Katie’s pinboard in her temporary summer school accommodation Katie Heggs with permission for Varsity

Like many students, I too can relate to the boredom of the seemingly endless Cambridge summer vacation. My degree and the confines of term time give me purpose, sense and structure. As July and August stretch ahead, I miss lectures and Wednesday night pre-drinks and Granchester meadows days. But while I often find myself bored, I never find myself with ‘nothing to do’. This is because Cambridge’s employment rules present the working-class students they say they want to welcome with a unique problem. Work your arse off in the holidays or face a distinctly less Cambridge Cambridge experience.

This is simple enough until you open Snapchat maps; the harsh reality of your lack of ‘holiday home in the South of France’ becomes slightly harder to stomach. And so you may find yourself like me: bored, in Cambridge Pret, and writing a Varsity article (as per a recent Lifestyle suggestion). I got the subscription at the start of July, in week one of seven of my summer school jobs, and I have been trying to rinse the company ever since. It’s 12 o’clock, I am on iced coffee number three and I’m trying to put into words the sheer divergence in experiences of those studying at this university. I think how you choose to spend the summer break is a useful marker for this.

“It’s tough to accept that if Cambridge is one big game of luck, some people have already passed go and collected 500 before they even accepted their offer”

The question, ‘Is it even a choice?’, is a good place to start. In theory, I would have loved to have done an investment banking internship this summer. In reality, I live nowhere near London and have a moral compass. I could have stayed at home and worked but I value my sanity. Simply not working was never on the table. I got all too friendly with my overdraft this past year and I’ve always had a part time job since the moment I turned 14. I remain eternally grateful for the push I was given to make my own money. Having a part time job gave me a work ethic, people skills and a handle on ‘real life’ that some people at Cambridge arguably lack.

While I love the familiarity of working at the bakery at home, employment at an ‘Oxbridge’ summer school provides students with a significant chunk of money, accommodation in their university town, half-board meals and the opportunity to work with your peers in two-week blocks. The porters may look at you differently, and you might have to see the place in which you finally ‘found yourself’ become overrun by an ungodly number of tourists, but it’s worth it. Such an intense environment creates really quite scary parasocial relationships, many of which I have carried through into term-time. There’s a strange sense of solidarity because no one is really there for the love of the job. We all just need the money.

“Everything is better if you’ve worked your arse off for it”

I chose not to work at home all summer because at least I am here. I’m near libraries and my friends (who all seem to be somewhere in or around London) and surrounded by others just like me. There’s criticisms to be had about summer school work but I would advocate for feeling lucky we have this as an option. It’s the easiest job I’ve ever done, bar some occasionally questionable hours, and it’s crucially only open to Oxbridge students.

The problem is the inevitable jealousy that comes with knowing some people don’t even have to think about these things. About whether to work at their local pub or away in Cambridge (which I would equate to the decision of whether to be working near to your family but away from freedom or working with freedom but eating pot noodles for lunch for two months). Cambridge opens so many doors, but some remain firmly shut until after graduation. And even when your work ethic is unparalleled and you try as hard as you can, so much luck is involved in knowing the people you need to know and being in the right place at the right time. It’s tough to accept that if Cambridge is one big game of luck, some people have already passed go and collected 500 before they even accepted their offer.


Mountain View

Cambridge socialising is as classed as ever

I ended up, by a pure stroke of luck, with one of my best friends from HisPol in my first summer school. We found structure in the chaos – working on our dissertation reading together during our morning breaks and making sandwiches in the stock room out of 40p bread rolls and chicken super noodles. Acknowledging the breadth of experience of those at this university is crucial to understanding how it creates such brilliant graduates. Those who come from backgrounds that aren’t conventionally ‘Cambridge’ have been some of the most driven academics I’ve ever met. This is because everything is better if you’ve worked your arse off for it. And therefore, while I might not be in a Mexican all-inclusive right now, at least I will be able to comfortably afford a pint in the Maypole next Michaelmas. And fuck me, it will taste good.