Cambridge or Durham?

(85 Posts)
whichuni95 Tue 08-Jan-13 19:01:42

I have been offered places at both Cambridge and Durham to study history (both of which I am thrilled about) and cannot decide between the two. This is obviously a lovely dilemma to have and I feel very privileged but it is still a very important decision which will affect the rest of my life.

I just found out about Cambridge and am still in a slight state of euphoric shock (but I have to decide within the next 48 hours because of other complicated reasons) so I am worried that I may feel flattered and excited into a potentially rash decision.

I first fell in love with Durham when I visited a year and a half ago at the beginning of 6th form and so feel a long term connection with it. I was dead set against oxbridge for years seeing it as elitist and only decided to apply at the last possible minute. I also honestly didn't think I stood a chance of getting in. So although I now really do love Cambridge as well, my attachment to it is of a different nature. I therefore can't help feeling, on one level, that I should go with my initial gut instinct and choose Durham.

I am someone who loves school and responds well to a challenge and so I think I would defiantly enjoy the intellectual rigor of Cambridge. I love the history course on offer there a ridiculous amount and was literally jumping out my seat with excitement at the prospect of taking some of the modules. But at the same time, the thought of working even harder than I am now for another 3 years is quite daunting for me. I can't help but feel that I am wasting my one chance at being young by locking myself in my room and (attempting to) write essays the vast majority of the time. I feel like with interviews and January and summer exams this whole year has been a constant stress which is fine (I know how privileged I am to even still be in education and to have all these opportunities) but I want to feel like all the work is in aid of letting the rest of my life begin, not in spending another three years doing an even more intense version of the same thing. I don't mind working hard, very hard even, at university as long as whilst I am there I also have more opportunities to see my friends and have fun! How much less work will Durham be than Cambridge? Is Cambridge as much hard work as I am anticipating? How do students at Cambridge manage to balance work with being young and having a good time?

I have this fantasy of being at university and waking up in the morning and all my friends are just there, watching E4 and eating beans on toast and we can all sit around together and have a laugh and be spontaneous. I have been told that being at Cambridge will be like a 9-5 job; you'll either be in lectures or you'll be in the library all day except for a couple of hours in the evening when you can sit in the bar for a bit and then you'll go to bed. Does anyone know if this is true and how realistic my fantasy is at either Cambridge or Durham?

I am not a massive night-club person but I am also definitely not a hermit. I am very sociable and do also want to have fun at uni. I am an only child and so am greatly looking forward to living with other young people. I am not sure whether this makes me more suited to Durham or Cambridge?

At the end of the day, despite all the work I do really love Cambridge. As already mentioned, I love the course, I love the style of learning there, I love the idea of having supervisions. The college I have applied to is perfect for me and I think it will be filled with like-minded people. It is also considerably bigger than the college I have applied to at Durham so there may well be more social events on offer and it had a really nice student bar/ JCR. I am really into acting and at Cambridge I would potentially have the chance of getting involved with footlights which would be amazing. I also feel that Durham is quite 'private school' (certainly more so than the college I have applied to at Cambridge). Does anyone know if this is true? Finally, if my life post-university doesn't go according to plan I don't want to live with a constant feeling of 'what if', if I turn the amazing opportunity of a place at Cambridge down.

I really don't know what to do. I am sorry this is basically an epic monologue but I am truly stuck. Any advice or experience would be much appreciated.

Trills Tue 08-Jan-13 22:02:39

am pissing myself laughing at the idea of a Cambridge history degree being like a 9-5 job.

If you wanted to you could do your essays and reading before your afternoon lectures instead of at 1am smile

Yellowtip Tue 08-Jan-13 22:06:45

All my DDs have had Durham offers as well as Oxford and none have hesitated about which to accept. One is reading History. Their Dad did History at Durham and they loved the city when I took them to visit. But still, no contest in their minds. I was last in Durham a few weeks ago taking the girls' younger brothers to visit and it really is utterly beautiful (mind you we had a particularly fabulous autumnal weekend). But given a choice, it doesn't compare.

Jinsei Tue 08-Jan-13 22:11:22

grin Well yes, Trills, in theory you could do that. But I don't know anyone who did. However, my friend did pretty much move into the University Library in his third year, as did I. I was seduced by the wonderful tea room... <sigh>

Choccyjules Tue 08-Jan-13 22:20:19

I went to a Hill College in Durham and didn't find it 'public schooly' at all. (I came from a huge comp). History students back then (1990) did 3 hours of lectures a week. I know this because they were pipped only by the archeologists for downtime!

However, much as I loved Durham and still do, Cambridge has the kudos. You seem to be leaning that way. Kings must be a fab place to get into!

Trills Tue 08-Jan-13 22:22:18

But I don't know anyone who did.

No, me neither grin

But if the OPis posting on MN then maybe she has special circumstances (like a child) that will make her prefer to work to a non-standard (for students) pattern.

BeckAndCall Wed 09-Jan-13 06:59:58

First, fantastically well done on your offers.

