Clare College Cambridge

English

Lidia Kuhivchak

Comprehensive School, Leicester

 

My reason for applying to Clare was simply that is has a reputation as being ‘the’ college for English. At the time I was feeling frustrated by the academic limitations imposed by the A-level syllabus at my school, and wanted to study at a place where I could explore my own interests without being told they didn’t conform to an assessment objective. The online summary of Clare’s approach to English made the college sound like a place I could work happily, and its central location and gardens made it seem somewhere that I could live quite happily, too. I decided to ignore the application statistics on the basis that Cambridge would either want me or it wouldn’t, and there was no point in trying to play some kind of numbers game in the hope I’d get in – a decision which I’m very glad I made.

One set of A-level exams and two terms on and I’m still feeling positive, though like every student here I have a few days when I feel challenged to the point of curling up under my desk and hoping it all goes away (a method which rarely works). There’s enough information about the degree course easily available online and at open days, so I’ll leave that to you to find yourself: suffice to say that the great thing about the English Tripos is the opportunity to wander through practically everything and pick out the bits you like. For me the highlight of the Cambridge course has been Paper 7, the language paper. You don’t have to do a language, but I think the chance to study some of the most influential pieces of Western literature in the original language (potentially ‘ab initio’) with weekly lessons tailored to you, is incredible, and part of what makes the English Tripos so special. I grew up in a very multi-cultural city, and my father’s from Poland, so I’d had language experience in- and outside of school and wanted to somehow combine it with my interest in English literature. Before I came up I was thinking of taking the Latin option, but at the beginning of the term I changed my mind and opted for Ancient Greek from scratch. The beginning was bumpy, but in two terms I’ve gone from not even knowing the alphabet to being able to translate pieces of Homer, and I’m hugely grateful to the university and the college for allowing me to pursue that. Here, it’s really all about how much you’re willing to give to your work, and seeing the reward of those hours spent in the library is really satisfying.

You might already be aware, but the drama scene at Cambridge is unique, and a great opportunity for potential actors/actresses (as well as those of us who just like watching plays). There’s always a wide variety of productions on, and they’re a convenient reminder of how the plays we discuss as solid literary texts in seminars or supervisions can be re-interpreted – sometimes drastically – on the whim of a particular director. I did Theatre Studies A-level, so it’s been handy to keep up that part of my interests as well.

The other thing I’ve liked about Cambridge is the quality of the libraries. It’ll sound daft, but I’ve been at the kind of schools where libraries were for chatting in, not for working in, so to walk into the Forbes Mellon Library in Clare was a revelation: you could hear a pin drop! (The book-shelves aren’t badly stocked, either).

Besides my degree, I’ve spent my first two terms here getting to know different people inside of Clare and out, and helping out with the Clare Access Scheme, encouraging students to apply to Cambridge, or at least to university. I’m also on the Clare May Ball Design team, helping to decorate the college for this year’s May Ball. That’s not a particularly accurate representation of a Clare English student’s activities, though: there are hundreds of different things to do college and university-wide, and the odds are that you’ll find something, whatever your interests.

If I were to advise a prospective applicant on applying to Cambridge or to Clare, I’d say this: don’t waste time worrying about whether you’re good enough or not, nor make your Cambridge application your life’s goal. If you found this page there’s a good chance you’re sufficiently motivated and qualified enough to apply and get in. Just make sure it’s what you really want for yourself, and remember that there are other good places to be for English. I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far, and if you really want to read English at Cambridge, I recommend Clare as a good environment to do it in, and wish you the best of luck in applying!