DD applying English at Cambridge 2018 any advice?

(70 Posts)
Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 14:26:54

DD would like to study English at Uni and will apply in 2018. She has her heart set on Cambridge. I have been the voice of reason about the difficulty of getting there even as an excellent student and she has told me that she visualises what she wants to help her achieve it, she knows it will be hard but needs to think positively (I've received this as 'Shut up mum!'). I completely respect that. Please could anyone offer advice as to the best way to make her personal statement shine amongst all personal statements for English. She is studying English, History, Law and taking Computer science a year early in August. She has written a 60,000 word book and is discussing it with authors and sending it to publishers (so it's currently still a personal project.)
DS applied this year and was quite relaxed about where he ended up, he wasn't phased or surprised not to get an interview. I'm already more stressed about DD.

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ElinorRigby Sat 25-Feb-17 15:30:08

Okay. Visualisation and positive thinking are all well and good.

But in your daughter's shoes I'd also want to be thinking about what I was reading. It's possible to do English GCSE and A-Level, only having studied a relatively narrow range of texts. Has your daughter read a range of classic novels and poetry. Gone to see Shakespeare productions. I'd be wanting to acquaint myself with a breadth of literature, and be able to explain what I got out of it - and why I wanted to go further - in a personal statement. As well as explaining what it was particularly about the structure Cambridge degree course that appealed to me i.e. nothing to do with punting.

I note that your daughter seems particularly interested in writing. If that's something she wants to pursue, it could be that UEA would actually suit her a lot better.

(Hope this helps I did a Cambridge English degree. My daughter is in her second year at Cambridge.)

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 15:41:36

Thank you Elinor she has been reading Russian authors since discovering WE through 1984 so it's a start. Thank you for the UEA suggestion, she definitely wants to study Literature. For my son's personal statement relevant work experience was important, is it really the just the breadth of reading and exposure to relevant theatre productions that's important for English?

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ElinorRigby Sat 25-Feb-17 16:01:46

My own experience is a long way back. All I can imagine is that there are a lot of bright able girls with high marks, who can answer the sorts of questions that are asked at A-level.

So I suppose that a kind of independent curiosity - wanting to read Villette, if you have to study Jane Eyre. Or taking the opportunity to see a production of 'Lear' even though it was Macbeth, which was on the syllabus, would tend to stand an applicant in good stead.

I think English degree courses vary hugely in terms of structure/what's on offer, so maybe the point is to encourage looking at a variety of institutions - while of course making vaguely affirming noises.

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sat 25-Feb-17 16:10:43

They will be interested in what she has done beyond the course to extend her interest in English. One of our students who got an Oxbridge interview had written a book and self-published on Kindle; she also did a creative writing course and had work experience at the local paper. The wider reading of texts unconnected to the course is really important: they will want her to be able to talk about what literature she enjoys and why, and in personal statement she should identify quite specific aspects of texts that have sparked her interest - another student of mine talked about her particular interest in dystopian fiction, with examples, and what appealed to her about it. Both had also taken part in the school's academic society, giving talks and taking part in debates. Does your DD's school have a book club? Could she start one?

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 16:29:21

Thank you Elinor you raise some very helpful points. Thank you Theonly WE were concerned about work experience, she will take part in essay competitions and w will investigate opportunities at the local paper/magazines. I have no personal experience of university and don't want to let her down.

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ElinorRigby Sat 25-Feb-17 16:41:56

I went to the website.


*What we’re looking for

English students need an intellectual curiosity which drives them to try new things and ask probing questions. We look for reading beyond the syllabus, and for independent, well-informed critical thinking*.

I suppose you could translate that as being nosy, stroppy and good at arguing.

So much depends on what's available where you live. What libraries are like and if it's an area where there are activities for teenagers.. If the school is a place with clubs and extra-curricular options. Some towns and cities have literature festivals, where there are roles for volunteers.

I think it's not like there's a secret checklist, where everybody has to go round ticking stuff off.