One other thing to consider, if you are typical age, single, no children etc - all assumptions - but if you are, how far from home is each place and will you get home sick? If you're in London or the south, Durham is very very far!

That said, the answer to your question is - go to Cambridge!! If you don't, you"ll be one of only a handful of people who've ever really considered your question for more than a couple of minutes......

You can over think it at this stage and listen to people say they didn't like the teaching style, or there were too many people from different backgrounds, or they didn't make friends, or the Saturday timetable was tough (sciences only maybe). But these are all hindsight for them personally. The standard answer for this questions is - go to Cambridge!

senua Wed 09-Jan-13 08:30:08

the thought of working even harder than I am now for another 3 years is quite daunting for me. I can't help but feel that I am wasting my one chance at being young ... I feel like with interviews and January and summer exams this whole year has been a constant stress ... but I want to feel like all the work is in aid of letting the rest of my life begin, not in spending another three years doing an even more intense version of the same thing. I don't mind working hard, very hard even, at university as long as whilst I am there I also have more opportunities to see my friends and have fun!

Have you considered asking for a deferral, so you can have a year off to have fun recharge your batteries.

whichuni95 Wed 09-Jan-13 09:02:39

Thanks so much again everyone.

if you are typical age, single, no children etc

Yeah I will be 18 when I go and I don't have any children yet so am in the typical situation.

Have you considered asking for a deferral, so you can have a year off to have fun recharge your batteries.

I have thought a lot about a year out but i'm not sure what i'd do. Basically none of my friends are taking one so I wouldn't really have anyone to go travelling with and in this current economic climate I think it would be very hard for someone straight out of school and with no experience to get a job. I know people with degrees and with experience who have struggled to get the kind of job i'd be after (as a waiter, in a shop ect.)

emsyj Wed 09-Jan-13 09:58:55

As my DMum would say, 'nothing is carved in stone'. It's January. You may change your mind about deferring before term starts in October, you may feel that the summer is a good enough break (won't it be several months? It used to be in my day...) and you're raring to go again by the time you come up....

I can't work out if you've sat your exams yet, are you in a position where you would be accepting Cambridge as first choice and Durham as insurance?

I wouldn't recommend a year out if you don't have clear plans about what you want to do - just go and get on with it. Terms at Cambridge are short like Durham ones, and you will get a break in between.

Don't forget it is much easier to learn and work when you're being taught by, and you're surrounded by, experts in their field and the truly talented. It will be hard work, but you will be able to get help, ask questions, get peer support etc. I can honestly say that, having worked both at a magic circle law firm and at a small firm, despite the much longer hours and much heavier workload at the magic, working there was far far easier in many ways, because the resources are better, the people around you are more able and knowledgeable and training is seen as essential and is actively encouraged, rather than an expense that you must justify. It's just an analogy that you may find useful. You will have a lot to do at Cambridge, but you will also have every possible resource at your disposal and you'll be getting taught by the best people. The 3 years will whizz by in a heartbeat.

ancientandmodern Wed 09-Jan-13 11:17:44

OP -- my DS graduated from Cambridge last year. He has a 2.1 in History, but more to the point he certainly was not in the library all the time -- he had a wonderful social life, did lots of student journalism, went to plays, sports evens galore, college balls, college ski trip, the list goes on. Pre uni, he was worried about fitting in at Cambridge (went to state comp) but made loads of friends. I went to Durham myself, but would not advise it now -- lots of friends' children go there and report it is very, very public school-y and basically much less supportive atmosphere than Cambridge. And having seen how well the college supported my DS and its facilities, I don't think Durham colleges can compare. Enjoy Kings!

Sympathique Wed 09-Jan-13 12:13:10

SteamingNit: "Dp has always said that the most awkward students were the grammar school or bog standard private day school students: comprehensive and public school seemed more at ease. Anecdotal, but then so is everything else on here."

A balancing anecdote: DDs were grammar and selective independent respectively respectively and definitely fitted in.

whichuni95: lovely to have the choice, empathise with your problem. Each of us is biased.

Independently-educated DD didn't consider King's because it takes fewer from independent schools than other colleges (proved accurate up to a point: the only people she knew there were from state grammar/comp/sixth form college and... Eton). So in your case you chose well - you would fit in, you couldn't have picked better. Congrats to you for getting in - and them for choosing you!

Can you manage a visit?

Both DDs worked their socks off but wouldn't have gone everywhere else and both did lots else. It's a balancing act, and everyone's in the same boat - literally in some cases. (If you are one of those happy souls who meets deadlines without panic, you are blessed; if not, practise that before you go. It is an art that can be acquired and will stand you in good stead when the work piles in. "Just do it" became the mantra here)

PenelopePipPop Wed 09-Jan-13 13:28:48

Congratulations. Based on your post you clearly have a talent for massively over-thinking things and would (based on my experiences at Emma 15 years ago!) fit in brilliantly at Cambridge.

