Applying to the University of Cambridge was never going to be an easy undertaking. Already I had to submit my UCAS application several months before everyone else, then send of a long series of forms, then sit an entrance examination. Finally (for this year at least) I had to travel to Cambridge in person to attend three interviews with the faculty.
It would not have been feasible to make the journey there and back in a single day, so I left home on Tuesday 13th December and headed for Hull Paragon. I took the 11:23 to Doncaster where, according to my ticket receipt, I was supposed to catch a connection to Stevenage. The timetable, however, was thrown off by a failure some way down the line so I was ushered onto a different service (actually a much earlier train which had already been stuck at Doncaster for about an hour) and told to get off at Peterborough instead. Naturally all of my other connections were lost and so wound up taking the scenic route through Ely before finally arriving in Cambridge at 16:30. My hopes of arriving in daylight had been dashed.
Undeterred I left the station and headed for Selwyn College. This did not go to plan so some time later I returned to the station and got a taxi instead. That journey was much faster (owing to the driver’s unconventional interpretation of both speed limits and the road-pavement divide) and I was able to receive my room key from the porter’s lodge. My accommodation did not have an en suite bathroom – this was shared with the neighbouring room – but it did have a piano, which is not found in most hotel rooms. I was also given six meal vouchers to be used in the dining hall.
Selwyn’s campus has a split identity: I was housed in Old Court (which you see on most publicity shots), filled with nineteenth-century Gothic revivalism. Behind this, though, you will find a series of strikingly modern buildings for the actual teaching. There is also Ann’s Court, which seems mostly to be of Palladian design.
My first interview was with Doctor Rosie Bolton and Professor Bill Clegg. Bolton showed me a photograph of a walking lawn sprinkler and had me calculate the rate of water flow, the pressure and various other quantities. Clegg then showed me a molecular diagram of a large solid and asked me about the science of driving a wedge through it.
My second interview was with M Smith and Doctor James Keeler. Smith asked me to differentiate and integrate the graphs of trigonometric functions, then Keeler quizzed me on electrophilic addition.
The last session was the general interview. Doctor Daniel Beauregard pondered my career interests beyond university and wanted to know about my extra-curricular interests (such as the internet company and the tower). He also asked for copies of my modular examination certificates. The formal business of my visit was thus concluded. In an excursion spread over three days, the interviews themselves had comprised little more than an hour.
After the second night I departed Selwyn and walked back to the railway station. The return journey was far easier as the station was regularly signposted whereas the university was not, though while walking through a large leafy park I did wonder if I had gone astray, and at least one street sign appeared to have been rotated from its proper orientation. The trains back to Hull were all on schedule so I did not need to deviate from my planned route (coincidentally the planned route for the return was the same as the makeshift one for the original journey).
The application process is now out of my hands. I await the post on 11 January for the college’s decision.