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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.

DoodlesNoodles Tue 08-Jan-13 21:18:53

Well done! (do you already have your grades?)

JoanByers Tue 08-Jan-13 21:19:11

Cambridge takes more private school pupils than Durham as a %.

Although Kings is one of the most state school colleges at Cambridge.

I went next door, to Clare.

k75 Tue 08-Jan-13 21:20:56

Cambridge all the way, better social mix, great life and CV+++. Durham is not Cambridge.

CheckpointCharlie Tue 08-Jan-13 21:29:07


Yellowtip Tue 08-Jan-13 21:35:49

Go to Cambridge, no question. You're a Historian so of course it won't be 9 to 5, that's for scientists. It might be 12 to 8 but that still leaves masses of time to be with friends and still sleep in every morning. Believe me, if you ever let drop at Durham that you got a Cambridge offer (especially somewhere like King's!) you'll be shunned. Possibly dunked in the Weir. Or worse. They'll hate you, honestly. For your own safety you must go to King's. You'd be very likely indeed to regret it later. Far less work at Durham and far easier to slip under the radar (seminars as opposed to supervisions). But that won't compensate for giving up a more taxing but ultimately more rewarding option that you appear to have laid at your feet.

Struggling to think of why you might need to firm within twenty four hours mind you. And interested in how you might 'defiantly enjoy the rigor' at Cambridge. Sounds quite sassy to me. Go for it smile.

Jinsei Tue 08-Jan-13 21:37:54

Go to Cambridge, you won't regret it.

I faced a similar dilemma years ago - in my case, it was Cambridge or York. I'd set my heart on York because of a very enjoyable visit and more "normal" peopke at interview. Teacher (state comp) told me I would be mad to give up the opportunities that Cambridge would offer and that I had better not bloody turn them down. He was right, it was fantastic, and as an employer, I can now see that an Oxbridge degree on your CV does truly open doors that might otherwise be closed. It might not be right, but it's reality.

Kings is very state school dominated anyway, so you won't feel out of place there, and you'll have loads of opportunities for fun in Cambridge too. In my experience, the students there tend to work hard and play hard.

Durham is lovely too, I visited a couple of friends who were students there, but I did think it was very "rah" compared to cambridge (surprisingly), and I thought the Oxbridge reject societies were all a bit sad, even if they were supposed to be a bit tongue in cheek. But it's a very pretty place with lots going on, and the friends I had who went there all loved it.

But I still don't think it compares to Cambridge. And yes, I am utterly biased!

JourneyThroughLife Tue 08-Jan-13 21:38:50

My daughter applied for and had interviews at both Cambridge and Durham, she ended up in Durham and regretted it. Although she liked the city itself she felt the University was very "rah" and was unhappy at times. She had a part-time job but it was a struggle and Durham is FULL of students trying to get jobs, and being a "northern" town it was harder to get work, though a bit cheaper to live. She made plenty of friends but regretted not going to Cambridge.

It's true what other posters have said on here that Cambridge opens doors in a way Durham never will. You will take it with you for the rest of your life - there's a lot of life left after just a few years at University! The teaching, tutor groups, seminars etc. are second to none at Cambridge.

I'd say, if you have the chance to go to Cambridge, I'd take it without question, not everyone gets such a chance - go for it!

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Tue 08-Jan-13 21:39:04

Go to Cambridge! i went to neither (Edinburgh) but i work at Cambridge and through that have seen some of the power from the Cambridge network. Not just because the connection exists, but also because ex-cambridge people seem to happy to help other cambridge people even if they don't know them. Will stand you in good stead.

NanoNinja Tue 08-Jan-13 21:39:33

I went to Durham, albeit ten years ago. Was okay, but tbh I wouldn't make the same choice again (my alternative was LSE). I found it very insular, very private school (and I went to a private school!), and not terrifically stretching from an academic viewpoint. Although obviously, lots of people have a great time there.

I'd say Cambridge.

Jinsei Tue 08-Jan-13 21:39:56

Joan, Clare rules! smile Can I ask when you were there?

bevelino Tue 08-Jan-13 21:42:32

OP congratulations on your offer. If you decide on Cambridge I think you will find that they allow plenty of time for acceptance, so take your time. There is no rush in terms of accepting the actual offer at this stage.

Caladria Tue 08-Jan-13 21:43:22

Go to King's. Really. It's always had a lefty tradition, admits a solid majority from state schools and is wonderful. I am biased as hell, but I'd say that even if I wasn't.

neolara Tue 08-Jan-13 21:45:29

As someone up thread has already said, Kings has a good bar.

There is a massive advantage of having Cambridge on your CV. It really does open doors.

You will meet some extraordinarily interesting people in Cambridge. I'm old and live in south Cambridge, but the demographic here is very unusual. Lots and lots of bright, interested, quirky, academically minded people many of whom are literally world leaders in their fields. It's because of the university. And its very different to other places I have lived. It makes for a very interesting social life.

mirpuppet Tue 08-Jan-13 21:46:04

Go to Cambridge.

Foggles Tue 08-Jan-13 21:46:33

DS1 was offered a place at Kings College, Cambridge. He really, really struggled with the decision as to whether to go there but, unlike your situation, the course at Cambridge was not as exciting as the one he took at Brunel.

