Shadows and mentors walking along King's Parade in Cambridge

350 year 12s and mature learners have just experienced life at Cambridge thanks to one of the UK's largest student-led access initiatives.

This university is for anyone, no matter what their background is, as long as they love their subject and have real academic potential

Helena Blair, CUSU Access Officer
Cambridge University Students' Union’s (CUSU) annual Shadowing Scheme gives state school educated Year 12s and mature prospective applicants from across the UK the opportunity to come to Cambridge, stay in one of its Colleges and 'shadow' a current undergraduate for three days. 
By giving participants the chance to see what undergraduate life is really like, the Shadowing Scheme shatters the popular myths and misconceptions that might otherwise deter them from applying.
Established in 2000, the Scheme is run over three long weekends in January and February. During this time, each ‘shadow’ accompanies a ‘mentor, a current undergraduate who is studying a subject which they are interested in.  
During their stay, ‘shadows’ get a taste of lectures, supervisions and for the scientists, laboratory classes. They also have the opportunity to sample some of the University's student societies and chat to current students from a wide range of backgrounds and courses.
The CUSU Shadowing Scheme targets academically strong Year 12s and mature learners who have little or no family experience of higher education, and who attend schools and colleges which do not have tradition of progression to leading universities.
Helena Blair, a Cambridge graduate and now CUSU’s Access Officer, says: "Our student mentors are eager to spread the word that this university is for anyone, no matter what their background is, as long as they love their subject and have real academic potential. No one from my school had applied before and the myths convinced me that I’d never get in, or fit in, but meeting so many friendly, accepting and diverse Cambridge students changed my outlook."
This year, Michaela Chan, a Trinity Hall engineering student from Luton, has taken two shadows under her wing – Talent from Welwyn Garden City and Sam from Bradford. Sam hopes to study engineering and got the chance to attend a few second year lectures in the Faculty. Talent kept her options open, attending a maths lecture and joining Cambridge medics at Addenbrookes Hospital.
Meanwhile, Alia Khalid, a Sidney Sussex philosophy student from Harrogate, is mentoring Josh, a Year 12 from Stoke. Josh is trying to work out whether he’s more interested in Philosophy or Psychological and Behavioural Sciences. The pair emerge from a morning lecture on Physicalism, the philosophical position that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties. 
Unfazed but hungry, they head towards Sidney Sussex College where an informal ‘Meet the Students’ with pizza event has taken over the College bar. Joining them on the stroll along the iconic King’s Parade is Olivia, a philosophy student and her shadow, Adriana, a fellow Londoner.
Olivia applied to Cambridge after taking part in one of the Summer Schools run by the University with the Sutton Trust and is now working hard to give Adriana, who hasn’t decided whether to study English, Philosophy or Law, as much information as possible. At Sidney Sussex, she introduces her to Damian, a first year English student at Christ’s College. “He said some useful things about his course and how to prepare for applying," reports Adriana. "I’ve got some more reading to do ... Is that pizza spicy?”
At the University’s Careers Service, shadows from Norwich, Wales, Liverpool and London have gathered to hear from its Director, Gordon Chesterman, about the opportunities which a Cambridge degree can offer. Cambridge graduates are some of the most employable anywhere in the world but Gordon is also keen to emphasise that a Cambridge degree provides flexibility and choice. Luke, a Year 12 from Swansea, would like to study Natural Sciences but he’s worried that if he makes the wrong choice now, he’ll struggle to get the job he wants later on. Gordon immediately reassures him. 
“What do you think these people studied?” he asks, “a fraud investigator, an investment banker, a long-haul pilot, a community outreach officer in Iraq?”
“Maths?” someone suggests.
“No, they actually all studied music.”
Everyone is surprised but as Gordon explains, studying Music at Cambridge develops the analytical skills, organisation and self-discipline which all of these careers demand.
At the end of the session, conversation turns to life in Cambridge and Lara Grace, a Year 12 from Streatham admits: “If I got in, I’d have to learn how to ride a bike. I’ve never cycled in London.” Lara Grace wants to apply to study Human, Social, and Political Sciences and then pursue a career in Human Rights. If she’s only anxious about the cycling, the Shadowing Scheme has done its job - busting myths and inspiring confidence.

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