Updated: Mar 16
Hey! I’m Constanza, a third-year Law Student at Clare College, Cambridge from Dublin currently undertaking a year abroad at Regensburg University, Germany.
I had always had the interest to study abroad for university and decided to apply to Oxbridge for Law when I was in Fifth Year in 2018. After completing my Junior Certificate in Ireland, I moved abroad for a year to study at a boarding school in Germany to improve my skills in the language. I really enjoyed the challenge of immersing myself in another language, gaining a high level of fluency in it and studying with people from lots of different backgrounds and places.
I then seriously began the process of applying to Oxbridge at the start of Fifth Year. As one of six successful Irish Cambridge applicants in 2020, I understand the added challenges involved in applying to Oxbridge from the Irish education system. Given the lack of support available generally when deciding to apply to Oxbridge in Ireland, applying in this position requires a lot of personal initiative and independent research. This obviously coincides with the high demands of preparing for the Irish Leaving Certificate. The Leaving Cert is designed for the Irish University Admission system, which involves no personal statements, interviews or other assessments; but instead grants entry by translating grades into “points”. The “points” for courses are based purely on supply-and-demand. The system has recently become more unmeritocratic by the recent addition of “random selection” when this formula fails to provide space for students who meet top point requirements. UCAS is a more holistic system, meaning that a successful application from the Leaving Cert requires added work that the Leaving Cert does not test. A UCAS applicant must meet the conditions of an offer received in order to be successful.
I took eight (instead of six/seven) subjects for my Leaving Certificate as I was considering both Medicine and Law as options at the time and wanted to keep my options for a STEM application open. Being interested in social justice and politics, especially after witnessing legal events in Ireland such as discussions of constitutional reform, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the Cervical Cancer Screening Scandal, I became increasingly interested in questioning and understanding the legal rationality behind such issues and cases. I also really enjoyed, and still do, the logic of learning a highly-structured rules-based language through studying German. Law seemed to provide a combination of these interests, and so I decided to apply for it both through the Irish and UK university systems.
I did a lot of online research independently into the respective Oxbridge Law Courses and attended Law Open Days at both Cambridge and Oxford when I was in Fifth Year. The tuition fees are considerable, especially when compared to Irish universities, but Irish students do benefit, in comparison to the rest of the EU now, from being eligible for domestic status. Given my interest in German, I was tempted to apply for Law with Legal Studies in Europe at Oxford as it combines Law and German but ultimately, after a lot of to and fro, I decided that I preferred the Cambridge course. I was really a bit (unnecessarily) meticulous and looked into every Oxbridge College in detail before settling on Clare College, Cambridge. I had visited Clare on the Cambridge Open Day and found it to be a beautiful river college, known for its leading legal fellows and a supportive, friendly student body.
I prepared the various parts of my UCAS application in the summer before Sixth Year, writing various Personal Statement drafts and reading relevant literature and news that interested me. Having moved to a university-size school for my Leaving Cert, I was worried about the referee section of my form but was very fortunate to have dedicated and enthusiastic teachers who supported me when I reached out to them.
I also undertook the LNAT, the multiple choice assessment for most UCAS law applications, for my other UCAS options, and also received offers from Bristol, LSE, KCL and UCL for Law and Law with German (Law). I then submitted my application to Cambridge and was very happy to be invited to interview in December. I prepared for this by nagging all my family and friends to do practice interview questions with me that I found online and to correct my practiced Cambridge Law Test samples. This specific Cambridge Law Admissions test has meanwhile been replaced by the LNAT. The interview day rolled around, on which I was actually very sick with a throat infection (and had blisters due to my excellent idea of breaking in new Doc Martens on the day – lesson learned). I sat the Cambridge Law Test, which I actually enjoyed and found tested an ability to reason out an argument and to justify it, just like I currently have to do in my written work throughout the year. I had two interviews on the same day. The interviewers are skilled in knowing what they are looking for. They want to understand how you think and judge whether that allows for success under the Cambridge supervision system. The content of the interviews can vary, and can range from questions about your Personal Statement to being given a problem question to reason and discuss from first principles.
I received my offer in January and was the only Irish person I knew with an Oxbridge offer. I continued to revise for my exams which ended up being cancelled due to the pandemic a very long time after A Levels were cancelled. This was admittedly a frustrating and stressful time, added to by the fact that the results date was moved to early September, after all other Oxbridge Offer Holders would know whether their place was secured or not.