They are both good unis. Cannot comment on the history courses but which is more 'public school' is an irrelevant consideration. Universities are big and you will meet people you get on with either way and neither will require you to pitch up at formal hall in a gown every night (I'm assuming that about Durham colleges btw). I went from a lovely state comp, made loads of friends who had been to all sorts of different schools, wouldn't have missed it for the world. Would probably have had fun at Durham or UCL or anywhere else too.

It is what you make of it. The only thing I would say based on observing friends who row is that if you are planning to fall in a river at 6am a lot the Cam is a lot more forgiving than the Wear.

funnyperson Wed 09-Jan-13 14:16:33

Cambridge. Friends DC studied history there and had a wonderful time. Durham social life is only about the drink as far as I gather from other friends DC.

pippop1 Wed 09-Jan-13 17:10:28

If you enjoy cycling go to Cambridge. In Durham it's too hilly to do much cycling in order to get to places.

GrendelsMum Wed 09-Jan-13 17:15:44

I think it's very sensible to think of a Oxbridge degree as being a 9-5 job in terms of the amount of hours you put in during the week, although you won't necessarily do them between those hours. My supervisor suggested that to all her first year students in their first week, and its a good way to make sure that you're neither working too much nor too little.

whichuni95 Wed 09-Jan-13 20:13:28

Thanks again everyone

pippop1 Thu 10-Jan-13 12:46:39

DS2 (who studies at Durham) says that some people call it "Doxbridge".

Welovecouscous Thu 10-Jan-13 12:59:05

I think the fact that you are not just blithely taking your hard won Oxbridge offer shows a lot of maturity and independent thought. Actually thinking it through is good!

At the risk of outing myself, I did history at Cambridge at a college next door to yours, then taught in the Durham history department for several years. If you love history and want the best degree, you will get that at Cambridge - the standard of the lecturing, the supervisions, the seminars available to attend and the level of discussion among fellow students are just excellent. The Prof I used to run courses with is an Oxford grad and a few years ago said he felt Cambridge is currently the best place for history in the UK.

Kings takes a far better proportion of state school pupils than most Durham college and when I was at Cambridge although there were a lot of kids from independent schools, the overall feel was very egalitarian.

You could always go and do an MA at Durham after your Cambridge degree - the history dept at Durham is very good and they have a lot of really good staff. Then you can stroll round the bailey!

Overall, a further factor I would consider is that Durham is very claustrophobic - it is tiny and the general leisure facilities are not great. In Cambridge you are only an hour from London and there is a much more cosmopolitan feel, nice restaurants, good shopping - more of a city.

brainonastick Thu 10-Jan-13 13:04:01

Well, I went to Cambridge, and it was like a 9-5 job for about a month before finals. The rest of the time was passed in a hazy studenty blur.

You will get the best result with the course that motivates you the most. So I would go with the course you like best, which sounds like Cambridge.

A swaying factor is also that Cambridge will look brilliant on a CV. People continue to be very impressed by it, so in these days of scarce jobs, it might give you that little boost you need.

Plus Durham is cold.

brainonastick Thu 10-Jan-13 13:05:45

PS I wasn't private school. My college was very much more state school though (not Kings). Kings is one of the less stuffy colleges though, so I wouldn't worry about it on that score.

DewDr0p Thu 10-Jan-13 13:11:18

Which college have you applied to at Durham OP? They vary massively.

I went to Durham and yes there were quite a lot of rahs (some of whom were lovely people) but an awful lot of "normal" people too. It was quite a close-knit student community and there are a big group of us who are still really good friends. It's very beautiful there too.

Having said that, there is a certain kudos you get from Oxbridge that other universities just cannot compete with.

realcoalfire Thu 10-Jan-13 13:45:21

I have to say no-one I went to Cambridge as set the world alight with their careers and I'm not sure employers and Cambridge admission tutors are looking for the same things, BUT I think you should go there, it is a very different experience I think.
I know what you mean about Durham though, I loved it when DS went to visit and was gutted when he didn't apply there.

Welovecouscous Thu 10-Jan-13 14:02:37

Some of my exact contemporaries at Cambridge now do/did the following jobs:

Aide for an ex PM (was aide when he was in office)
Senior trader in city bank (job moves covered in the financial press)
Cambridge academic x 2
TV script writer (including 2 prime time series)
Leading columnist in daily newspaper
Best selling novelist
Partner in top city law firm x 2
Award winning barrister

We are also stay at home mums, teachers, doctors, lawyers, vets.

There will be other high flying people who I don't know about, as well.

mummytime Thu 10-Jan-13 14:12:42

I worked at Cambridge and was at Oxford as a Graduate, they really really are not "all private school". Even the poshest colleges have lots of State school pupils. It is a great opportunity to shrug off any chip on your shoulder and to realise you are just as good as any polished (but bullshitting) Public school products.

Trills Thu 10-Jan-13 14:32:01

DS2 (who studies at Durham) says that some people call it "Doxbridge".

I don't mean to sounds nasty or snobby but it is really only people from Durham who say that.

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