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An alternative guide to Cambridge University By GEEMA – the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications

As a leading investment bank, we recognise that our ability to maintain and strengthen our edge requires a diverse workforce that can offer the widest possible range of perspectives. We are committed to creating an inclusive community comprised of the very best and brightest talent from the widest range of experiences. GEEMA plays a vital role in broadening the talent pool at Cambridge University and Goldman Sachs is delighted to be sponsoring GEEMA initiatives for the fourth consecutive year.

“For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. That means we must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives. Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.� - Goldman Sachs Business Principle 7

contents This booklet aims to give you a taste of what Cambridge University has to offer. Written for you, by people just like you who've enjoyed the experience of Cambridge and who want you to know what it's really like here. You never know, maybe it will even make you want to apply ...

Introduction What is GEEMA? Student profiles The teaching lowdown Ethnic minorities — the facts Social life Welfare and support Cambridge futures Applying Want to find out more?

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introduction Cambridge University: could it be for you?

You may have heard the hype and seen the stereotypes, and you might think that Cambridge isn’t for you. Ahhh man, too many geeks, pretentious people, boring lifestyle and frankly too few ethnic minorities. But this is your opportunity to find out about Cambridge, and to decide for yourself whether it might be for you.


Yes those stereotypes do exist, but they exist everywhere. No university will be full of people just like you, because diversity is what university is about. What you’ll find at Cambridge is that there are lots of cool and normal people like you, who did have to work hard to get here and who were worried about coming to Cambridge.

Choosing a university – any university – is your decision. Going to university is the beginning of your independence and where you start to take responsibility for your life. Don’t waste an opportunity because of what other people say, make the decision for yourself, and if your decision is to apply to Cambridge University, go on – do it! Read through this booklet and find out more about the people who’ve actually been here and then decide. Take control and make it your decision!

“It was for me” Francesca Kerridge — GEEMA Co-ordinator I didn’t look at things like my social background – coming from an East London working-class family – nor my colour as obstacles, even when others around me did. I knew what I wanted and wasn't going to let anything stand in my way. I wanted to come to Cambridge because I wanted to give myself the best opportunities and I thought going to such a famous university, where the teaching is world-renowned, would give me the best shot at life. Now I’ve

graduated I am pleased that I made the decision to come, otherwise I would have missed out on receiving the best teaching, meeting the coolest friends and having the best three years of my life. Because I know how easy it is to think Cambridge isn’t for you, I now work as the GEEMA Co-ordinator to show other people what a wonderful place Cambridge is, welcoming to all. But don’t just take my word for it, come and see for yourself!


what is GEEMA?

GEEMA, the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications to Cambridge University, was set up in 1989 as the joint effort of students and the Colleges to combat the misconception that Cambridge appears to attract a specific type of student. The full-time GEEMA Coordinator and current undergraduates work hard to raise awareness amongst ethnic minority students in the UK that Cambridge is not necessarily a distant unobtainable dream, but is achievable.


The GEEMA Co-ordinator is based in the Cambridge Admissions Office (CAO), and is available to offer advice and support to those of you thinking about applying to Cambridge, as well as to your parents, carers and teachers. GEEMA is also involved in the support network for ethnic minority undergraduates at Cambridge, liaising with CUSU (Cambridge University Students’ Union), societies and organisations across the University.

key fact CUSU, Cambridge University Students’ Union, exists to represent Cambridge students' interests at a University level, and to provide central services and support for all undergraduates.

forget the


student profiles There are loads of different people from a diverse range of backgrounds, schools and colleges studying for undergraduate degrees at Cambridge University. Many of them had fears about coming to Cambridge, but what they have in common is that they are all committed to studying a subject that really interests them. This enthusiasm for their subject – not forgetting their equal passion for the social side of being a student of course! – is not something that differs because you’re an ethnic minority.

