A week entirely for the freshers? Prep weeks offer everything – aside from clubbingKatie Kasperson with permission for Varsity

Week 0 of Michaelmas is a truly mythical beast. Lacking the charm (and warmth) of May Week and haunted by the spectre of ‘pre-reading’, its existence is merely ontological – unless it’s emblazoned on an overpriced Revs ticket. Term is notoriously composed of eight, academically rigorous weeks, bookended by frivolous days where you feel like you should be doing work, but instead go charity shopping. In catching the tail end of these hypothetical, halcyon days, I was met by the shiny new cohort of freshers, looking less shiny than one maybe would expect.

The advent of the ‘Preparation Week’, or ‘Bridging Course’, is inextricably linked to the University-wide drive to improve student wellbeing and construct more robust systems of support across the University. While subject inductions are slightly more common, the rise of college-run programmes during the last week of September emphasises a digression away from the usual organised chaos of the beginning of one’s first term in Cambridge. From sessions on study skills to consent workshops, the formalisation of Week 0 is undoubtedly an attempt to consider the needs of new students in a more direct manner. No student arrives in Cambridge knowing how a supervision works, or the best route to Sigdewick (yes, you are allowed to walk through King’s), and thus the information provided during these preparation weeks, albeit often administrative, is valuable – even when it is being given unto you at 9am.

“time is precious and fragile especially when the essay titles and example sheets come inevitably rolling in.”

Yet, reflecting on my own experience, preparation week provided something even more important – time. The hottest commodity in Cambridge, time is precious and fragile especially when the essay titles and example sheets come inevitably rolling in. ‘Fresher’s Week’ in Cambridge, a staple of British university culture, comprises of four days at a push, peppered with DoS meetings, free tote bags, and the dreaded matriculation portrait. While matching the intensity of term, the Cambridge Freshers’ Week is by no means equipped to the needs of freshers, simply due to time constraints. Yet, by harnessing the potential of the mythical Week 0, the Preparation Week enables freshers to acclimatise to their new surroundings and simply put, settle in.

Aside from the educational and well-being related element of the induction experience, preparation week has social implications that, as an over-intellectualising humanities student, are undeniably interesting. By inviting the freshers to College, a week early, without the ‘scary second years’ to diffuse the social intensity, friendships form quickly and steadfastly, creating a unique sense of loyalty within year groups. Especially in smaller colleges, the faces you see in the freezing marquee every morning become comfortingly familiar, and this enables you to establish a comforting routine – essential to warding away homesickness. Of course, such friendships would form with or without the ‘compulsory fun’ of an induction programme, however the camaraderie borne out of mandatory activities creates a welcome safety net.

“it could be argued that the Preparation Week zeitgeist has dwarfed the Fresher’s Week experience”

Yet, it could be argued that the Preparation Week zeitgeist has dwarfed the Fresher’s Week experience and, naturally, one questions whether such inductions are conducive to fostering independence. For example, one induction programme explicitly discouraged freshers from clubbing during their preparation week, a decision that could be seen as either the fulfilment of a college’s duty of care, or overreach. While I am sure this edict did not prevent freshers from clubbing, it raises interesting questions surrounding the rites of passage that mark the beginning of university. As mentioned prior, the concept of a fresher’s week is deeply ingrained within British university culture, and is generally known for its potential for chaos and character building. While issues of peer pressure and unsafe situations are both prevalent and problematic, the carefully curated nature of induction programmes and preparation weeks may highlight a stark contrast between the experience of Cambridge students and general university culture – for better and for worse. Furthermore, there are undeniable financial implications of mandating early arrival, in that a whole week of eating and drinking and socialising occurs before student loans drop.


Mountain View

Freshers’ week: best week ever or severely overrated?

However, from the experience of my own Preparation Week and being partial witness to another, a clear sense of community has bloomed because of it. What is especially noteworthy is the dedication of Fresher’s Representatives across Cambridge, who have swept their reading lists to one side in order to help the new students. From hauling trollies of food up flights of stairs and walking freshers back from nights out, the dedication of the continuing students supporting these Preparation Weeks is both palpable and admirable, and has gone a long way to dispel the ‘scary second year’ stereotype (I hope!).

As more and more preparation weeks, bridging courses, and general induction programmes pop up across Cambridge each year, Week 0 has emerged out of obscurity and into the light. While it is by no means a substitute for the traditional freshers’ week, it is certainly a week for the freshers – however they or their colleges choose to use it.