George Pinder

State School, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


Applying to Cambridge sounds like a big decision but in actual fact the nature of the application process means that it is more like making lots of smaller decisions and negotiating a number of smaller tasks that follow on from each other. Don’t be put off applying by thinking that it is one big daunting task that you can’t possibly be successful in; instead, approach it with the mind-set that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

On my first visit to the University of Cambridge as part of a trip organised by my sixth-form college, we were shown around two colleges: Selwyn and Clare. Almost immediately, Clare College impressed me and I found myself imagining studying and living in such an amazing environment. It was on this instinctual basis that I applied for Clare as opposed to other colleges and I don’t think you should choose a college based on calculations such as which one will most likely accept you or anything like that. In reality, it doesn’t really matter which college you apply for or end up at – you will come to love your college whichever one it may be. When choosing a college, therefore, just go for one which you have a ‘good feeling’ about; I know that sounds woolly and superstitious but just plump for whichever one feels right to you for whatever reason!

This is not to downplay the virtues of Clare College, however; Clare is a college with a welcoming, friendly, and relaxed atmosphere that places a strong focus on the well-being of its students. The staff who work for the college, whether it be the porters, the College nurse, or the bursars, are incredibly supportive and cannot do enough to help you and ensure that you are content and comfortable. Clare is also a great environment aesthetically-speaking; in particular, Old Court, Clare Bridge, and the gardens mean that Clare is a great place to live and study.

Having decided to apply to the University of Cambridge and specifically Clare College, I then turned my attention to deciding which course I wanted to study and decided upon HSPS. I primarily chose HSPS because it included reading politics and international relations which were the subjects I wanted to pursue at university; however, more abstractly, the appeal of HSPS was in its broad and varied nature. The course covers a wide range of subjects and provides an unparalleled opportunity to study many different stimulating and rewarding topics. For me, the beauty of HSPS lies in the fact that it is not geared towards any specific job or profession and it goes against the preaching of high school and sixth-form teachers to pick a course for pragmatic career reasons; instead, HSPS encapsulates everything that university should be about: namely, enjoying learning for learning sake. No other reason for learning and studying is necessary other than its intrinsic value and this is what HSPS is all about.

With regard to the application process, think about it as a test for your benefit as much as anything else; how much you enjoy the process and how well you do will tell you a lot about whether Cambridge is the right place for you. For example, the interviews are reminiscent of supervisions therefore if you enjoy the intimate and intense style of the interviews, you can be confident that you will enjoy the supervisions even more.

Once you have been accepted, it is easy to feel like the journey has ended rather than just begun but when you embark on your first term after a long summer break it is easy to re-focus your mind to the work. In the first year, the going rate is 12 essays per term (each term is 8 weeks) which is certainly demanding but not completely overwhelming by any means. My best piece of advice would be to focus initially on simply meeting the deadlines without being preoccupied with composing a ‘perfect’ essay. The essays come so thick and fast that a below-par essay is forgotten as quickly as a masterpiece – just hit the deadlines and very soon you will find that essay quality and punctuality will begin to dovetail naturally.

Overall, HSPS is a brilliant course to study; the fact that the material covered is novel to pretty much all students and is so varied means that it is a relatively pressure-free course in terms of needing to know specific details. Instead, it is a challenging and eye-opening course that centres on you producing nuanced, subtle, and persuasive arguments on exciting and rewarding subjects.