One of the most appealing aspects of reading Geography at Cambridge (besides the collegiate environment) is the supervision system. Receiving eight a term, typically of an essay-based format, meant that I could discuss the topics in detail, and added depth to my understanding. Although the supervisions do require more work than at some other universities, they are by no means unmanageable. With an average of one per week, plus four or five lectures the workload is very reasonable and leaves lots of time for socialising and playing sport!
The department itself is extremely well-specified, with 50 computers in the main lab (for general use), more specialised GIS hardware and a number of physical geography laboratories. Another handy resource is the department library. Although I never realised it at school, the availability of key texts and journals is essential for university study and the library keeps an enormous collection of material, right next to the lecture theatres. Geographers don’t have to traipse to the enormous central University Library all too often!
The course itself is extremely diverse. Over three years I have studied a broad mixture of physical and human papers, including development, culture, glaciology, volcanology and processes of globalisation. These are supplemented by a broad range of fieldwork and practical options, especially in the 1st and 2nd years. I took the opportunity to sample the water quality of the river Cam, whilst some friends learnt interview techniques and others used computer software to model ice sheet dynamics from satellite data.
Another plus point of the Cambridge course is its choice in paper options. Although the first year course is compulsory, it covers a wide spectrum of both physical and human options including Quaternary processes, cultural, historical and economic geography. Although initially a bit reluctant, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn parts of the subject I had never contemplated at school. The second and third year allow increasing flexibility in the choice of options (4 per year from a total of 10 and 15 respectively). Whilst many people choose mainly physical or human papers in their final year, there is a free choice and all are interchangeable meaning that you can pursue the aspects of the discipline of greatest personal interest.
I feel really lucky to have studied Geography here, and very glad about my choice of subject. Talking with friends taking different subjects I've realised a lot of people get bored by their subject very quickly, and don't feel they have a wide range of opportunities at the end of it. I chose Geography for the chance to study various aspects of climate and environmental change more broadly than in a life-science degree, but the range of topics covered increased my interest in and knowledge of the human context of these issues. There is just the right amount of extra-curricular events, which made it easy to get to know the others, and the fieldtrips reinforced what was learnt as part of the course, and kept me interested in areas of Geography which I didn't study.
As a parent and student, balancing the workload with outside activities has been a challenge, but the understanding and consideration of people within the department and the other undergraduates, has made it a lot of fun rather than a lot of stress! It has been a fantastic three years, and I wouldn't swap subjects or places to study with anyone.
Third year (mature student)
I chose to study Geography at Cambridge because I knew that I would be able to study an interesting and varied course taught by experts in their field.
The Geography tripos at Cambridge starts off as a broad and relevant basis for geographical understanding and allows you to focus as you become more academically mature. There is a great relationship between the lecturers and students which becomes so important in aiding your knowledge about the material covered but also for your academic welfare and guidance. The facilities available and the field trips on offer are also second-to-none for a world-class institution.
There is no denying that the course is rigorous because of the short terms but providing you have the necessary management skills this only adds to your development here. I am involved in plenty of extra-curricular activities in the University and for my college, such as sports, journalism, students unions etc. and have not found the need to sacrifice them because of my studies. You can also maintain a thriving social life which is equally as important. I haven’t looked back since applying.
I chose to read geography because I enjoyed it at A-level and thought it would be the same topics at degree. How wrong I was! The course is so varied you don't even need to have done geography at A-level. The first year papers are compulsory, but this is useful as it gives you an idea of the sort of topics you enjoy, especially in regards to preferring human or physical geography. We also went on some day field trips in the first year which are not only useful for understanding things, but it means you get to meet more people on the course. The second year has been even more interesting since you get to pick the papers you want. I really enjoy the course it because it is so varied - one day I'll be studying the management of volcanic eruptions, the next how aid has been distributed to tackle debt in the Third World, the next how race and class issues arose in Chicago in the nineteenth century. The course is a lot of work, despite all the 'colouring in maps' quips we often hear, so you have to be pretty dedicated and genuinely interested in what you're doing. The lectures and supervisions are of high quality and there are plenty of them, you definitely get your money's worth!
In the second year, had the opportunity to go on a field trip; from a choice of five destinations, I went to Morocco. We stayed in Marrakech and a small village in the Atlas Mountains where we went on a hike across the mountains and observed the villagers' way of life. The field trip was an amazing experience, I got to see an insight into the villages which I would never have had the opportunity otherwise and I made some incredible friends on the trip.
Geography at Cambridge is quite a small course, with around 100 in each year. This is great for getting to know people, but not so good if you fancy falling asleep in lectures! I think geographers are really friendly compared to other subjects and everyone is easy-going and laid back (but obviously I'm biased!). We are pretty sociable and by the second year you'll know most faces - if they come to lectures that is! CUGS (Cambridge University Geographical Society) organises some great socials such as pub crawls and formals, the Christmas dinner is brilliant and the garden party in June is a laugh with more than enough strawberries and Pimms to enjoy yourself. And if that's not enough to make people want to do geography I don't know what is!