Tab Guide: How to tell people you go to Cambridge

“What university do you go to?” is possibly the most stressful question a Cambridge student can be asked.

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Having just finished my first year of Classics (high fives all round), the following conversation has been a model for enough of my intellect-farm interactions over the past 365 days to cause me serious disquiet:

“So what do you do?”
“I’m a student”
“Oh what do you study?”
“I’m a classicist” (high fives all round/further questions about what “Classics” is and/or what instrument I play)
“How lovely, and where do you study?”

One realises one has been forced into a corner. To align oneself with such a savage intellectorium as Cambridge with conviction in one’s heart becomes something of a social faux pas.  

People take offence for some reason

So then the blatantly obvious question arises – how does one tell people one has a place at the ‘bridge? These are my suggested coping mechanisms:

1) Ignore the question

Results may look a little like this:

“Where do you study?”
“I like sports, do you like sports?” or “What’s your favourite board game?” or “Which baroque artist is your favourite?”

Duchamp obviously

Pretending to ignore questions is a skill one must possess as a cantab for its use both in supervisions and in the inevitable ascent into whatever right-wing organisation us cantabs are destined for.

2) Play it down

That goes something like this:

“Where do you study?”
“Umm, at Cambridge… Yeah… I mean, little fish big pond and all, you know? I’m just so lucky to be here. And the night life’s awful.”

This, of course, everyone knows to be horse shite. You got into Cambridge! Being a small fish here is like being a prized koi carp, and people are gonna know it.  And by Jesus it definitely wasn’t luck you got in – if it was a lottery, 3 GCSE Jack (who couldn’t even spell GCSE) would be rocking it at Fitz. You are, let’s face it, brilliant. High Fives all round.

Previous outings of this technique have resulted in reactions ranging from fervent agreement from a mother who’s daughter ended up at Bristol (Oxbridge graveyard AMIRITE! High Fives all round) to the ironic-less bowing of a former teaching assistant who hopes her child will emulate my riveting yet humble success.

This is what success looks like

Having said this, this is not my preferred measure.

3) Embrace the social hatred


You’re at a small family soirée and accidentally begin talking to your mum’s friend Debbie when you both go to dip your respective carrot sticks in the communal taramasalata.

“So what do y-“
“I study at Cambridge.”
“Oh how wonderf-“
“Yes THE Cambridge.  The best university in the country, yes.”

Debbie will tensely finish her carrot baton, knowing her son Oliver barely scraped into Exeter like the dullard he is.  

However, your mother has overheard and – trying to keep the burning pride she possesses for her boopy baby hidden to maintain humble graces – swoops in to save Debbie from the icy shame of the result of the one sauvignon spritzer she had whilst pregnant, asking how the building of her conservatory is going.

But there’s no going back.  Debbie, spraying crumbs of carrot from her mouth, decides to vocalise that the best university of the country doesn’t necessarily result in a top job.  She was then escorted speedily from our premises and struck from the Christmas card list.

Essentially, you just can’t win. Life really is cruel sometimes.