Shrewsbury School

Lower Sixth Visit to Cambridge University

Friday 7 December 2018

While 30 Salopians are put through their paces during Oxbridge interviews this week, a group of Lower Sixth Formers travelled to Cambridge University for a series of undergraduate masterclasses to find out what studying at the world-class university might be like.

Some in the lecture hall had got up before 5am to attend, so our lot of Salopians could view their 6.30am wake-up for this fascinating array of lectures as positively leisurely. Led by Dr Paul Pattenden, 18 headed East, wrapped up against the Siberian winds of the Fens, for fascinating introductory peeks into the Cambridge take on Genetics & Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and English Literature.

Such is the magnetic reputation of the venerable institution that these Cambridge lectures were packed with bright, academically ambitious and, judging from the questions, alertly well-read A Level students. Hovering at the back, I was able to enjoy offerings to budding literary critics – on ‘thinking in poetry’ by Dr Raphael Lyne and an enthralling exploration from Dr Corinna Russell of how writers constitute personhood in nineteenth-century fiction. Pupils lapped it up. “Was it an hour long? I didn’t notice,” was one Grovite’s dreamy verdict.

Others came back from their subjects similarly enthused and inspired (Frank Mansell and Oscar Mattinson were buzzing with the complexities of Japanese grammar and early forms of Hebraic languages), and of course with plenty of ideas for further reading. But equally useful was getting a firm idea that the subject they were interested in at 6 o’clock that morning wasn’t for them.

Over lunch, pupils accompanied me in a hop down memory lane, from the University Library down The Backs to Trinity College’s famous Wren Library and Great Court with its burbling fountain (pictured below). Highlight for many was the meander round around the cloisters of Nevile’s Court where Newton first measured the speed of sound.

The other Isaac - Isaac Dai [pictured below in front of the tree that was reputedly grown from the apple that dropped on Newton’s whirring head] - admitted, since coming up in October, he was working “25 hours a day” (they do Physics differently at Trinity) in order to keep up with some of the brightest minds of his generation.

He was one of a quartet of recent Old Salopian and proud Tabs who shared coffee and muffins with PP and me in the Union bar. Ed Plaut, Steph Christenson and Max Yale arrived en route to library / choir / rowing / choir / pub: they had not only survived their first term, but were plainly thriving and having the time of their lives as they negotiated Cambridge’s unique blend of academic pressure-cooker and dizzying social swirl. They have been well prepared!

As well as enjoying the opportunity to experience the lecture style and depth of analysis expected, our current Salopians returned to Shropshire appreciative of the clear outline given of the application process and what the university looks for in its applicants. Supra-curricular exploration of the subject is paramount, so anyone interested in applying should check the extension pages on the School Intranet for their chosen subject.

For next year’s masterclasses (pupils only can book themselves), visit

James Fraser-Andrews

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