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Lizzie and Ellie’s guide to Cambridge Open Days

Before they got into Cambridge Ellie Wood and Lizzie Bowes came to an Open Day – which proved vital in their journey here.

They are both now Schools Liaison Officers at Trinity, working to encourage high-achieving students from less advantaged backgrounds, their teachers and parents to consider Cambridge, to explain the admissions process, and what student life is really like here.

Lizzie Bowes, Trinity SLO

Lizzie, who studied English at Newnham, is from Peterborough. ‘I had very little understanding of how university worked, and especially of how Oxbridge worked, as neither of my parents had been to university. I went to the Cambridge Open Day with a million questions, and a lot of scepticism about whether or not Cambridge would be a university I could see myself in,’ she said.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go and look around, however, because it was only after seeing my department and what would later become my College that I could really envision a life here.

Ellie Wood, Trinity SLO

Lizzie joins Ellie, who also studied at Newnham, as Schools Liaison Officer at Trinity. Ellie attended Yate International Academy in South Gloucestershire, then one of the worst-performing schools in the county, where she was the first person to go Cambridge or Oxford. She was also the first in her family to attend university.

‘I only began to think of Cambridge after a chance remark by one of my teachers. But my school didn’t have any experience of Oxbridge – few students then went to university at all – so I had to work things out for myself, mostly online,’ she said.

Coming to a Cambridge Open Day helped a lot: it made me really want to study here, I found out about the application process and got a fantastic insight into student life. I recommend anyone with good grades even thinking of Cambridge to come along – I know doing so for me changed my entire perception of Cambridge.

‘However, we know that Open Days can be daunting!’ says Ellie. ‘There’s lots of information to take in, things to try, people to meet, rooms to tour and – most importantly – free stash to acquire! Whilst Open Days can be jam-packed, they don’t need to be overwhelming.’

‘As Open Day veterans, here are our Ten Top Tips to make your day as straightforward and enjoyable as possible!’

  1. Work out your priorities before you arrive. Is accommodation the most important thing for you to scope out? Do you want to get a feel for the libraries and the academic department you’ll potentially be based in? Is a decent coffee shop near where you’ll live critical to you? Think about what you absolutely have to see or ask about – that will provide a good starting point when you arrive here. And it’ll save time and energy, allowing you to get straight to the good stuff you care about.
  2. Don’t try and visit all 31 Colleges in a day! It’s good to be ambitious, but instead best to check out this handy index  and make a note of the Colleges that you like the look of. Shortlist maximum half a dozen. That will make things a lot easier on the day. Whether you choose a College on the basis of its accommodation, location, or just general vibe, be sure to ask the student volunteers for their experiences (and opinions of the College food!) And consider visiting a College you’re less sure about – you might be surprised!
  3. Don’t worry if you’re coming on your own! While a lot of people come with a parent, carer or friend, it’s also absolutely fine to come on your own. Student volunteers and staff members will happily talk to you, show you around or rescue you if you get lost, so there’s no need to feel you have to make your way around the Colleges alone if you’d like some company.
  4. Bust those myths! Don’t let preconceptions get in the way of your day – talk them through with someone who can give you clear, accurate information. Don’t let preconceptions get in the way of your day – talk them through with someone who can give you clear, accurate information. Cambridge definitely has a lot more to it than the media often portrays, so be sure to clarify anything you’ve heard it if it worries you.
  5. Take lots of breaks! Open Days are busy and can be intensive and it’s important not to oversaturate yourself. You want to be able to take time to work out your impressions of Cambridge, or of a specific College, and whether it’s right for you. It’s a good idea to talk through, write down, or just have a think about what you’ve seen, what you’d like to see next, and your opinions of the University as a whole throughout the day.
  6. Don’t be afraid to talk to admissions and teaching staff. They’re down to earth and here to answer your questions, so make the most of it!
  7. Talk to student volunteers, wittily called CAMbassadors at Cambridge. They’re literally paid to be here and talk to you, so take advantage of that! They can answer any of your questions, and they’ll probably remember what it felt like to be in your position and what they wanted to know when they were applying. Great questions to ask are how they chose a specific College or course, or Cambridge itself, over their other options, and opinions on nightlife/extracurriculars/daily student life are always great to have.
  8. Pick up the University of Cambridge prospectus and other materials from Colleges – there’ll be a range of goodies on offer!
  9. Stay hydrated and wear comfy shoes! You’ll do a lot of walking around the city and summertime can be pretty warm here. Water, ice cream and snack breaks are absolutely encouraged!
  10. Enjoy yourself! Cambridge is a beautiful city. It’s easy to get around and the Backs – looking across the Cam towards the Colleges – can’t be beat, particularly in the summer!

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