Leona Tan — Law — Downing College Being female and from an ethnic minority, I thought that my chances of getting a place at Cambridge were a distant dream. I had a stereotyped image of Cambridge students all having brains the size of a planet and being stuck-up and elitist – visiting Cambridge on an Open Day helped to blow these ideas away, and the impression I left with that encouraged me to apply was how friendly and close-knit the Colleges are. Reading law at Cambridge is an intellectual challenge. Law is a


fascinating subject and a stepping-stone to a wide range of careers. After taking sciences and double maths for my Alevels, followed by a Gap Year, sitting down to face reading hundreds of pages of law cases and writing legal-style academic essays was at first complete torture. However, the supervision system helped me enormously. Applying to Cambridge has been one of the best decisions I have made and I have thoroughly enjoyed every single day here.

key fact “Supervisions” are individual, pair or small-group teaching sessions organised by the Colleges – one of the great things about studying at Cambridge. Your “supervisor” is a specialist in the subject you are studying – and sometimes a leading expert in the field.

key fact

Saalim Chowdhury — Natural Sciences with Education Studies — Homerton College I was born to Asian parents and grew up in a Welsh cultural environment. My hometown – because it's small – has a real sense of community, which I thought I'd miss at university. For me Cambridge is a big place and so I really liked the idea of the College system. You get the benefit of being an individual where people know your name within your own smaller College community, and when you want to feel anonymous, you can get involved in the whole University sphere of things.

The course system at Cambridge also suits me as I can never make my mind up easily, and at the time I was applying I wasn’t sure which specific area of study interested me the most. I had a rough idea that I was interested in living things and I was interested in why they behave as they do, so I chose my course because it is so incredibly flexible.

Cambridge Colleges: Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, 29 of which accept undergraduates. Three Colleges accept only females and four Colleges are for mature students only. Most Colleges take undergraduates in most subjects. Further details on Colleges can be found in the Prospectus and on College websites at The Cambridge Colleges are nothing like Sixth-Form Colleges or Further Education Colleges. The College you are at in Cambridge becomes your home away from home. It is the place you live, eat, study and socialise in. Your bedroom, shared bathroom and kitchens, a library, a bar, computer room, sports facilities, etc etc are all there. The Colleges also organise supervisions.


Faryal Khattak — Engineering — Newnham College I am a Welsh-Pakistani Muslim girl and I am currently reading the final year of my Engineering degree. I applied to the University of Cambridge four years ago having sat my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths. I submitted an open application and was initially apprehensive when I was pooled to Newnham, an all girls' College. However, it has proved to be a very suitable choice for me indeed, with its own football pitches, darkroom, decent canteen and library and friendly


social environment. It has also provided an effective counterweight to the predominantly male environment of the Engineering department. Do not be discouraged about applying to Cambridge, least of all because of your ethnicity, as you certainly won't be alone or alienated once you get here. There will be loads of people quite similar to you, and loads of people nothing like you at all, so you will be able to find your niche wherever you choose.

key fact Making an open application means that you do not have to choose a College – so if you do not mind which College you go to, making an open application may be a good option for you. Open applications are allocated to a College by computer after the closing date of 15 October, and are given exactly the same consideration as applications made directly to the College. The advantage of an open application is that they go to Colleges which happen, in that year, to have had fewer applications per place in that subject than the average number across all Colleges.

Divya Mohan — Medicine — Churchill College I find the Medicine course here at Cambridge brilliant, but then I'm bound to say that, right? The course here allows you to pursue your scientific interests and I particularly like the fact that I have the chance to learn the theory before I start seeing patients on a regular basis, as I think this will make me deal with them more confidently. The teaching here is great;

you are taught by people that are amongst the top in their field, as well as getting lectures on some cuttingedge research. I would definitely recommend applying to Cambridge. You may have to work hard to get here, and continue that once you do get here. If you are worried about fitting in, don't be –

Cambridge is a very diverse place, with people from all kinds of different countries, religions and backgrounds. People accept you for what you are, it doesn't matter whether you're from a state school or public school or whether you are black or white. All that is required is that you are dedicated to your chosen subject.


