Aoife describes how she attained an offer to study Psychology at King's College, Cambridge.
Hi! I’m Aoife, I’m from Dublin, and I’m a 2nd year student at King’s College, Cambridge. I study Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS for short). I took French, Music, Physics & Politics in school, alongside the standard core subjects, and applied to Cambridge because I took one look at the course, fell in love, then realised ‘Oh God, I’m actually doing this.’
Since we can’t study psychology in school, it can be hard to get to grips with what the subject actually is. It took me months to figure out what the differences were between psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience! The best thing I did was watching Gresham College’s lectures for a free insight into how psychology is taught, to see if it was an approach I liked. Short Ted-Ed videos on the bus home were also great for figuring out what topics were most interesting to me.
I hadn’t really considered applying to Cambridge before the start of 5th year. A part of me thought it was crazy when my guidance counsellor suggested it. But it was a massive shock to see that the points weren’t as high as I thought. I’d say if you’re thinking about going to Trinity, getting the grades for Cambridge isn’t as far away as it seems.
I didn’t apply anywhere else in the UK. I’m a big believer in applying to the course, not the college or the country, and Cambridge’s was the only one I genuinely loved the look of. The fact that I could take psychology alongside a bunch of interrelated subjects really appealed to me, as it’s all but impossible to do that in Ireland. It was nice to have a way out of the points race, but I definitely took the CAO seriously as well – I don’t think anyone can take a place here for granted.
The UCAS Experience
Applying to the UK is definitely a bigger process than in Ireland. UCAS have a great mailing list for Oxbridge applicants that helped me out massively, especially their Facebook Live sessions with admissions tutors. The biggest tip I got for writing a personal statement was to only dedicate about 20% of my space to my ‘best’ extra-curriculars, but to pack in as many of the skills I learned from them as possible. Aside from that, it’s really helpful to go over what you write with your English teacher, alongside people who know you really well. Just remember that your voice and your words come first!
Another important thing is not discounting subjects that aren’t as relevant to your course. Sometimes having background knowledge in different things can be a huge benefit – I’ve found myself using every subject I studied at Leaving Cert at some point or another. If you’re applying for a subject you’ve never studied before, think about how what you’ve already done can relate to what you’re looking forward to learning about most.
PBS don’t set admissions tests (thankfully!) so the morning of the interview was the most nerve-wracking part of the entire process. It also ended up being the part I enjoyed the most. I was really aware that it could be my only chance to chat one-on-one with some of the best academics in the world, and I wanted to grab the opportunity with both hands. It made me really focus on giving things a go and just having fun without worrying too much about what it all might mean. The best advice I can give is that they’re not looking for what you know, they’re looking for how you think – so don’t be afraid to ask for help or try different ideas out.
Life at Cambridge Now
Now that I’m here, I love it. The lectures have always been interesting and we move through the course content fast enough that there’s never a boring day! I’ve gotten to try out so many things, from holding real brains to coding statistical models and even a summer internship as a research assistant. The workload is intense, but getting through it all is also hugely gratifying.
Honestly, give it a shot. There’s nothing to lose, the application process itself is a really useful experience and who knows – you might just surprise yourself!
Wishing you the very very best of luck, wherever you go,