In any form, you are good enough for Cambridge. Eve Hodgson

Walking around Cambridge as a tourist, it can feel like one of the most beautiful places. Steeped in history, home to legendary traditions - we are inhabiting a different universe to many of our everyday lives. Getting in feels like you’ve been invited to join a secret club.

Walking around Cambridge as a student, it can feel like you’d rather be anywhere else. Well-meaning parents and excited family friends will visit, and tell you how lucky you must feel. They will be shocked when you say you haven’t been to Grantchester/King’s/the Fitzwilliam yet. You will want to shake them. You have been in the library from nine in the morning until nine in the evening for the past three days.

Maybe May Balls and sparkling conversation and King’s is the Cambridge you wanted, but it is only part of the Cambridge you get

You may think you’ll never get to that point – you will. I left for three days, and cried sad, exhausted tears when I had to come back. It’s upsetting that what you wanted so much when you were seventeen can become something that feels at best unpleasant, at worst actively hostile. It feels like you are doing a disservice to your younger, more optimistic self.

You will have a tougher first year than your friends elsewhere. It will feel bitterly disappointing when you realise you are no longer top of the class, worse when you realise you can’t be. You will feel like a small fish in a huge pond, filled with other fish who are bigger and cleverer and have a higher capacity for work and understanding than you will ever have.

You are strong enough for Cambridge and you aren’t doing it alone

The essays that thrilled your teachers at school will be dissected and analysed, sometimes kindly, often very unkindly, in front of you, and you can’t cry while it happens (even if you do, once or twice). Some weeks – most weeks, really – you will just want to get your essay handed in, written in full sentences, broadly on the right topic.

But try to remember that this is what you wanted.

It’s tricky to realise how difficult something is until you actually have to do it. But this is what you wanted. Remember that Cambridge was the highest of high aspirations for you, because otherwise it won’t be worth the struggle.

You are strong enough for Cambridge. You aren’t doing it alone – DoSes, tutors, even supervisors can be the kindest people, your Cambridge friends will be a crutch who share in this distinct experience, and your chaplain or porters are adults (proper ones) you can go to for help.

I don’t want to paint a distressing image of Cambridge, but it is a world of extremes. You work an insane amount on one end of the spectrum but on the other end, we get May Balls, dinners, garden parties. We get to walk past King’s in the snow. We get to sit in C.S. Lewis’ reading chair. We get formals.

It’s upsetting that what you wanted so much when you were seventeen can become something that feels at best unpleasant

We get supervisions. Sometimes they are awful. Sometimes they will read out bits of your essay and laugh at you. Sometimes you will fall asleep. Sometimes you will be lost and your brain will feel empty, despite spending the last week working to fill it.

Sometimes they are the intellectually freeing experiences they’re sold as. My first supervisor was one of the kindest people I have ever met, and was honestly interested in what I wanted to know, and how I could know it. He wanted me to be a better historian, and wanted to help me become one. An hour with him did not feel like work, because they felt so worthwhile.


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And maybe May Balls and sparkling conversation and King’s is the Cambridge you wanted, but it is only part of the Cambridge you get. I think it balances out. There will be times when you think you might die in the UL, but sometimes on a walk around town – even if it’s to lectures or the library – you will have an overwhelming sense of where you are. Or you’ll have dinner in your room with your friends, going through the note you have of funny quotes from the last two years. Or you’ll take one full day a term to walk round and take pictures and see Cambridge as visitors do. These things make it easier, at least for a moment, if not easy.

Never forget you wanted Cambridge. It will be different to how you imagined, and it will probably be harder. Never forget you still want it, and you can do it. As you are, in any form, you are good enough for Cambridge. No matter how impossible it can feel, try not to forget that.

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