Tips for Applying for a ‘Weird’ Cambridge Subject

Cambridge has such a wide range of courses which you can choose to apply for, amongst which are some pretty confusing titles. What is Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic? Is Education just a teaching training course? Although I can’t speak on behalf of everyone studying one of the smaller, more niche courses which Cambridge has to offer, I do remember feeling pretty puzzled by the prospect of applying for a course which doesn’t map nicely onto the pre-university curriculum.

The following are some ‘top tips’ which I wish I’d known when I was applying to study Education – they’re by no means prescriptive or exhaustive, but I hope they provide you with a useful starting point.

  • Do your research

This is a big one – because the subject you’re applying for is ‘new’ at undergraduate level, you need to make sure that you’ve really understood what the course is about and why it interests you. I recommend scouring both the course guides available on the University’s main website (or in the alternative prospectus produced by our student union) and having a look at individual Faculty websites.

Faculty websites can provide more details about the specific modules offered as part of the course you want to apply for, as well as give you a flavour for the type of research and activities going on in the department as a whole. Getting to know the subject you’re applying for will help make sure that your application stays relevant and ensures that you can show off why and how you’ve engaged with the subject outside of your school studies.

  • Engaging with the subject independently ( and remembering quality over quantity!)

Your application, especially your personal statement, is your opportunity to shine – to show off why you love your subject and want to study it at university. If that subject is a little bit quirkier or perhaps ‘new’ to you, a good place to start is to find an aspect of the subject which excited you when you decided you wanted to study it at university.

You can then starting research this topic on your own, to find out more. This doesn’t just have to be reading lengthy textbooks or research papers, it can also include podcasts, YouTube videos, magazine/newspaper articles etc. – whatever captures your interest!

This PDF (put together by the Cambridge Admissions Office) provides lots of useful links, organised by subject, to help you find a place to start:

The key thing to remember is to be proactive in your reading; it’s much better to engage with 2-3 sources in detail, offering your own insight on the material, than simply list lots and lots of references. To make sure you’re thinking critically about what you’re reading, I recommend adding annotations – keeping track of particular bits you think are interesting or that you maybe disagree with and would want to talk more about in your personal statement or interview.

  • Talk about your subject as much as possible

Another important skill to keep in mind is the ability to articulate your ideas to others, as this is what you’ll need to do in your interview and personal statement. This can be particularly difficult if you’re not as familiar with the subject, so it’s a good idea to practice as often as you can.

I found that reading my written notes out loud in my bedroom helped me gain confidence in being able to express what I was thinking – even if I did get some funny looks from my parents & neighbours! Explaining key concepts and ideas to your teachers, friends or parents can also help you solidify your own understanding, as it’ll give you practice in explaining things in a concise and structured way.

If you’re struggling for space or time to sit and chat about your subject, rambling your ideas or even quick flashes of thought on a sticky note can be a great way to get it out of your system and practice ‘talking’ about your subject. It’s a technique I still use now whenever I’m preparing for a discussion or starting an essay – I even used it to help me write this blog post!

I hope these quick tips have provided some guidance on where to get started with an application for a ‘weird’ Cambridge subject, but remember – there’s no one ‘right’ way to apply to Cambridge. Just keep reminding yourself why you love your subject and why you’re right for this particular course, the rest will follow!

Chloe Blond

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