the teaching lowdown Ato Quayson, born and educated in Ghana, is a Lecturer in English. Here’s your chance to find out about Cambridge from his perspective. Teaching at Cambridge is very challenging with lots of bright and highly motivated students. To a degree it is the high motivation of people at Cambridge that defines the place: most people are hungry for knowledge and are delighted to be able to spend a productive part of their lives immersed in a subject of their choice. And in the end, the motivation and desire to grow in knowledge delivers all kinds of benefits: self-reflection, confidence, and also humility and modesty about one’s place in the world. Being one of few black lecturers at Cambridge puts me in a peculiar position. On the one hand I feel I have a lot to contribute from a culturallyspecific background. And yet on the other I know that most people here feel the same as I do: excited about their


work, and interested in sharing their enthusiasm with whoever cares to listen to them. In the end one’s race ceases being important. It may be a starting point for social interaction, but it quickly recedes into the background as more pressing ideas come into play. My advice to anyone wanting to come to Cambridge, from whatever background, is firstly to make sure that they are really and deeply motivated to study. Despite whatever odds and difficulties they might find in their way, enthusiasm often converts itself into real mastery. And for those who feel because racial minorities are underrepresented at the University it is no place for them, I only have these words from a Kenyan proverb to share with them: “He who waits to see the whole animal, ends up spearing the tail”.

key fact All degree courses (called “triposes”) are organised by the departments or faculties, so whatever your College, you do the same course and sit the same exams. Teaching at Cambridge can take these forms:•Lectures: provide the basic information and everyone in the same year doing that course attends them together •Seminars and classes: less formal and more interactive as topics are explored by small groups in discussions •Supervisions: allow the exploration of advanced topics in very small groups or even one-to-one and are arranged by the College •Practicals: offer the opportunity for hands-on experience

ethnic minorities — the facts

• In 2001-2: 13% of students admitted to higher education nationally declared themselves from an ethnic minority. In Cambridge, this figure stood at 8% in 2001, but rose to 13% in 2002. • In 2002: the male:female ratio of undergraduates admitted to Cambridge was 50:50

• In 2002: 44% of those accepted to Cambridge came from independent schools and 56% from maintained schools and colleges. • In 2002-3: over 14,500 applications were received from across the UK and the world, for 3,400 places in undergraduate courses at Cambridge University.


social life With societies and clubs across the University and the Colleges it is possible to do just about everything you can imagine. All cultures and religions are catered for and you can usually find a group who understand where you’re coming from. The range also means that it’s possible to do something at either a fun or a serious level.

key fact The College JCR (Junior Combination Room) is a common room, with TV, newspapers, bar and so on, providing the focus for informal socialising, discos and other events. It is also the organisation of undergraduates in the College. Undergraduate representatives are elected within the College to deal with student affairs.


“There is much more to the University than academia. Since arriving here I now row for the College even though I have never rowed before! Also I play for the College football team and have started to learn a new language. There is so much opportunity here and everyone should take advantage of this.” NAHED AHMED

“I manage to edit the College magazine, play on the badminton and pool teams, be on the College JCR, sing with the choir and do GEEMA visits! And I maintain some sort of a social life, so I guess it’s proof that you can have fun whilst studying medicine!” DIVYA MOHAN

“Cambridge offers a huge range of extra-curricular clubs and societies to suit everyone’s interests. I have been a novice rower and president of the College music society, taken up ballroom and Argentine tango dancing, and attended German classes. I also enjoy my social life!” LEONA TAN

“Apart from academics I spend a lot of my time playing football and pool, or in the darkroom working on my photography. Conveniently, College caters for all of these activities.” FARYAL KHATTAK

