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  • Son wants to study music at Cambridge University
  • Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash

    I thought there had been a Cambridge thread before but can’t find one.

    So, eldest (first year of A Levels) went on a day trip to Cambridge University today, and is pretty sure he is going to apply to study music there. Obviously very proud of his ambition and ability, but keen for any real world experience of Cambridge outside of college promotional staff and his 6th form college who obviously want to push as many as they can towards Oxbridge – something they seem to be pretty good at for somewhere on one of the less attractive sides of Nottingham.

    He’s ruled out conservatoires and music colleges as being too performance oriented rather than doing a broader music course – I’m not musical, got no idea!

    So what’s it like? Like Hogwarts but with less Quidditch? Do the rich kids still beat the ordinary kids? Does it open more doors/make better connections than other universities? Is it the most expensive place to live and study? What’s it like for finding part time work (though last week he had his first paid gig)? Will he still come home and talk to his painfully common parents after a term in the rarefied atmosphere of the ivory towers?

    All advice appreciated


    It’s got to be worth a punt.

    Premier Icon Caher

    Ex-gf sister got 3 A’s and went to Royal Holloway.


    someone I grew up with has a docorate in physics (of some description) from Cambridge, her husband has a masters in computing. She does events organising for the uni part time, he is a coder in a local tech company. Neither went to private school (but neither from under-privileged backgrounds either), both seemed to enjoy the courses (although it was a lot of work – short terms but working over most of the holidays to keep up), and are happy in what they have, but out of a sample size of 2, it hasn’t been the golden shot for careers one might assume it is – music might be completely different. They don’t seem to have changed in ‘class’ or ‘standing’ at all, both still very down to earth.

    From a cost perspective, you are (or were) forbidden to work other than in uni-sanctioned employment, which normally equated to less than 4 hours a week in the union bar. Most people seemed to stay on-campus (catered) through their courses, given the cost of accomodation generally in cambridge, I don’t know if thats good value or not.

    Cambridge is a massive uni, and fairly silo’d, so I suspect there will be other replies with completely contradictory experience. Getting in is very tough, so I’d make sure he has a decent 2nd and 3rd choice too.

    In my opinion, if he can get in then why not, giving oxbridge a punt (heh) is pretty much the pinnacle of available education for most subjects (if not as vocational as other unis – it probably tends to put out more accedemics than workers) – if he liked the atmosphere on a day trip (I didn’t) then go for it


    sent you a PM.


    What does he want to do after university? Will he play in an orchestra, does this pay a good wage. If he comes out of uni and can’t find well paying work it’ll have been a waste.

    As for the city there are plenty of jobs, if he can earn money playing even better. There is plenty of student accommodation, they never stop building around here at the moment. It’s a nice enough city, although the money men have well and truly go their hands on anything they can ruin.

    Tom B

    He’s right that Cambridge will be less ‘performance’ based than a conservatoire….however, unless he’s already a virtuoso then he should really want his playing to be at the level of a conservatoire graduate regardless of what career path he wants to take. Literally the top handful of conservatoire graduates will go on to become concert standard….the rest will end up like the rest of us, that didn’t go to conservatoire…. great players, that gig, teach etc.

    When I did my Master’s at Birmingham over 50% of the music staff were Oxbridge graduates, the access they had at Oxbridge to world-class ensembles, resources etc is second to none. I’d recommend going there to anyone, but my advice to your son would be that even if he doesn’t want to be a concert level performer, to realise any kind of ambition in music, be it research, composition or teaching….his playing has to be his main focus until at least post grad level. (Personally I’d argue that you need to be post grad standard playingwise to then be at a standard to specialise)

    Premier Icon Stoner

    It’s been 23 yrs since last I darkened the hallowed portals of my alma mater…

    But best **** 3 years of my life. More smart people to grow with than you can shake a wand at, but pick the right college and you’ll meet a far wider range of people than the haterz will have you think.

    I’m sure entry process and expectations are far different from my day, but all I can say to your boy is have a go, don’t be put off, it is a fantastic institution with so many faces to it it can nearly be all things to everyone if you look hard enough.

    Premier Icon sockpuppet

    He should go for it, it’s a fabulous place. I’m not a muso, so can’t offer advice there (or about choice of colleges as it’s at least partly subject specific), but as a way to open doors and network while getting a fantastic education it’s great.

    But don’t expect to be able to earn anything significant during term time. Plenty of scope outside the 24 weeks of term though.

