For a long time, Cambridge was my dream university. From a young age, I wanted to go there to study and so naturally, I applied in October 2018. I also applied to York, Nottingham, Newcastle and Lancaster, and last year I began studying English at the University of York.
I received an interview offer from Selwyn College, Cambridge, but decided, in the end, to turn it down. My immediate reaction upon being invited to interview was one of confusion. On one hand, it was Cambridge, giving me an interview! On the other hand, I was already having some doubts about whether Cambridge was the university for me. It had been my ambition for so long I felt I owed it to myself to go. But that was exactly the issue – it was my dream, but dreams change.
I knew almost straight away that York was the right university for me
Open days are important, although I’m not sure how they’re going to work this year and next. I kept hearing from teachers that “you’ll just know which university is right when you get there”, and it was true. I knew almost straight away that York was the right university for me. Also, I attended a subject taster day here, which helped me visualise what a day at university is like. The enthusiasm of the tutors and friendliness of the people on the course created a really welcoming atmosphere.
Diverse range of modules
Having a varied range of modules to choose was crucial to me as I wasn’t sure where I would want to specialise, and no other course had the range that York offered. I knew how extensive and thorough my course was before I started, but it wasn’t until a few weeks in that I realised how diverse it is too; much more so than the other courses I considered. On the open days, the tutors and department prided themselves on the “breadth” of the course. But I really underestimated how wide a scope they meant!
A more relaxed and enjoyable study environment
Part of what makes Oxbridge so intense is how short their terms are, usually consisting of eight weeks of teaching. Whilst York’s terms, spanning ten weeks, are still shorter than some other universities, they allow for some breathing space. The workload isn’t as all-consuming and concentrated as it would be at Oxbridge, which makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable study environment.
This was a concern of mine; I worried that it would still be too intense, and I wouldn’t have time for much of a social life. Every tutor and student ambassador I spoke to about this was so friendly and completely alleviated my concerns. And now, a year in, I can say with confidence that as long as you manage your days well there is plenty of time left over for friends.
The campus itself is lovely too
If you’ve applied you might have looked at the university’s meme pages, but don’t be put off by the “Derwent’s got asbestos” jokes. Some of the buildings may not be the prettiest, but the wildlife on campus makes up for the slightly unattractive brutalist architecture. It’s such a mix of natural beauty and not so natural (or beautiful!) buildings, but it just works. And the number of ducks and rabbits on campus was a persuading factor – no other university can compete in that respect.
Find the best place for you
I found that it’s easy to hang on to preconceptions and do what your old self would have wanted. Cambridge is a beautiful city and the university is amazing, but it just wasn’t my dream anymore. In short, the moral of this story is that if you’ve applied to Oxbridge or are thinking of applying, don’t feel any pressure to go (even to the interview!) if you’re not sure about it. Oxford and Cambridge, in all their prestige, aren’t the only choices, and they just may not be the best for you – and that’s more than OK.
Read more student stories about choosing York