Clare College Cambridge


Madeline Dixon

Independent School, Surrey


I’d like to say that my decision to apply to Clare was painstakingly considered, but it wasn’t. I’d only seen it once before I applied – on an open day, when I arrived in a bad mood because I’d got lost on the way, thanks to my inability to map-read. My decision hung on the fact that I’d heard it was a good place to do Philosophy, the gardens were pretty, and the website said it was “friendly.”

I haven’t regretted my decision. Clare is more unassuming than the “big” colleges, but no less distinguished. The gardens are beautiful, and provide an excellent vantage point for watching punters – I particularly enjoy it when they’re as inept as I am. The people really are friendly – from my first day, I was rarely given an opportunity to feel lonely.

Even the application process was less intimidating than I’d expected. I had two interviews, each with two interviewers. I was convinced that both interviews had gone disastrously wrong. A group of students handing out comfort food in the Library Common Room told me that was a good sign. I didn’t believe them at the time, but in retrospect perhaps they were right. So, if your interviews go less well than you wanted them to, don’t assume the worst.

Choosing philosophy was as much of a gamble as deciding to apply to Clare, since I’d never studied it before. The gamble paid off. I have seven or eight lectures a week, which are interesting and often spiced up by quirky presentation. One lecturer argued that the aim of philosophy and science is to divide the world into two categories: “nice” and “naughty.” But the high point of studying Philosophy at Cambridge is the supervision system. In one-on-one supervisions, you discuss – and attempt to defend – your weekly essay with an expert. You have their undivided attention and can ask them anything you want – anything relevant to philosophy, of course.

But you can’t do philosophy all day every day. The advantage of being an Arts student is that your timetable is extremely flexible. You decide how much work you want to do and when you want to do it. In your free time, you’ll never be left twiddling your thumbs. Despite being an appalling dancer, I’ve taken up salsa, rueda and ballroom dancing. Next year I plan to try my hand at learning German. But, even if none of the societies are for you, there are the people – you’ll meet enough to keep you entertained for far more than the time it takes to do your degree.