A Fresher’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Cambridge

TIM SQUIRRELL presents a handy guide for how to give yourself a headstart in becoming popular at Cambridge.

Cambridge Freshers Freshers Week popularity stash

When you first arrive at Cambridge, it can be more than a little daunting. Here are a few handy hints to help you find your feet and ensure you make the best first impression you possibly can during those turbulent first few weeks.

The very first thing you should do when you rock up to your college is drop your bags in with the porters. They’ll take them up to your room for you whilst you go for a coffee with your parents and try to take in the sights Cambridge has to offer. One thing to be careful of is to make sure you don’t try to joke around too much with the porters; they take their jobs extremely seriously and don’t really seem to understand sarcasm. It’s odd, but you get used to their literality of speech fairly quickly.

Here to help

As far as first impressions go, you can do yourself a favour by donning your school leavers hoodie to show that you’re a fresher: fun, friendly and ready to make some friends. Don’t worry about standing out, pretty much everyone does it. It’s absolutely vital to wear it as often as possible during the first two weeks so that people recognise that you’re new and go easy on you, as well as remembering your name – it’s all too easy to forget people you’ve met on a wild night out in Cindies or in Life, and having that visual reminder can make all the difference in allowing people to find you and bond over the outrageous scenes from the night before.

There are a couple of things to be aware of whilst out in Cambridge which will help you get the head start you need to really make a great impression during your first year. First, rowing. It’s a huge sport in Cambridge, and you’ll be expected to be fairly up to date on the latest rowing news. If you’re not, it could mean that are left out of those all-important conversations at the dinner table during your first term. Hall is a great place to make friends, but if you don’t know your Lady Margaret from your First and Thirds, you’re not going to be doing yourself any favours. If you do row, that’s great – you’re already at an advantage. During a lull in the conversation, drop in a quick mention of your 2k time or the long ergo you did yesterday. Generally people won’t say anything to your face, but they’ll likely be pretty impressed.

Call them St John’s at your own risk

If you don’t row, don’t worry! You can still contribute positively to the discussion when it turns away from rowing, although you may find yourself at a disadvantage a little further down the line. A couple of terms in, you’ll find all the boaties gloating over having been invited to their college’s drinking society: ultra-cool, super-secret, exclusive groups made up of the best rowers hand-picked from each year in the college. It’s not the end of the world if you’re not picked, but they provide great opportunities to meet up for a pint and some good conversation. Nowhere but Cambridge will you find a group of excellent sportspeople getting together to have a drink or two and chat about philosophy, politics or pop culture – sometimes all in one evening!

TOP TIP: if you’re in doubt as to what to wear, you can’t go wrong with stash from your sports team or college society. Fellow students will admire you for your achievements and townspeople will recognise you as a student and wave

The most important piece of advice, though, is to keep calm and carry on. You’ve done all the hard work, now it’s time to reap the rewards. Welcome to Cambridge, you’re going to have an incredible few years! Another great way to meet people is through charity. It sounds lame, but it’s actually a lot of fun! Each college has its own charitable organisation, engaging in fundraising and community aid. They organise charity dinners, commonly called ‘swaps’, in which groups from two colleges come together in aid of one or more local or national charities. Examples of these societies include the Churchill Bulldogs, who are longtime supporters of the RSPCA, and the Murray Edwards Harlots, who raise money in order to aid in the rehabilitation of former sex workers. Every college has a RAG rep – ask them for details on how you can join.

Proud supporter of animal rights

At the end of freshers’ week, the prospect of work looms. Coming in to an elite academic institution like Cambridge can be really intimidating. You’re probably worrying that everyone is going to be more intelligent, harder-working or more motivated than you. Don’t panic! The hardest part was getting in – once you’re actually here, Cambridge is pretty relaxed. The university recognises just how hard we all worked to get in and doesn’t mind too much about the amount of work you do, just so long as you’re happy. People talk up exam term a lot, but it’s only hard in comparison to the rest of Cambridge. In reality, the atmosphere is still pretty great. Libraries stay open 24/7 and often hold fun competitions, like who can make the biggest book fort, who can stay awake the longest using only cans of Red Bull, and who can shout ‘Bogies!’ the loudest. Okay, that last one was a joke, but you get the picture. The exams themselves are actually great fun – the university doesn’t like us to think of them as tests so much as team-building exercises. Sharing ideas and thoughts with your neighbours is actively encouraged, and the content of the work you produce is of less importance than your ability to cooperate with your peers and maintain a really positive atmosphere during the stress of the exam.