Being pooled – it’s really no big deal

Good job I was in the swim team at school…

Cambridge Churchill colleges collegiate system girton medwards Oxbridge pooled pooling summer pool winter pool

Pooling is more common than you’d think at Cambridge. The university receives roughly 16,000 applicants. Just over 4,000 offers are made, nearly 1,000 of which come from the pool.

I applied to read English at St. Catz. However, having incorrectly identifying a Renaissance poem as one written in the 19th century, I was placed in the pool. After a cry to my ‘Sad Songs’ playlist on Spotify – yes, there was some Adele in there – I re-interviewed at Magdalene and was given a A*A*A offer. I didn’t make it, but was still let in. Call me Sam ‘double whammy’ Ashbridge: getting pooled and then missing my offer #funtimez.

Getting ready to be plucked out of the pool since 2k14

I didn’t think much about it until I actually got to Cambridge, where there appears to be this over-arching attitude that if you were pooled you’re somehow ‘less clever’ than if you were accepted into your first choice college.

First, we also need to deconstruct the idea that there are ‘binary’ pooling colleges. Yes, there are ones that take more students from the pool than others, but friends of mine have been pooled to Downing, Caius and Pembroke – one even from Girton to Trinity. They were all pooled, but I’d say the vast majority of you wouldn’t label these people ‘less intelligent’ than their accepted-into-first-choice counterparts.

The issue, therefore, isn’t to do with pooling per se. It’s more to do with the fact that the colleges that take the majority of their students from the pool are considered ‘worse’ places to be because they’re newer, less pretty, further out of town, poorer or lower on the Tompkins Table. Say you go to Girton, Homerton, Robinson, Medwards, Fitz or Churchill to certain kinds of people within Cambridge and they’ll turn their mouth down in a look of faux sympathy evocative of a vet telling someone their dog has to be put down. Fortunately, those who do so are few and far between, and are demonstrably not worth seeking the approval of, anyhow.

More water-based imagery #original

We need to dissolve the ingrained ‘tier’ system of colleges that has led to the prevailing attitude that these colleges are ‘lesser’: mention you go to Girton College, Cambridge, to anyone not at the university and they won’t have a clue about the difference between it and, say, Jesus.

So, because I was pooled, do I actually deserve to be here as much as everyone else, or like a spy in a John le Carré novel, have I managed to slip through the net and imposter my way into Cambridge? It won’t take long to realise that, of course, the answer is the former; trust the judgement of the admissions department.


Finally happy now I’m on dry land

The Pool exists to ensure that applicants’ chances of admissions are not dependent on college choice. Furthermore, interviews are tough: they’re a 20 minute window with which to prove yourself. It’s not a long time. Maybe you didn’t eat your Special K that morning? Or perhaps your hamster died a week before your interview? It’s not representative of how you’d perform over an entire degree, and sometimes, you need to be given a second chance.

We really need to stop pitting students against each other. We all worked hard to get into Cambridge. We all passed through a rigorous application process, got the grades necessary to be here and therefore deserve our place as much as each other.