Despite Covid hampering a lot of my university and study experience during my first years, I am loving my time at Cambridge. The workload for law is very demanding and not to be underestimated but being surrounded by such wonderful teachers and friends means it is something which can be dealt with. First year comprises of four core papers: Constitutional Law, Tort Law, Criminal Law and, a particularly Oxbridge obscurity, Roman Law. I really enjoyed studying Constitutional Law especially given the context of the UK’s Unwritten Constitution, and Janet O’Sullivan as my Tort Law supervisor made that subject very approachable and interesting. In second year I opted to study International Law, Human Rights Law and Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System, alongside my core papers of Land Law and Contract Law. I am currently undertaking a year abroad at Regensburg University, Germany, where I am consolidating my German whilst studying Law in German and working as a Research Assistant in Public Law. Law is one of the few Cambridge subjects which offers a year abroad. I had always known I would like to undertake it, especially given the prevalence of Erasmus Years in Irish universities and my interest in languages. Cambridge offers a range of other university options for this year, taught in French, Spanish and English. I will return to Cambridge next year to undertake my final year papers of Equity and EU Law, alongside three optional papers. Each year’s papers are taught throughout the year and examined at the end of the third and final term.
I really enjoy the supervision system of my studies. Unlike other Humanities, Law supervisions are content-based rather than essay-based. Each paper is split into 4 supervisions per 8 week term. For each supervision, this requires us to first attend around 4-6 hours of lectures, where we will be given handouts of the material we need to understand the topic. We then have to complete a set reading list comprised of Textbook reading and an extensive list of Articles and Cases and then complete a supervision sheet comprised of problem questions and essay type questions. Most important, I find, is scheduling the time to then condense this large amount of information down into an understanding which allows you to go further in the supervision. I have 2-3 supervisions a week, which does mean time-pressure. This is something you adapt to and become more efficient with as you progress. On top of this, we have to write 2 pieces of written work, either an Essay or Problem Question, for each paper per term. Some supervisors set one of these pieces over the break, so it means that I am usually working on at least one written piece of work a week alongside my supervisions. The short time period of our terms means that they are very intense. We are expected to be working and revising during our two 6-week breaks and catching up on further reading that was perhaps not possible to be completed due to term’s time constraints. Supervisions are made up of 2-3 students and taught by your supervisor, a legal expert in their field who supervises you for the year and marks all your written work. Supervisions are an incredible opportunity to take your understanding to a deeper level and address any questions you have encountered in your preparation. The rote learning skills which the Leaving Certificate celebrates do not always align to the learning skills you need in the Oxbridge academic system. This requires a bit more of adaptation in your academic approach and thinking but is definitely doable!
Cambridge offers an incredible selection of university societies, which are run by very interested and motivated students. Exposure through daily speakers and networking events is something for which I am hugely grateful. Cambridge also boasts a thriving drama scene for those interested in acting. Given my workload I have undertaken extra-curriculars in a considered way so as to allow me to manage my academic work. I am really interested in the arts, music and politics and have been able to be involved in a range of activities including college rowing, mooting, pro bono legal work, creative and journalistic writing, and working at my college bar. I have also undertaken a range of work experience opportunities.
I really love the College system in that it allows for friendships with people from a range of subjects to be made and provides a supportive and individual community within the wider university. The combination of studying a subject in depth, whilst broadening your interests and knowledge through conversations with others from a range of disciplines, allows you to become a well-rounded and literate person. I am so glad I chose Clare. I have been very lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful and fun group of lawyers at my College. This kind of community creates real kinship and makes intense legal problem solving and writing much more enjoyable and manageable. Our College Law Society holds termly law dinners and networking events sponsored by major law firms where we meet a range of alumni.
Cambridge is such a beautiful place in which to live, study and, more fundamentally, to grow up. There are so many events and places to relax with friends and fantastic May Balls (actually in June) to celebrate the end of exams. I could not recommend applying enough. Living abroad is great in challenging your perceptions and, more generally, just broadening your experiences. My positive time at Cambridge led me to mentor a friend in his successful Cambridge English application. If you have an interest at all in studying here and a passion for a subject which you will enjoy studying in depth, just apply! It’s competitive to get in but you’re only not going to have a chance if you don’t apply!
Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn/ Instagram @constanzameade/ Email firstname.lastname@example.org if I can provide any other advice - good luck!