“I was worried about the work ethic and that it might be a little too strong for me, but I can't think of anyone who isn't involved in some sort of society, or is not at least partly a die-hard party animal! I'm really into my drama, and one day would like to have a stab at working as an actor or presenter. Even though you can't study media or theatre as such at Cambridge, there is a thriving amateur dramatics scene out of which so many famous actors have come. I'd say I've met as many seriously talented people here as I have in the National Youth Theatre.” SAALIM CHOWDHURY


The many cultural societies, such as the Hindu, Sri Lankan and East African Societies, to name but a few, all offer undergraduates the chance to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Cultural and religious societies and groups The Black and Asian Caucus, known as BAC, is one such society, described by Sonia Khan, Churchill College. For many students coming from cosmopolitan cities like London, Birmingham, Leeds, etc., Cambridge is a comparatively 'white' environment. Formed in 1986, the Black and Asian Caucus was created as the result of


concerns felt about the difficulties faced by ethnic minorities attending British universities. BAC hopes to support you by providing opportunities where Black and Asian students can meet up, socialise, and experience the sense of community they might otherwise miss. On the social side, there's the Freshers' Event to welcome new students at the start of the first year, regular club nights and parties as well as an annual dinner. Recent years have seen a fashion show and BAC

film-nights. BAC is also here to offer welfare support and works closely with the CUSU Anti-Racism Officer, the GEEMA officers and the CUSU Black Students Officer as well as other university societies. BAC is only one of the many cultural societies that exist to support undergraduates. ‘The Little Black Book’ produced by CUSU has more details (see the back of this booklet for details of this and other publications).

May Balls Rowena Bayliss, Trinity College, explains the Cambridge College phenomena known as a May Ball. “May Balls are one of the most distinctive and fun aspects of life in Cambridge. Many Colleges put on completely over-the-top events every June to celebrate the end of exams

and help everyone to forget about their imminent results! It's honestly impossible to say how great May Balls are unless you experience them yourself but here's an idea. The already beautiful settings of medieval courtyards are transformed into fairytale worlds. Most Colleges will have a funfair and loads of entertainment from comedy to ballroom dancing, classical and jazz music, a disco and

big-name acts such as Ash, Artful Dodger and David Gray who have all performed in Cambridge in recent years. There is usually an almost endless supply of high quality food and drink. In my opinion, May Balls are reason enough in themselves to come to Cambridge: unless you're Elton John, when else are you going to get to dress up in a ball dress and a tiara and pretend to be Cinderella?�


The music scene There are many other social things to do in Cambridge, such as clubbing! Tony Ofori, Churchill College, tells all about the music scene I think people's biggest problem when they come here is finding the right peer group that go to the right places joining a society you are genuinely interested in is a great way to find soulmates. It took me some time to sort this


out, but after that things definitely picked up. I am a RnB/hip-hop man and I've been known to also do UK garage, so this is the perspective that I am taking things from. But I do go to events with other types of music from 70/80s (there goes my credibility) to drum n bass which have also been enjoyable. What really matters is the atmosphere and the people that you go with. As a small-time DJ I do have an advantage in that I hear about a lot of

events early and there is definitely a lot of variety. During term-time College events tend to be quite good. The cheap alcohol and guarantee of seeing familiar faces give these venues an upper hand, but the clubs don't take this lying down and heavily promote student nights. Towards the end of term is when the decent parties start but these are usually advertised by word of mouth and happen in big shared houses

cambridge is no more expensive than any other university

welfare and support The University and the Colleges are able to offer excellent support to undergraduates.