    It’s not for all, and I know many are put off but it needn’t be any more expensive there than many other unis. He will have to work (and by the sounds of it keep at his playing) extremely hard. But it’s a fabulous place.

    Premier Icon dpfr

    My cousin did this. Perhaps ten years after graduating, she’s still trying to make a career singing, doing a bit of this, a bit of that, with bright young things coming up from behind all the time. Music seems very hard to make a career in.

    More generally, through work, I’ve seen a couple of Cambridge Nat Sci grads who really didn’t benefit from the experience- 4 x A’s at A level followed by a 2.2 and shattered confidence. Took a long time for them to get back on track and I do feel they’d have been far better off elsewhere. They were clearly the stars at school and then very much run of the mill in Cambridge, and that can be a big shock. I think they went due to pressure from parents and/or schools.

    I guess like anywhere it’s horses for courses, so provided he goes into it with his eyes open and for the right reasons, why not?

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash

    Thanks for the advice so far – they were told today about the “no work” rule but not sure how that equates to musicians who can gig. They also claimed to be relatively cheap for cost of living as so much is on campus, but that might be flannel.

    I think he just wants to see how far he can get with his music, no specific career plans as such – he’s 16, county level flute player, plays in a band that gets gold at NCBF, he’s with the Scout and Guide National Symphony Orchestra again this summer, had his first paying gig supporting a local theatre school musical last week playing flute, sax and clarinet. Probably not going to be a concert level performer, but I think he sees giving it his best shot and coming out with a music degree from Cambridge will open more doors in other careers than a music degree from somewhere else

    Thanks for your time and thoughts folks

    Both parents were concert standard musicians, me mam was offered a place in Orchestre de Paris but turned it down because of well….me. It depends if he wants to end up an insufferable prick and a music teacher or a decent player and a music teacher.

    Premier Icon bigginge

    Does he play the organ?

    If so there are plenty of colleges who may have scholarships waiting; providing he’s really **** good and doesn’t mind bashing out a few tunes in the college chapel on a regular basis.


    I went to the other place (and didn’t study music) but I think my experience is still valid. Colleges will vary a lot in their overall atmosphere (I’m not sure if studying music means a limited number are open to applications). Some will be more traditional than others. My college was diverse (I even met my first northerners) and not at all stuck-up. There was absolutely no sense of a rich / poor, private / state divide. We weren’t permitted to take part-time jobs (due to the academic workload) but again not sure if that applies to music students. What I am sure of is that he would meet tonnes of interesting and influential people there. If he’s not sure of what he wants to do with his qualifications then there will be no better place for ideas and opportunities. I know one music student who started an immensely lucrative film and TV music licensing business. He’ll make friends and connections that could lead him off on any number of tangents (not that that doesn’t happen at other unis). He sounds talented, pragmatic and open to ideas and that’s got to be worth backing.

    Premier Icon maccruiskeen


    Premier Icon csb

    Lived in Cambridge for work for 2 years. Dullest place I’ve been. No hills and miles from any countryside worth visiting.

    Quite a few family and work colleagues went to either Cambridge or Oxford. Seems to give them fantastic connections above all else.


    Worth noting that Cambridge over all departments takes ~65% non private school, of UK students (there are lots of foreign students too). Heed the advice about which College to apply to, they can vary a lot in their atmosphere. If he is attracted to the place then he should try. Whether he can make a career etc are a bit late, if that is what he has decided he wants to do. Cambridge does have lots of variety of student organisations from opera to the footlights comedy, so he can gain experiences. Accommodation (and meals) are better subsidised than most non-collegiate unis, but if finances are tight he may end up a bit dissappointed if he can’t engage in all the opportunities that might be presented (any kind of touring or visits as part of the course are usually covered but anything extra curricular he’ll have to fund).


    Most Heads of Department in private schools are Cambridge Graduates, it will certainly open doors that are closed to Conservatoire graduates.
    Need to have excellent keyboard skills and preferably an organist and singer.
    Playing the Trombone doesn’t count apparently:)

    Premier Icon oldnpastit

    I only met one person who really truly hated where they ended up (went to Trinity, and was as far from the stereotype as you could possibly imagine).

    But I would want to be very sure that a music degree is going to be the right course. Music seems to be brutally competitive.

    Do compsci (other courses available), and enjoy the music.

    Premier Icon SaxonRider

    I’ll PM you, @MoreCashThanDash. I have been involved in Oxbridge admissions for 15 years.


    But I would want to be very sure that a music degree is going to be the right course. Music seems to be brutally competitive.