But doing the sorts of things that have been suggested, will be of benefit, wherever your daughter ends up going/deciding to go.


TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sat 25-Feb-17 17:57:10

There are also various Oxbridge essay competitions like this one: www.queens.cam.ac.uk/apply-to-queens/undergraduates/schools-competition/the-estelle-prize-for-english

Iusedtobedontcall Sat 25-Feb-17 18:02:57

Has she had a look at the medieval/early modern miracle and morality plays- Everyman for example. It's interesting to see a shift in literature from an educational and moral purpose, to a celebration of beauty (eg Keats and the romantics) to political and social commentary like Dickinson. She could also read some literary theory - Terry Eagleton is good.

Iusedtobedontcall Sat 25-Feb-17 18:03:22

Dickens not Dickinson

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sat 25-Feb-17 18:12:24

Go modern as well - don't just fixate on the classics but look at some of the fantastic post-2000 literature there is out there.

doglover Sat 25-Feb-17 19:11:06

My DD received an Oxford offer last month. She wrote about her extended reading, Summer School attendance and only about 20% on extra-curricular activities.

YellowPrimula Sat 25-Feb-17 19:18:22

Also have a look on YouTube the Oxford university channel where they have some interspersing stuff also Oxvlog for a students point of view, there are also numerous interview experience etc films .Sorry see its Cambridge not Oxford but similar exists for Cambridge

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 19:41:20

Thank you again smile Everyman, Terry Eagleton and Peter Barry Introduction to literary theory duly ordered. Now to get through her mocks and AS's to get the required predicted grades!

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GrumpyOldBag Sat 25-Feb-17 19:45:17

Get her to read Booker prize winning novels.

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 20:21:37

Added the last 2 Booker winners! I know post exams she'll enjoy reading them all, right now while she's swamped with revision I'm thinking I'll hide them from her! Thank you again for taking the time to respond and offer us your advice. smile

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ChristianGreysAnatomy Sat 25-Feb-17 20:39:09

If she can understand that literature has a political dimension, and if she can talk about a movement in literature in its historical and political context then she will have a better chance of standing out from the crowd.

I was turned down on my first attempt. Second time round I visited three colleges to decide where to apply and talked to the director of studies/head of English at each place. I knew immediately where I wanted to go. Totally recommend doing this if she can as each meeting is like a mock interview.

At interview I was asked what I had read most recently and talked about a children's book (Diana wynne Jones in fact) and the subversion of traditional narratives. So whatever she reads she should try to read as a literary critic as well as for enjoyment. What is the author trying to do and how does s/he achieve it, or not.

I had practical criticism coaching (at school - I was v lucky) which helped hugely.

And I learnt, from reading a friends work, the power of brevity over verbosity. Just be aware that writing a book and writing two a4 sides of incisive criticism of a poem are not at all the same skills - almost the opposite. She might need to think carefully about this.

Good luck!

ElinorRigby Sat 25-Feb-17 21:42:26

Sometimes these threads get very tactical. A lot of the advice is potentially very helpful. But I still don't think the loving parent has to follow every bit of advice. Or the ambitious daughter has to do it all. (The last two Booker prize winners look interesting, but there's a hell of a lot more to contemporary writing than the Booker. And in 100 years time very few people will remember any of the novels.)

My perspective is that it's actually fairly simple. You read all the stuff on the website about the applications process and follow the instructions. If teachers at school are switched-on about supporting the students that's going to help. (Because then parents don't have to fret and think. 'Oh God, I have to know all about UCAS forms etc etc.)

It helps if the applicant is extremely bright. And it also helps if she reads a lot and really really cares about literature - in a thinking, questioning way. (Not a cruddy, oh Pride and Prejudice is so romantic, I really lurve it, sort of way)

Also though parents understandably want to support their children, it's also the child who has to do it. In an ideal world, they realise that it's about doing stuff not just visualising themselves at a May Ball. So, it should be them who goes to the library or says, 'Mum, can you buy me a second hand copy of this on Abebooks.'

