Does the state vs private school divide still matter at Cambridge?
Perhaps less so than you might think
My biggest worry before coming to Cambridge was how a working class boy from Yorkshire was gonna get on with a bunch of posh Etonians for 3 years. Everyone who goes to Cambridge went to private school, right? David Cameron went to private school and he did the dirty with a dead pig, didn't he? Somewhat unsurprisingly, I wasn't keen on that and so I resigned myself to the idea of 3 years of abject loneliness.
Clearly, though, the past me was a little misguided. The most important thing to realise once you get here is that where you went to school does not determine whether or not you're a knob. You, yourself do.
It’s true there are some particularly privileged students here, but the thing is, many of those I've encountered are aware of their fortunate upbringing and understand the importance of checking their privilege. Most of the time, they're just normal people, and for those obnoxious few whose only fixation is alma maters, believe me, they seem to be pretty much universally ridiculed.
The problem with media outlets who spend yards and yards of column space voicing issues on both sides of the debate is (at least) two-fold, in my view.
Firstly, a saddening amount of able students from working class and minority backgrounds are discouraged from applying because they don't think that they'll fit in and, secondly, it breeds a phenomenon of self-imposed loneliness. When you've had it drilled into you from day one that it’s impossible for you to fit in with people at your uni, you're hardly likely to feel comfortable putting yourself out there. There are some people I know who feel that unless the person they're talking to has similar enough demographics to them, then they can't really be friends. This is such a terrible shame, and often results in students it missing out on so much of the Cambridge experience.
I used to think that when people said one of the biggest advantages of going to Cambridge was networking, they meant those pretentious events on Facebook: ‘Drinks with JP Morgan’; ‘Dinner with Slaughter and May’; and ‘Mini burgers with Barclays – vegan options available’. The truth is that the lion’s share of any networking you're going to do is done in your college bar, in your gyp, or in the smoking area of Cindies or Life.
The collegiate system means you're gonna leave uni with a tonne of mates, whereas, at other universities, people might struggle to identify anyone outside of their flat or the few people they sit with in lectures as close friends. Closing yourself off from about 40% of the uni due to their demographics means you're bound to miss out.
By endlessly going on about the state school vs. private school distinction in terms of fitting in, we’re propagating a myth that if you come from a state school or a working class background, then Cambridge isn't for you.
The real scandal, from my viewpoint, is how this issue is consistently dominating a large chunk of discussion about access issues at Oxbridge. This only furthers the discouragement of applications from state school kids and obfuscates the issue of academic support for students from working class backgrounds and how class then influences your progression into the working world post graduation.
So for once, quite remarkably in its history, the solution to a problem in Cambridge will not be found by slaving away for hours in a library. Quite the opposite. The answer to this issue is found in the numerous social spaces that are located in this unique city. Get out there and meet people, everyone and anyone, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.