    I guess that depends on *why* you want to study music. Not everyone studies a subject just to come out of it with a well-paid job. I would be more proud of one of my children being able to play an instrument to that standard without ever making lots of money out of it than be a city trader earning big money.

    My experience – Engineering, Churchill College, 2009.

    So what’s it like? Like Hogwarts but with less Quidditch?

    varies depending on the college. If you live in one of the 500 year old buildings in the middle of town there will be a bit of a hogwarts vibe, also be prepared to have chinese tourists peering through your windows. Formal dinner (gowns, meals served for you) is an optional endeavour, not an every night affair. I think only Emmanuel still does your laundry, and about half the colleges clean your rooms.

    Do the rich kids still beat the ordinary kids?

    Academically? No idea about music, in the sciences its the foreigners – mainly asian and eastern europe – who work far harder and had higher entry requirements so generally are the “smart kids”.

    Does it open more doors/make better connections than other universities?

    Is it massively better than Durham or Bristol for the average graduate looking for a standard job? probably not.
    Want to work yourself to death in the City, or Geneva, or New York, or go into politics, etc, the yes.

    Is it the most expensive place to live and study? What’s it like for finding part time work (though last week he had his first paid gig)?

    You will likely have 3 years in college accomodation. For some colleges, this will be housing within the city centre owned by the college rather than rooms in the hogwarts building. It will be more money than “halls” at an average university, but far less than privately renting a shared house for 52 weeks. Compared to what I have seen at southampton and bath, massively bigger and nicer accomodation for equal or less money over the 3 years.

    Direct comparison to Bath where my brother went 3 years after me. He paid more: had a shoebox that just fit a bed and desk in first year, and a shit house for 2 years after that, took busses to get around. I had a huge room 2 minutes walk from the subsidised dining hall, and a 10 minute bike ride to anywhere in town I could possibly need to go.

    Part time work is officially not allowed (maybe a few exceptions with tutors permission but not the norm).
    Unsure about gigs as its really a hobby but with money – I knew people who disappeared every wednesday for teamGB sports practises; and someone who was a semi-professional model.

    Long holidays open options for part time work, especially the summer. If he’s interested in teaching, there’s a thriving summer school scene in cambridge doing residential courses for school age students.

    Will he still come home and talk to his painfully common parents after a term in the rarefied atmosphere of the ivory towers?

    IF he likes you now, then yes. If he’s desperate to fly the nest and get away from you forever, he’s got an excuse. Don’t expect weekend visits home in term time though – in fact if he does, its a cry for help that hes struggling.

    Premier Icon edhornby

    I studied Jazz arranging and composition at Salford so can’t help with Oxbridge at all but can agree with TomB ‘s advice, he needs to practice his a$$ on flute during the summer; wherever he goes the standard is going to be high. doubling is an asset, if he can access a keyboard then working on piano skills is going to be useful as well, as is being able to handle DAWs like logic/Sibelius etc

    In terms of the ‘no work’ rule I bet this is to stop them getting a job in Tesco, I can’t see them saying no to paying gigs (although they’d be unenthusiastic about paid work that stops him playing in the uni ensembles because uni have their own promotion requirement) in fact if they stop students playing outside of uni you’d have to wonder about whether they are any good for the real world of the working musician. But either way good luck with whatever he chooses.

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash

    Thanks for all the responses, seems to reinforce what we’ve seen and heard from other sources and it’s mostly positive.

    I have a few friends who went to Cambridge.
    The impression I get is that it’s a very different uni to others. The social life is very much driven by halls so you live in an even more isolated bubble from the rest of society than you normally do at uni. For many subjects they are really strong – I presume this is the case for music. For others less so (they are rubbish for marine biology for example yet market themselves as the best).

    Premier Icon Jon Taylor

    An Oxbridge degree will open many doors.

    College selection is crucial, the more famous colleges are less inhabited by the more normal students. The amount of support on offer between colleges will also vary enormously, with up to 4 years of subsidised accommodation, food & facilities (rowing, gym, societies), bursaries and grants available if you pick wisely.

    Premier Icon footflaps

    Undergraduate life in quite segregated from City life in Cambridge, the colleges provide their own accommodation, bars, gyms, sports clubs etc, so being at Cambridge Uni is very different to living in Cambridge.

    Oddly, the richest colleges eg Trinity don’t have the best facilities eg I use Trinity’s gym sometimes and it has to be one of the worst in Cambridge!

    Premier Icon csb

    You can’t change the geography though. If you like outdoor pursuits Cambridge is about the worst place to be in the UK.


