Varsity

When I recall the awkward encounters of Fresher’s Week, having the same slightly nervous conversations with multiple people in a day was certainly a key feature of the week. I expected the conversations to have been pretty standard- about what I was studying, where I came from, or even what A-Levels I had done. I definitely didn’t expect to be asked what school I had gone to quite so often in that first week. As somebody who came from a comprehensive school in South Wales, my answer to that question was always met with a decided lack of interest. Although never asked in a harmful or malicious way, but rather out of curiosity, this question still played on my mind quite regularly throughout my first term. I remember my confusion at how often our schooling was asked about; why should my education prior to university matter as much as what I was studying, for example?

“Here’s to all of us who are likely to never see our nondescript state school in a Crushbridge.”

Maybe this should not have come as such a shock. A recent article published by the Telegraph depicted which schools had the most Oxbridge offers by college between 2017 and 2019. Unsurprisingly, the table was dominated by a select few independent and grammar schools, which arguably suggests that Oxford and Cambridge admissions still continue to be dominated by a small number of high-performing schools. Yet, it is not only statistically that these schools are able to dominate the Oxbridge sphere. It definitely isn’t rare to come across a Crushbridge asking for a public school boy, or a Camfess depicting these select few schools as Cambridge colleges. From conversations to Crushbridges, it’s fair to say that the educational background of students doesn’t cease to be relevant when we actually arrive at Cambridge.

For those of us who did not attend the aforementioned schools with high Oxbridge success rates, repeated questions about our background can make Fresher’s Week an even more daunting experience. Fresher’s Week is an overwhelming experience for anyone, and the upheaval of moving to a completely new place is already stressful. On top of that, the constant reminder that we may not be a typical Oxbridge applicant may compound the stress that we are already enduring. For example, one of my close friends, from a similar educational background to me, reported feeling alienated from her peers in Fresher’s Week, as she felt that she was constantly reminded that she did not attend a ‘’typical’’ Oxbridge school.

Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent amongst Cambridge students, but for many, myself included, these feelings are worsened by the reminders of our backgrounds, which can be difficult to escape. For the first couple of weeks of my first term, I felt as though I was alone in this feeling that I was marked out differently, and that I shouldn’t have been feeling this way about what I thought were such trivial comments about our education.

“nobody should ever be made to feel like an outsider or that they don’t belong”

After the first few days of university, I remember calling my Mum and feeling so scared that I would never quite manage to fit in at Cambridge - this may have been partially due to the fact that I genuinely thought Eton was pronounced phonetically, rather than ‘’ ea-ton.’’. Despite my Mum’s reassurance that I was overthinking this, when I opened up to my friends from similar educational backgrounds, I found that I was definitely not alone in these thoughts. Those of us who lie outside of the margins of the select few high-performing schools can often experience self-doubt and feelings of negativity about ourselves, simply because we may not see ourselves as represented within our university. Why should we allow these particular schools to continue to dominate our space when we all study at the same institution?

As one of two access officers on the Trinity Hall JCR, I see amazing examples every single day of students helping to remove the stigma around Cambridge admissions. From  YouTube creators such as Ibz-Mo, who showed that state school students could thrive at Cambridge, to the students who freely give up their time to volunteer at access events - Cambridge shows no shortage of people who are challenging the old, outdated stigma around Cambridge University Admissions.

According to the Guardian, over 68% percent of offers given in the 2019 admissions cycle were to state school students, a rise of almost 6% in the last two years. Cambridge certainly has a long way to go in terms of increasing state school applications, but this demonstrates a promising future to attempt to end the domination of admissions from a few selective schools. This would not have been possible without the work of charities such as the Sutton Trust, access initiatives within Cambridge, and the hard work of students themselves that aim to break the harmful stereotypes surrounding Cambridge elitism.

It’s brilliant that as a university we are beginning to break down the barriers of elitism, but why stop at the admissions process? Why don’t we continue to embrace diversity by carrying on our hard work to break outdated Cambridge stereotypes, and continue to ensure that Cambridge is a diverse and welcoming place for everyone?


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Although, in the grand scheme of things, this is just a tiny fraction of the larger picture of inequality in Cambridge, it is something that as students, we could easily work towards changing. Let’s give it a try and be mindful of the way that we discuss education. Let’s be aware that these few well known schools are not representative of every Cambridge student’s educational experience. Imposter syndrome is a real issue, and this article hopefully serves as a reminder that, despite our educational backgrounds, we are all Cambridge students and as deserving of a place as anybody. No matter anyone’s background, nobody should ever be made to feel like an outsider or that they don’t belong, simply because they are not represented by a few select institutions.

So, here’s to all of us who are likely to never see our nondescript state school in a Crushbridge. Despite how you may feel, you’re smashing it.

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