Finance – can I afford to study at Cambridge? Living costs Organising your finances to get you through university can be a major worry, but the first thing to be aware of is that Cambridge is no more expensive than any other university, and can in fact be a cheaper place to live as a student than some universities. As Colleges provide accommodation for undergraduates usually throughout your course, this can work out to be fairly reasonable. Colleges also have facilities such as libraries, computers, gyms and sports facilities, which can also save you money. In fact, because there are so many libraries in Colleges and


departments, as well as the main University Library, you hardly ever need to buy any books – and the same is true of computer facilities. Cambridge is a small city, so once here you won’t spend much on transport. In addition, the terms are short and vacations long – so there is plenty of time to work to earn some cash outside term-time. Financial support The University seeks to ensure that no student has to withdraw because of financial problems – or even be distracted by money concerns! There are University and College funds to support undergraduates, ranging from bursaries, hardship grants, loans,

scholarships, travel, book or other grants and awards. In addition, if you are a mature student, have children or are disabled, there are funds available to support you. See the back of this booklet for how to find out more.

key fact Isaac Newton Bursaries. Any UK undergraduate whose LEA (Local Education Authority) pays part or all of your tuition fee, is automatically eligible for an Isaac Newton Bursary, which can amount to a maximum of £1,000 for each year of your studies.

Colleges – what kind of support can they offer? Colleges are relatively small, ranging in size from around 800 students (the largest) to around 250 (the smallest). This means that they can provide a sense of community and personal support, which is invaluable. Each College has a sort of a College family system, where second or third year undergraduates look after the first year undergraduates, making your first few months at University much easier as you have someone to help with any questions. Colleges are also a mix of undergraduates taking all subjects, which adds to the sense of community – you will most probably find friends for life at your College.

In College each student has someone who looks after your academic studies, your Director of Studies, as well as someone to look after your personal or social welfare, your Personal Tutor, so there is always someone to go to if you are in need of help or advice. You should also remember though, that while your College is your home, you don’t have to stick solely to it and are able to go in and out of other Colleges and visit other friends you’ve made – and you will of course meet undergraduates from all Colleges though your course and through your social life.

So what was that you said about a Students’ Union? CUSU, or Cambridge University Students’ Union, provides the student population with loads of support and there are officers to deal with a number of issues. CUSU also has a counselling service to help you through the problems that you just shouldn’t be dealing with alone. To find out more about CUSU, check out the back of this booklet.


cambridge futures You’ve read this far, so you know what things you could be involved in, you have an idea of what the work might be like, and are reassured of the fact you won’t be left completely on your own to cope at Cambridge. Let’s look now at what kinds of things you can hope to do after Cambridge and why those who’ve been to Cambridge University and are now in the world of work recommend it to you.

Jatin Patel — Engineering — Jesus College — 1996-2000 Looking back, I can safely say that I had a great time at Cambridge. It is such a large and diverse University, that I had no problem in finding a whole bunch of people that I really got on with – I have definitely made some life-long friends! The work was tough but I learned a lot at Cambridge – not just academically, but also in a wider sense. Interacting with a wide range of people, with different


characters and from different backgrounds, is something that I am now putting to use in the world of work. I am working as a management consultant in London and although my degree is not directly relevant to the job I am doing, the courses at Cambridge are so well respected that you become suitable for so many careers.

key fact Over 96% of Cambridge University graduates are in employment or further study within six months of graduating. Plus the range of things people do, may or may not be related to their degree course. 45% of graduate vacancies are for graduates of any subject.

Pav Akhtar — English and Education Studies — Homerton College — 1997-2001 As a working class, British-Asian from a secondary school in the north of England, with a glaringly obvious regional dialect, yes, I had my insecurities about applying to Cambridge. However, I decided not to become a victim of my own prejudices. If Cambridge was as the stereotype suggested, then so be it. The place needed a shake-up and I had no qualms about being a catalyst for that reform. My principal interests were theatre, journalism and student politics.

Consequently, I spent a lot of time running The Cambridge Student newspaper as its director (the first minority to do so), toured 11 European countries with the European Theatre Group as its publicist and was a member of my College JCR executive which set me up to run for the paid post of CUSU President (also the first time an ethnic minority had been elected to the most prominent post a student can hold).

I learnt so much about life and myself at Cambridge. I met some extraordinary people, many of whom remain my closest friends, studied with the greatest minds and gained so many skills that have proven invaluable in both social and professional capacities. Two years after graduating, I have worked for the British government as an aid worker in Nicaragua and am currently a foreign news correspondent for the national broadsheet newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.


