Cambridge – Is it all worth it?

The question we all come to ask ourselves

2 terms, 17 supervision essays (= c.42500 words of bullshit), 119 sleep deprived days and 200% levels of stress.

Empirically, this is what the Cambridge experience thus far boils down to. It’s hasn’t quite been the promised land where dreams and aspirations are fulfilled in eternal happiness. The expectations of being in one of the world’s best universities doing top quality work has been so thoroughly shattered that by the end of an eight week slog it’s considered an achievement if you showed up to one lecture and handed something in before a supervision.

Yet we can all think back to when our Cambridge dreams first began, inspired by its romantic courts and pretty bridges, or of being next in succession in the long line of famous alumni or maybe, and I suspect this is secretly true for most of us, realising the childhood fantasy of floating around in Harry Potter-esque gowns. Something drew us to this place to push us to do the interviews, get the A*(s) and make the ultimate Faustian pact and sacrifice all for Cambridge.

When a dream became reality

Having being seduced by Cambridge’s many charms, suddenly it dawns on us poor, unsuspecting students that we’re trapped in an unequal relationship. Studying in Cambridge seems to tragically mirror unrequited love – the stress of always striving to please and never feeling quite good enough. And then there is the dominating power dynamic where they have all the control over your life and will make any measure of unreasonable demands, yet all you can do it submit to their will. Not even in King’s do they have the answer of how to free us oppressed masses.

Let’s be honest, we all applied to Cambridge because we thought we were smart, and once that was verified through receiving an offer, there was a sense of pride that we were indeed the chosen ones. Where once we might have been top of the class, year or even school, at best now we feel average, at worst the imposter syndrome of inadequacy. For us ambitious, usually high achieving students it leads to doubts about self-worth. And as someone (and this is ashamedly and pathetically true) who cried when they received their first C in a test, I can attest to this.

Another Cambridge casualty

Once sucked into the all-encompassing Cambridge bubble, it’s surprisingly easy to leave the real world behind. Cambridge is transformative, desensitising. Where once the ancient traditions and exclusivity shocked, awed or impressed, now we barely bat an eyelid. No one questions the fact that its pretty pointless and anachronistic to read out words understood by less than 1% of people in the hall before dinner. Nor are we unduly surprised to see people wearing gowns or black tie in Sainsbury’s. Its undeniably a privileged place. And we, entering the system, become part of the privilege, regardless of our background.

But, like how all good essays have to consider both sides of an argument (and Tab articles are no different), we have to look at the positives. And Cambridge has no shortage of them. One can’t deny that, on a very basic level, Cambridge is great for the instagram account. There are unlimited opportunities to snap pictures of brunch, study sessions in aesthetic old libraries, ‘candid’ scenes of strolling around Cambridge. We all know someone is truly #edgy when said photos are taken on a polaroid camera.

#cambridge #nofilter #outsideisfree

Though we whine and complain about getting to lectures, especially when they are 9ams, we are being taught by some of the best people in their fields. So even if we do turn up to lectures hungover, still drunk, or just to sleep through it all, at least we have the privilege of doing so in the presence of academic experts. Makes that £9,000 all the more worthwhile.

Cambridge is undeniably a place filled with ambition and competition, yet we can always find someone facing the same problems as us and talk through it. It can be lonely and isolating, but at the same time, there are always new people to meet and greet, with varied and interesting backgrounds and stories.

At last we come to the question the title explicitly asks – is Cambridge worth it? Disappointingly, this is a question that you have to answer yourself.  But from my experience, the only thing worse than being at Cambridge is not being at Cambridge.

So roll on Easter term, even with all your exams, since we’re already here now, might as well make it the best we can. 

University of Cambridge