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.

funnyperson Sat 26-Jan-13 15:40:32

I dont know if its still the same but the used to have a tripos system at Cambridge which meant there was a lot of flexibility in the subject studied so you could start off doing history then switch to something else if you wanted.

MariscallRoad Sat 26-Jan-13 14:46:50

It might be also a good idea best to approach employers as a to find out what they think one way or another and how the market has changed. The organisations look also for suitable persons.

faustina Sat 26-Jan-13 10:34:57

If you're still wondering whether to go, could I just add that DS2 is currently at Kings and although sometimes he does 9pm - 5am, shortly before exams/essay deadlines, he is most definitely able to enjoy himself thoroughly in between. He also went straight from state school. Did you decide yet?

Sympathique Thu 10-Jan-13 16:56:55

In the absence of any way of ‘liking’ posts, can I propose this as best post of the thread:
PenelopePipPop “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.” Laughed like a drain - describes members of this family to a T.

Closely followed by this:
welovecouscous “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!” Aaaw, lovely.

Sympathique Thu 10-Jan-13 16:20:29

mummytime: you could take it like that, but it was meant as a clarification - and an unspoken wish that people wouldn't generalise. Your subsequent post made it clear that school has less to do with it than your initial post suggested. I agree with you that it's easy to be over-awed by bullshitters, wherever they come from, and especially if, like so many freshers, you're convinced that Cambridge accepted you by mistake. On the other hand, the very brightest may also be the humblest. They can also come from any school.

brainonastick Thu 10-Jan-13 15:51:32

Welovecouscous - do I know you?! Those are some my friends jobs as well!

mummytime Thu 10-Jan-13 15:08:26

Sympathetique - if that was a criticism, sorry but I have sat next to some very "bullshitting" public school types. On the other hand I know a lot of very articulate, intelligent, thoughtful etc. public school types. By Graduate level it is irrelevant (actually looking back for several of my friends I had/have no idea what school they went to).
If you come from a not very good State school, the "polish" some Private school types have, can be off putting, however if you listen to content you learn the useful skill of differentiating "style" from "real intellect".

The big advantage of Oxbridge (other than sometimes the best course, but not always) is that often they can provide more in terms of accommodation etc. which can be very helpful.

MariscallRoad Thu 10-Jan-13 15:00:53

whichuni95 thank you for posting.

The times and circumstances have changed and I do not know if we one can surely predict what it will be like in 4 years time - when my DC and his friends graduate. As you have seen, the current economic climate is a problem. Even people with degrees find it difficult to get jobs now.

Welovecouscous Thu 10-Jan-13 14:33:43

Trills when I taught at Durham they were selling t shirts which said on the front:

Didn't get into Oxford or Cambridge?

The back said:

Just too Durham good!

Sympathique Thu 10-Jan-13 14:32:09

mummytime "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."

Or to learn how inaccurate - and unnecessary- the stereotypes are.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Thanks again everyone

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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