Advice to my younger self…

By Joe Tresidder, Swansea, South Wales. A second year Modern and Medieval Languages (French and Spanish) undergraduate student at Clare College, Cambridge, and teaching assistant for the Seren International Online Summer School 2021.

“A few years ago, I was like many of you: Anxiously thinking through university and course options for when I would finish sixth form. I remember thinking that the sheer range of possible courses, let alone the choice of studying at different types of universities, seemed very overwhelming and stressful at times!

To be perfectly honest with you all, even after I had reached the end of year 12, I wasn’t 100% sure about the course that I wanted to study in university, which made me a bit anxious. I always knew that I was interested in languages, but I also could not help but think about whether I wanted to study history, or law, or politics. So I completely understand how difficult it can seem when everyone expects you to make up your mind about what you’re going to study for the next few years of your life. After all, there is plenty to consider, and it’s okay to take a bit of time to decide.

A little bit about me to provide you with some context: I went to Olchfa Comprehensive School, a fairly large state school in Swansea where only a handful of students would get into Oxbridge on a good year. I studied French, History and English Literature for A level and I come from an ordinary background. I’d been interested in the idea of studying at Oxbridge since about year 11 but, like many of you I imagine, I could not help but think that Oxbridge seemed out of reach and that somehow, my background made me an unsuitable candidate.

After spending quite a bit of time reading and re-reading my personal statement, I remember nervously clicking the ‘send’ button for my UCAS application, which included Cambridge as one of my options. A little while after that, I remember getting a letter inviting me to an interview, which seemed incredible at the time. Then, that December, I made the five-hour car journey to Cambridge where I completed two interviews (one for French and one for Spanish) and an at-interview admissions test. Then, a few months later, I anxiously opened an email which said that I had been accepted. I was in complete shock, as many of my friends had already received rejection emails and I had seen this as an indication to not be too hopeful.

But somehow, I made it.

I remember being at my chosen college for my interviews and feeling absolutely terrified. I was in this city which I barely knew, surrounded by confident people who I felt slightly intimidated by. Afterwards, on the journey home, I remember asking myself questions such as ‘did I say something stupid in those interviews?’ or ‘did I completely flunk that question in the at-interview test?’ Looking back, I think I lacked confidence in myself and in the hard work that I had put in preparing for my interview and admissions test.

Now I have a few things which I want to say to my younger self…

These points will also serve as good advice for any of you who end up applying to prestigious universities, whether they are Oxbridge, Russell Group, Ivy League or any others:

  • Believe in your abilities and trust in yourself: You have already worked so hard in order to place yourself in the best possible position that you could be when applying, so just put in as much effort as you can and then you can take comfort in the fact that you’ve given it all that you’ve got.
  • Don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated by the university’s reputation, the grand architecture or other confident applicants who you may come across: You have already come this far in the process, so there must be a reason for this.
  • Don’t feel that you need to have all the answers: Some of the questions that you may be asked during your interview(s), especially for humanities, will not have one definitive answer. The interviewers are often more interested in your thought process and problem-solving skills rather than you always having the ‘correct’ answer, which doesn’t even always exist! Also, nobody knows everything, even though they may act like they do! It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate exactly what questions that you may or may not be asked during your interview(s), especially for humanities and the arts, so just focus on finding ways to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively and you’ll do fine.
  • Finally, be proud of yourself: You’ve taken a giant leap of faith by applying to study at a prestigious and intimidating university and offering to put yourself through a longer application process. This is no mean feat. You’ve put yourself outside of your comfort zone and you should be proud of your determination and ambition no matter what the outcome ends up being.

I hope this advice is useful to everyone reading this. I wish you all the best of luck with whatever you choose to do. I’m sure you’ll all do brilliant no matter what.”

We asked Joe how being part of the Seren programme has helped him on his journey to university…

Where has Seren taken you?

“Seren gave me the confidence that I needed to apply to Cambridge to study MML. I regularly attended Seren sessions at Gower College, Swansea and found the lectures given to be very helpful, as I got more used to listening to someone delivering information to me in a lecture format. Seren was also really helpful as they ran informative sessions for us on how to make a successful application, which were mostly led by Dr Jonathan Padley. The Oxbridge day which they did in the Liberty Stadium which included subject-specific talks by Oxbridge academics really helped me to decide that MML was actually the course for me.”

Why do you want to give back to Seren and the current/prospective Seren students?

“I want to give back to Seren as I am passionate about social mobility, partly due to coming from a very ordinary background and having gone to a state school. I feel that I can understand the barriers to access and I want to help students to overcome them and to encourage them as they move forward with uni applications.”

What are you looking forward to in terms of the Seren International Online Summer School 2021?

“I am really looking forward to meeting the participants and interacting with them. Hopefully, we’ll have some interesting discussions during seminars and Q&A sessions. I’m also looking forward to helping the participants with any queries which they may have, whether they are about the capstone project or about Oxbridge in general, as I think that this is where I can have the most positive impact!”


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