If it had been - he would have picked Cambridge.

Good luck smile

TheOriginalSteamingNit Tue 08-Jan-13 21:46:54

I'd be inclined to say Cambridge, though I do know people who weren't happy there. Not king's though but a very small college, which perhaps makes a difference.

Although I don't think anyone would really hate you at Durham if they knew you'd turned down Cambridge: I should think some might admire that actually!

The workload will doubtless be more than you'd choose wherever you go, as is it for all students wink

But I assume the offers are both conditional anyway?

Caladria Tue 08-Jan-13 21:49:11

Oh, and one of the main reasons Oxbridge doesn't have enough state school or working class students is that they don't apply, and they don't apply because people (journalists, teachers, etc) scare them with stories of weird posh people. If you're dead set against elitism then bloody well go there and change things.

emsyj Tue 08-Jan-13 21:49:56

Go to Cambridge.

I went to Durham and hated it. I would never recommend it to anyone unless they were very 'rah' public school, pink rugby shirt with collar turned up and puffa gilet-types. Horribly cliquey and unpleasant place, I still have nightmares about it and I graduated 11 years ago. Years ago there was one of those 'airline reality' TV shows on and a young man (pink rugby shirt with collar turned up and deck shoes, chinos and puffa gilet) was obnoxiously shouting at the check-in assistant. I said to DH, 'I bet he went to Durham' - and bingo! He was a Durham student!

Over the summer I went to meet up with my old room mate (we shared a room for first year then shared a house in second year) and was really shocked that she had been back to visit with her mum a few weeks earlier - I couldn't believe she'd been able to bring herself to return! grin I feel she has let me down... Although to be fair she went out of term time, so no/not many students around.

I was rejected from Cambridge <cue violins> and rightly so, I think I would have drowned in the workload, but back in my day it was much cheaper in terms of college bills (was about half the cost for room & board back in my day, but that is a long time ago now...) One of my tutors in first year told us that the workload at Cambridge (he had been there and also taught there himself) was about double what ours was at Durham.

Trills Tue 08-Jan-13 21:50:51

King's hasn't aaaaaaaalways had a lefty tradition (founded by Henry VI just after founding Eton, no prizes for guessing the plan) but yes it was nicknamed "the Commie College" during the Cold War.

timidviper Tue 08-Jan-13 21:52:05

I have relatives in Cambridge and it is lovely, if a bit rarified. I don't know about the workload at Cambridge but have a friend with a son at Oxford, he is struggling from the stress/workload/etc. but that may be just him.

DS went to Durham and absolutely loved it. The colleges vary dramatically in terms of how "rah" they are, the bailey colleges are richer and posher than the hill colleges.

I think you can be very happy at both, they are both excellent unis.
Good luck with your decision

emsyj Tue 08-Jan-13 21:52:58

I went to a hill college and found it horribly 'rah'... Just saying! smile

Jinsei Tue 08-Jan-13 21:57:13

Oh, am pissing myself laughing at the idea of a Cambridge history degree being like a 9-5 job. Good friend of mine did history and was rarely up before lunchtimes! That said, you are expected to work very hard - nothing like the pressure of a 1:1 supervision to challenge the mind! The best intellectual experience you could ever hope for, I reckon!

evilgiraffe Tue 08-Jan-13 21:57:32

Cambridge is wonderful. I have a good friend who loved her time at Durham, but DH went to Cambridge and loved it - and we still spend lots of time with his college friends even though they all graduated several years ago.

Cambridge is by no means all work and no play either. I always came up to stay with DH for May week - lots of barbecues on Jesus Green and general fun times. I was never there duing term time but judging from the photographic record, they all had a good time!

The state/private thing is no big deal either, DH never had a problem with it - we have friends from both backgrounds and you'd never know unless you asked. I never met anyone from a fancypants public school like Eton at all. I was a bit shocked, to be honest, as before DH went I'd thought Oxbridge was full of insufferable posh types, but I could not have been more wrong. It's very friendly, very accepting, and if you have the chance definitely go.

Kings has (or had, anyway) a lovely coffee shop, by the way, we went in there all the time until our student cards expired...

I went to Cambridge as a mature student, and graduated in the summer.

A number of my friends who are now in their final year are historians. They certainly do not suffer from a lack of social life!

In your position I'd consider the practicalities:

-. Finances - are you eligible for the Newton Trust if you go to Cambridge, and if so, would you be in a sinilar financial position if you went to Durham

- Course content - which degree has the most options/modules that you will find interesting and/or will be useful for future aspirations? (Bearing in mind that these are subject to change).

As someone has already said upthread, TSR is also a good forum to visot wither to ask for advice, or to read existing threads.

There was a 'day in the life of a X student' thread stickied at the top of the Cambridge forum which gave accounta of weekly workloads//activitiesof students in a number of different years & subjects. I suspect that the durham forum would have similar.

I'm a little confused that you have offers for both, as I thought that the UCAS system made you place first/second choice options. Is this no longer the case?

TheOriginalSteamingNit Tue 08-Jan-13 22:02:02

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.

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