Access should not stop when offers are confirmed

Elsa Maishman 3 September 2015

Attending the CUSU Access Forums in Easter Term was an enlightening experience. I had not before considered the many ways in which our student union is, contrary to popular opinion in the media, working to change the perception of Cambridge held by students from less-traditionally 'Cambridge' backgrounds. However, for all the good that is done in working with potential applicants, there is a failure to take into account the needs of those students from state-schools who achieve a place here. Naturally, progression to university requires greater independence and I do think this is needed to build confidence and prepare oneself for adulthood. Yet an institution as old and prestigious as this one brings with it additional problems for any fresher; let alone one who is submerged into a system very different to the world they have previously experienced. 

I enjoyed Freshers' week as much as anyone else, and yet amidst all the partying I couldn’t help feeling slightlyapprehensive about my imminent essay deadlines. I had been told that two essays a week was typical, something which would have seemed unimaginable during Sixth Form, when two essays a month was pushing it. I was consoled nonetheless by the prospectus which declared that my college had a ‘detailed programme of support for first year students’. It is undeniable that the colleges only admit students who they deem able to cope with the demands of the work here, in terms of quantity and level of difficulty. And yet it's clear that students from certain schools will have been much more adequately prepared for the academic rigour of Cambridge than I have been from my state comprehensive.

This is not to take away anything from the integrity of the admissions system. Tutors recognise that there are students from top private schools who will have been prepared upon interview far more than their state counterparts, and take this into account in their assessments. Yet all the freshers who arrive in October will be thrown in together, nobody supposedly better than anyone else, all at Cambridge on their own merit. 

While the University may view all applications on a level-playing field during the interview stage, upon arrival there still needs to be more support or at least a transition phase to allow everyone to settle in. I know during my first term I often felt like I had failed before I had begun, with consistent critical feedback and little introduction to the supervision system it is undeniable that some people can just slip through the net. If Cambridge is serious about access then their efforts need to extend beyond the admissions process.