Cambridge Alum reveals the insane competitiveness of students there – Barry Bridges/Quora



This post originally appeared on Quora, as an answer to the question, “What is it like to attend the University of Cambridge?” We have republished an answer from Barry Bridges with his permission.



???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Entrance to one of Cambridge University’s colleges, Clare College.  [Photo:  Google images]


I attended Cambridge between 2002 and 2005, reading law at Downing College. It was very much one of the most character-defining periods of my life, but in terms of enjoyment, those three years were the worst three years I have lived.

From day one, I found life to be pretty tough.  The first thing that no one tells you about Cambridge is that you can survive a full year because the expectation is that learning is inspired independently. Your supervisors don’t spend a huge amount of time working with you. When it comes to exams, if you haven’t done the work, you’re going to be found out.

In my first year, I studied as hard as I felt was appropriate. And this yields the second thing that no one tells you about Cambridge. The Cambridge experience isn’t hard because of the university. It’s hard because of the students.

Cambridge is a horribly competitive environment, where there’s a terrible sense of one-upmanship. You remember back to school when you’d turn up for an exam, worried about how much revision you’d done — and there’d always be someone spouting about how little they’d done when in fact you guessed they’d been revising 24/7 for about 3 years?

Well, take all those people and chuck them together, and that’s what Cambridge students are like.

This competitiveness manifests itself in some strange ways.

I’m 6 feet tall and since I was 18 have always fluttered at the higher end of “normal” BMI, occasionally veering into the lower end of “overweight.” Yet I was and would be quite comfortably one of the largest students.

Everyone is painfully lean and slim. The average Cambridge student is, I’d argue, so used to a life of hard work and being driven that the idea they might overindulge or become overweight is incomprehensible.

In exam term, the life really disappeared out of my college.

Fellow students would lock themselves in the library literally from morning to night, bringing in photos, good luck charms, and more. We referred to it as “the casino” because when working in the basement you couldn’t really tell whether it was day or night anymore.

You didn’t care, either, because no matter how hard you studied or how many hours you put in, someone else would do more.

That’s why Cambridge is tough.

In my first year, I got a 2.2, which I thought was okay. So you can imagine my disappointment when I received a terse letter from my DoS (Director of Studies) outlining everything I was doing wrong.

I accept that for many really bright, hardworking people who are driven by intellectual curiosity, Cambridge will be an amazing place to study. You’ll meet outstanding people and make friendships that will last your life, and you’ll be given opportunities that other students in other universities won’t have.

And that leaves me with this point. Since graduating in 2005, I have never ever been asked what grade I got at Cambridge. No one has ever asked me. In fact, I’ve never even stated my grade on my CV. It doesn’t matter at all. No one cares.


This article originally appeared at Quora.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014.  7:18 p.m.

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