The Cambridge admissions process is Hell

Literal, fiery Hell.

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With the application deadline for Cambridge having recently passed, what better time to talk prospective students through what they should expect. How best to do this? Why, with an incredibly tenuous metaphor, that’s how.

So what’s the admissions process like you ask? I could explain it as being long, difficult or all about hard work and perseverance… alas, none of that will do.

It’s Hell. The admissions process is Hell.

When trying to pick an appropriate metaphor, I briefly considered all the Harry Potter films and a season of "The Apprentice", but settled instead on Dante's Inferno, a poem documenting Dante’s journey through the 9 circles of hell, lead by Roman poet Virgil. There’s no Roman poet to guide you through your Cambridge application but sometimes UCAS can seem just as archaic.

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The 9 stages of the admissions process


The state applicants are in right now: there's nothing you can do but wait. You’ve submitted your application, having constructed the greatest piece of bullshit you'll ever write. A glorious waterfall of the finest waffle, lavishly cascading all over your 8000 letters (why is the limit in letters??). It’s a shame that you’ll never be able to read it ever again without dying from cringe.

Pls kill me :')


Next, Dante journeys to the second circle, where the sin of Lust is punished. You go through the single most soul destroying experience of your life: the admissions test. You're so used to acing tests with ease you won’t understand what’s happening when you’re reduced to nothing more than an intellectually redundant soggy mess of a human. Yet, whilst you leave the exam room utterly broken, there’s a small spark within you… you’ve invested time, energy, and part of your soul to this… you’ve had a taste… and you lust for more.


Now comes the interview, and for Dante, the third circle, where Gluttony is punished. The sinners wallow in a disgusting slush, as will you at the interview as punishment for your arrogant delusion of grandeur when you greedily applied in your ravenous search for glory.

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It's all worth it just for the brunch

All notions you had that you were intelligent vanish instantly. You get the very first question wrong, and it’s all downhill from there. Never again will you go through an experience so humiliating – in a moment of panic you claim that the human brain weighs 1000 kilos. Yeah, good one mate, telling a world leading expert in physiology that the brain weighs a whole metric ton.

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Wrong type of slush I'm afraid


The sinners here are punished for Greed and guarded by Pluto, God of the Underworld. Not to be melodramatic or anything but this is a fitting metaphor for your life now. You signed a deal with the devil when you applied, and the rest of your life is at the hands of a demonic guardian which will be present forever onwards, spitefully standing between you and fun: work.


At the 5th circle, the Wrathful battle each other in a stinking swamp. For you, the battle will be verbal. It’s time to start revising for exams, and that means sharpies, flashcards, and passive aggressive beef with people you thought were your friends over who has done the most revision. It’s vital for your ego that you win this battle… perhaps not so vital for the exams.

Cambridge applicant trying to steer his way through a sea of distractions to keep revising, c. 2016


In circle six people are trapped in flaming tombs for eternity. This sounds bad, but when you open that exam paper and see that the very first question, a one-marker no less, is completely beyond you, a flaming tomb seems dandy. Heck, you’ll even throw in some brain-eating maggots too, because anything can be better than how this exam is going.


After what seems like a lifetime, the exams will be over, and you’ll be free for the summer! What this actually means is you’ll spend weeks dying inside as you count down to Results Day. Dante’s seventh circle is Violence, and you’ll find yourself committing this sin multiple times over the next couple of months. Your stress levels will have you molesting sandcastles, crushing ice cream cones and applying sun cream so fiercely that you’ll give yourself a friction burn.

The feeling of relief after bludgeoning sand is intense.


Results day! In the eighth circle, Dante encounters people guilty of Fraud. You’ll feel you belong there, because as you log onto UCAS and discover you’ve got into Cambridge, you think it must be a mistake. After waiting a while for the devil to pop out to greet you like a long lost buddy, you realise it must be legit and start to get excited.


The ninth circle is where Treachery is punished, and in a way, you’ll feel like a traitor when all your friends go off to uni. Try not to feel too guilty as you wake up at 11am with nothing to do all day. Don't worry! You will be punished for this eventually when you are made to fit callous amounts of work into 8 week terms.

Accurate indication of me trying to make the metaphor fit at this stage…geddit?

And that, all you budding young applicants, is the hell you’ll go through to get here. You'd think Dante was writing on behalf of all nerdy A-level students when he said "in the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost". Because that makes absolutely no sense and he is clearly the OG of bullshitting.