Hi! My name is Jess Lister and I'm a current 2nd year Historian originally from Howden, a small village in East Yorkshire. I did my A-Levels at an FE college in York rather than traditional sixth form. It was a much bigger environment than I was used to; there were around 1000 people studying A-Levels in my year, which allowed for a lot of independence. When it came to applying for Cambridge therefore it was a case of being quite self-motivated – teachers were very willing to help out, but I had to decide to apply by myself which was nerve-wracking!
I'd always liked the idea of studying at Cambridge, and after doing well in my first year exams, I realised it was actually achievable. If I was applying to Durham for history, which has the same A*AA entry requirements, then the only reason I wouldn’t be applying to Cambridge was because I'd convinced myself I wouldn't get in for non-academic reasons. In reality, it's academic performance and how you think that matters; the fact that I didn't have a stereotypical "Cambridge" background has never been an issue here, and I’ve never felt anything other than welcome.
I wish I'd known just how wrong preconceptions of Cambridge were before I applied. Of course, it's an amazing place to study but also to live. The college system means I have made incredibly close friends from a wide range of backgrounds. I’ve tried new sports and even somehow ended up captain of the Emma women’s rugby team, as well as 15 minutes of fame playing for the Cambridge 2nds team against Oxford. Where you went to school doesn’t matter – everyone is living together and working equally hard.
A typical humanities student’s week has fewer contact hours (time spent actually being taught, in lectures and supervisions) than a science student’s, but a lot more time spent reading in the library. I generally have 1-2 hours of optional lectures a day, and can pick and choose which to attend based on my interests and the topics I'm writing essays on; there’s a lot of freedom. Most of my time is spent reading for a weekly essay, usually 2500 words, which I hand in to a supervisor (often a leading expert on the topic). I get an hour long supervision every week, going through the essay and talking about what I’ve written, and I’ve seen myself improve quite quickly – it's nice to be able to compare essays written at the start of term to those at the end and see real progress being made.
My advice would be to go for it. You've got 5 options on your UCAS form; if you think you've got a chance at getting in, regardless of who you are or where you come from, you've got nothing to lose by trying!