Shadows at Wolfson College for an admissions talk

Wolfson College and Lucy Cavendish College, two of the university’s mature Colleges, welcomed eleven “shadows” earlier this month for three days of lectures, supervisions, and social activities.

It was a pleasure to host such a talented and enthusiastic group of people, and invite them to witness at first hand the level of intellectual adventure that Cambridge affords.

Dr Lesley MacVinish, Admissions Tutor, Wolfson College.

Organised annually by Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU), the shadowing scheme aims to give prospective students from under-represented groups and non-traditional backgrounds the opportunity to experience life at a top university from the inside.

Priority for places on the shadowing scheme is given to applicants with a strong academic track record, but who attend schools or colleges with little experience of sending students to Cambridge or Oxford, and who have few family members with experience of higher education.

“We were delighted to welcome a strong group of mature students this year,” commented Sam Ruiz, CUSU’s Access Officer and organiser of the scheme. “It’s just as important for them to experience Cambridge for themselves as it is for teenagers,”

“The participation of the mature Colleges in the shadowing scheme means that shadows are able to have their questions answered by students and academics familiar with the concerns of mature students, which can be different to those of standard-age undergraduates.”

Kimberley Andrews stayed at Lucy Cavendish College and is interested in studying law. “I had an idea about what it would be like and wanted to see if my ambition was realistic,” she said. “I also wanted to find out more about the living arrangements – as a mother of two, I wanted to be sure that it would be practical to study here with my family. I have realised it is possible to do this as there are many women here who are both mothers and successful students.”

The opportunity for an insight into the workload of a typical Cambridge student was also valued.  Katy Collins attended supervisions with her mentor, an HSPS undergraduate from Wolfson. “After my mentor introduced me as a shadow in lectures and supervisions, the tutors included me just like the students and I really got involved,” she said. “It was a good experience.”

For Ariane Quillery, who is still deciding whether to apply, her time as a shadow reassured her that the academic standard required to cope with an undergraduate course is attainable. “I wanted to see how life as a Cambridge student is,” Ariane explained. “I wasn’t very confident but the scheme has given me the confidence to apply. I feel that I can do this.”

Kimberley also found her confidence developed by the scheme. “The work load is intense, but I feel encouraged by the very supportive atmosphere, especially the supervision system.”

The opportunity to study alongside like-minded people was also important to Giorgia Mineo. “I wanted to see how the teaching works,” Gioriga said. “I’ve been to other universities and didn’t like their approach. I wanted to see how Cambridge does it. I’m very excited now and hope I get the chance to study here. Everyone is so focused, it would help me to study without distraction.”

Although mature students can apply to any of the undergraduate Colleges, four of Cambridge’s Colleges admit only mature undergraduate students.  These Colleges are particularly familiar with those applying through non-standard application routes.

Adderley Wilkinson hopes to study History and shadowed a Wolfson undergraduate. “I’m currently on an Access course,” he said. “Cambridge is incredibly open to mature students and very active about approaching students from different educational backgrounds.

“I wanted to come on the scheme to build my confidence. I’ve really enjoyed it and feel it’s the right choice for me, especially the one-on-one teaching. It’s a great system that’s well worth the rigour of applying,” he added.

Ferzana Yesmine wished she had been able to come on the shadowing scheme in 2013. She is already holding an offer for 2014 entry but wanted to be sure she had made the right decision.

“I wanted some insight into lectures, how the life is, whether I can cope,” Ferzana said. “The girls at Lucy Cavendish have done so much for me. I was very anxious but now I’m feeling much more confident.”

Lucy Cavendish student Ateka Tarajia came to Cambridge as a shadow herself in 2013. Now studying Education with History, she volunteered as a mentor this year. “The shadowing scheme provides an invaluable experience for those who take part, giving a renewed sense of motivation and courage in the preparation and application process,” Ateka said.

The University of Cambridge welcomes applications from high-achieving mature students from wide-ranging backgrounds.  The support for mature students at Cambridge includes a generous bursary package (subject to eligibility), a residential programme to develop study skills, and specific help for those who are parents or have learning difficulties or disabilities.

Dr Lesley MacVinish, Admissions Tutor at Wolfson College, said “It was a pleasure to host such a talented and enthusiastic group of people at Wolfson, and invite them to witness at first hand the level of intellectual adventure that Cambridge affords.”

Dr Emily Tomlinson, Admissions Tutor at Lucy Cavendish College, said "Lucy Cavendish was delighted to welcome our 'shadows' and show them what a warm and diverse community exists at the College."

Applications for the 2015 Shadowing Scheme will open in October 2014. More information is available at: or

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