
Making friends at Cambridge is not something to be worried about due to the college system. You’ll have lots of friends at Medwards as well as other colleges due to meeting people at lectures, societies or on nights out. There are SO many things you can get involved with at Cambridge and most people have a particular society that they go to, a sport that they play or a newspaper that they write for. In my first term I did rowing which was so much fun and a completely new experience. I have also got involved with the Cambridge Union Society and have seen amazing speakers from Baz Luhrmann to Calvin Klein and Yanis Varoufakis. Moreover, I am on the executive of Cambridge Universities Labour Club as BAME Officer and have written for their student newspaper as well as canvassed and attended their speaker events. There’s definitely something for you at Cambridge and if there’s not you can set up your own society!
Advice for applying for HSPS
From personal experience, the best advice I could give to you if you’re thinking of applying to HSPS is that if you think you’ll get the grades and have a love for your subject, then apply and just see what happens! Also, looking at the course content thoroughly is very useful. HSPS is a fantastic course (no bias of course) and most of us studying it love it, but looking at the content of individual papers gives you a clear idea of whether the course if for you (as you’ll have to do a lot of reading over the three years! However, don’t worry if not all of the four subjects really interest you, yet get to specialise in the second year and more often than not people have a subject that they enjoy less in the first year.
For interview (my personal statement was Politics and International Relations based) just know that the interviewer won’t expect you to know every political event that has ever happened and doesn’t want you to either. Keeping up with current affairs by switching on the news is helpful though, but the key thing interviewers are looking for is whether you have true enthusiasm for your subject and how well you respond to having your ideas challenged.