    I don’t think it matters what you do at Cambridge, it’s Cambridge. When junior (passionate about music) wanted to do Science Po Paris – communication et l’industrie créative, I said the same. The right university opens doors. Maybe I should have tried myself.

    He’s half way through, has just released his first vinyl and there’s another out soon. The sort of vinyl only family, friends and a tiny circle of fans buy. But if he and his mate are the next Daftpunk it’ll be worth a fortune one day, I’m buying ten.

    Don’t worry about what he’ll think of you. Junior brought another university mate to visit who is from from one of the richest families in France (think CAC 40), the mate slept on the floor (our house is small) and got his hands dirty helping out. Junior was not ashamed at all, almost proud of his modest origins. Quite touching in fact.

    Premier Icon slowoldman

    I don’t know a deal about Cambridge, only know one person who went there, but it does have some very impressive musical alumni.

    Premier Icon ampthill

    Main points covered well here

    I went to Cambridge. Worked hard and got a crap degree. That is the big pool risk

    Choose your college wisely

    With 10000 under graduates you could find any social life you want.

    I based my life round college and the climbing club. Brilliant being able to have friends from all subjects in college. Loads of great chat in the college bar and pubs.

    Managed to improve three or four climbing grades. Made friends with local climbers. So at the end of my second year I did a weeks climbing with a guy who stacked bricks for a living. In my third year I stopped at a mates house on the way to Scotland for winter climbing. He took me to a party where a girl got a lovingly restored classic car for her surprise 21st birthday present. Varied wasn’t it

    So Cambridge under graduate life is as insular as you want to make


    Apply. It’s an amazing place with incredible people. Those that go will enjoy it and benefit, if he has a chance and doesn’t, he will miss many amazing things (although may have many amazing things happen elsewhere). I must have overlapped with stoner. Matriculated in 92, left with as masters in 96. Pure working class, first in family to go to university, dad had no qualifications, yes there were students that were amazing compared to me but so what? I loved it and many years on I’m very glad I went.
    Definitely go for organ scholar if he plays piano, even if just to get an amazing room.


    Ps, can’t comment on music specifically, I read engineering, but best mate married the organ scholar…. Both are teachers (he physics, her music) even if he thinks orchestral/performance is what he wants to pursue now…. Things change, slot.

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash

    Thanks for all the replies and those who’ve messaged me, really useful, and we’ll be in touch shortly

    Premier Icon footflaps

    Good road cycling scene in Cambridge, loads of clubs (inc Uni ones), and pretty much group rides every day if you want. Roads South and East of Cambridge are very nice to ride into Suffolk, Essex, Beds, Herts etc. We even get the odd Olympic Gold medalist turn up on the Wednesday group ride sometimes, in full Team GB kit.


    A mate of mine studied music at Cambridge, he’s had a very successful career as a cellist, conductor and is now head of strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

    Premier Icon drumon

    I second HughStew’s statement.
    His mate is a hugely talented and intelligent musician, performing career second to none and can back it up with deep musical knowledge.

    A Cambridge music education rules nothing out in my opinion. If you want a performing career you can achieve it from there and you will also have a MUCH deeper and amazingly useful knowledge of music that many performing musicians won’t have.

    Conservatoire study is great if you have the artistic burn to perform and play 100%, it is academically useful but not deep like a strong uni music degree, especially Oxford or Cambridge.

    Just my take on it, after many years professional performing and Conservatoire teaching.

    Premier Icon augustuswindsock

    Zero experience of oxbridge or music, but life’s told me if he doesn’t, he’ll spend the rest of his life wondering if should have!

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash

    Yeah, he’s giving it his best shot. A whole day of Oxbridge coaching* for him tomorrow, followed by a parents session in the evening!

    * Not the correct term but not sure what is


    Don’t trust the percentages of students from state schools. Many go to private schools then eg Hills Rd 6th Form College and then are categorised as state school entry. He might consider applying to a college with fewer state school students should they need to ‘balance the books’ and get a couple more in.
    Colleges differ in their resources, St John’s is v wealthy. I had a student go to Girton from a poor background, they charged her no rent for 3 years and subsequently she has had a very successful career as a scientist. Other students I’ve taught who did Oxbridge often got the impression that their university gave them an advantage but opportunities in the job market often mirrored the original social class of the student apart from one I taught, from a poor Bengali family, who is now a Labour MP.
    In interviews they seem to stretch you as far as you can go. They assume you are on top of your subjects at A level but they want to challenge your thinking skills. Many successful applicants left the interview rooms thinking they had flunked it but then got an offer.

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