Amit Shah — Mathematics — Trinity College — 1998-2001

My impressions of Cambridge were extremely positive. I really enjoyed my years at university in a city that was beautiful and picturesque, especially after having grown up in Wembley where it was just row after row of grey stone houses. I applied to Cambridge because I wanted to study in a place which had a world renowned reputation for teaching – and I certainly wasn't disappointed!


Apart from spending time with my friends, I got involved in a lot of the extra curricular activities that were on offer. I participated as a committee member of the India Society, the Black and Asian Caucus, the Young Black Achievers Competition, CONTACT (a society that visits the elderly and disabled) and of course, was a GEEMA volunteer! During my penultimate year, I started to think about life after university and was attracted to

Goldman Sachs. It has one of the best reputations on campus for any investment bank and I decided to apply for an internship. It was a fantastic summer well spent. I met a lot of creative, intelligent and internationallyminded people whom I learnt a lot of from. Now I work full time at the firm in the Equities division and am an active member in the firm's recruiting activities.

applying The deadline for applications to Cambridge is 15 October the year before you intend to start your course (or two years before if deferred entry) unless you are a mature student (21 or over) applying to a mature College. You should submit a Cambridge Application Form (CAF) to Cambridge and your completed UCAS form to UCAS by this date - both should be submitted to make an application to Cambridge. You can either apply to a specific College or make an open application, when your application is allocated to a College by a computer programme. The reason for the 15 October closing date is in order for Colleges to arrange interviews. The majority of our applicants are interviewed in December. Interviews are an essential part of our selection procedure, but they are not the only factor on which selection is

based. To find out more about interviews, contact the Cambridge Admissions Office and request a copy of the booklet Cambridge Interviews: The Facts Finally… The best thing you can do for yourself now is research. The university you choose to go to will be the place you will be spending three or four years at, so you definitely need to make sure you like the place and will enjoy your time there. Read the prospectuses, try their websites, go and have a look and ASK ALL YOUR QUESTIONS! Make sure you make the right decision. So with that, if you have the brains and drive to achieve your dream, don’t let anything or anyone stand in your way. Give yourself a chance, the decision to apply is yours!

key fact The Cambridge Special Access Scheme might be appropriate for you if: • your school/college has a low level of entry into higher education AND your family has little or no tradition of entry into higher education • your education has been substantially disrupted or otherwise significantly disadvantaged through health or personal problems, disability, or difficulties in schooling For further information on this and to find out how to apply, contact the Cambridge Admissions Office.


want to find out more? 1



Visit Cambridge – come on an open day organised by GEEMA, a College, department or a general open day. GEEMA also organises day visits for school/college groups. You can also come to Cambridge on a Summer School or Shadowing Scheme, when you can experience what it is like to live here as a student. Cambridge comes to you – Cambridge University attends UCAS HE fairs across the UK, and we organise ‘Oxbridge’ Conferences (joint with Oxford) in venues across England. It is also possible to arrange for GEEMA to visit your school/college.


Contact the GEEMA Co-ordinator – on 01223 330873 or email for more information on visiting Cambridge, events in your area or for any other queries.


Get further information – check out the website or contact CAO for a prospectus or other publications on interviews or finance. CUSU also has an alternative prospectus.

you can

do it

Contact GEEMA Tel: 01223 330873 Email: Cambridge Admissions Office (CAO) Tel: 01223 765186 Email: Disability Resource Centre (DRC) Tel: 01223 332301 Textphone: 01223 766840 Email: Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) Tel: 01223 356454 Email:

Š University of Cambridge

This publication is available in alternative formats for readers with visual impairment. Please contact the Cambridge Admissions Office. Tel: 01223 333308. Web-site:

GEEMA Guide  

Guide to the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications to the University of Cambridge.

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