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 22:00:12

Thank you Christian and congratulations. DD and I agree that the book vs literary critique techniques are completely different, I spoke to a college admissions coordinator who saw it as comparable to an EPQ and DD will try to weave it in in a couple of sentences.
She's writing an essay on the portrayal of mental health in YA fiction for her own enjoyment so hopefully broadening her range with both this and all of the suggested reading.
It feels like the personal statement will be mostly (approx 75%) her critique of the additional reading she has done as proof of her love and understanding of the subject with a little aside for work experience, productions viewed, essay competitions, writing her book and the appeal of the structure of the course. I appreciate every piece of advice given. smile

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Shurleyshummishtake Sat 25-Feb-17 22:12:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 22:13:34

Sorry, x posted Elinor.
DD is capable of getting the books herself but is in the middle of her revision, she's also editing her book in preparation for sending to publishers and has a Comp Sci project to finish by Easter in and preparation for the A level in June.
It's not so much the romance she wants as the excellence offered.
Her school is an average state school and we've informed them of the Summer Schools she has applied to Eton, Sutton Trust and Uniq, to their credit they have then emailed the dates and info to the rest of her year but they were hardly proactive. They seem to have lack of ambition at school which we discovered with DS who then received 4 very good offers thanks to our taking initiative and being as informed as possible.
I'm truly grateful to both Mumsnet and Student Room for information offered to DS and now to DD.
I agree that we need to be judicious about the advice taken but feel it is important for DD to consider everything with the aim of becoming the rounded candidate.

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Hollybollybingbong Sat 25-Feb-17 22:22:52

Thank you Shurley your brother sounds much like DD! Phew!
I think different schools offer different experiences of English Lit, whilst DD finds her classes excellent we don't know if they are as excellent as others. Because of this it's important for us to see what has been useful to others and keep our minds open.
I'm aware I'm speaking very much like it's our journey and not just DD's but I naturally try to micro manage things I'm unsure of, I did the same with DS. I know it isn't necessary with DD and I'm sure she will grimace when she reads this as she is perfectly capable of doing it all herself but my learning as much as I can lowers my own stress levels because I feel I know what's going on.

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ElinorRigby Sat 25-Feb-17 22:26:06

Okay - final contribution from me. It sounds as if having supported your son through the university application process you know, what you're doing.

My own personal take as somebody who is an intermittently published writer and a former literature student, is that there is a trade-off between the kind of focus needed to write publishable literature - and the concentration needed to read other people's novels and poems and plays and literary criticism, so as to get a good grounding when applying for a competitive course. (While also studying to get good grades in other A-levels...)

BasiliskStare Sun 26-Feb-17 01:09:12

Eng lit is an analytical subject (no shit Sherlock) - take advice from those better placed but try to make her balance the creative side - unless she would rather do that - with the studying of the texts side ( and as many as she can read of the best quality - also if she could read something not e.g. modern or Victorian / Shakespeare or even Chaucer - i.e. school type texts). Many English degrees will study e.g. Early English or Early Middle English (aha - I say that - they did in my day) - it might be worth a shot trying a couple of poems from the early period - even if she decides she is not interested.

SuperRainbows Sun 26-Feb-17 08:53:37

As far as applying for Oxbridge, encourage her all the way.

My DS 22 went to Cambridge for his undergraduate studies and it was definitely the right place for him.

DD 19, on the advice of school applied to Cambridge for medicine. She was interviewed and pooled for consideration by other colleges. She didn't get offered a place, but getting this far was a huge confidence boost and she is now studying medicine at a top medical school.

I'm sure your DD will know this, but do extensive research on the colleges, as their requirements are so different, especially how interested they are in extra curricular activities and hobbies.

It's such a tough time for young people. There's loads of uncertainty and immense pressure from schoose.

Your DD is very lucky to have such an interested and caring Mum. I'm sure she appreciates you, but it might not always appear like that!

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