How to make the most of your first year at Cambridge

So, you’re heading to Cambridge this year?

First of all, congratulations are in order! You’re going to the second best (GDBO) university in the world! That in itself is an incredible achievement, but you’re probably thinking about how to get your time’s worth out of university.

You may have just received your jam-packed timetable for Michaelmas term, and you might be wondering how you will possibly have time to do anything other than work. We can’t deny it: Cambridge life is seriously busy. With so much going on, it’s hard to know what to prioritise. That’s why we at CAMSoc, with a little help from our friends, have put our heads together to create this guide on how to smash your first year. Enjoy!


“Challenge yourself. One of the best decisions I made was to take on a leadership role within a student society.”  

– Amber (Law, 2nd year)

This is a big one from CAMSoc Co-President, Amber. If there’s any time to be ambitious, it’s during your university years. If you’ve ever wanted to learn something, be it a language, a sport, or any other skill, there is someone here at Cambridge who can help you with that.

Make your challenge valuable to you, and whatever you do, don’t compare your challenge to everyone else’s. Everywhere you go, there will be high fliers who seem incredibly successful. You have to define success on your own terms, or you’ll drive yourself crazy. This is especially true in a place like Cambridge.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your challenge has to be academic, either. Remember, one line of your CV says you got a first. What do the other 30 say? If you want to get involved with something – do it. What do you have to lose?


“Sleep > work” 

– Ollie (Engineering, 2nd year) 

“Control your work, don’t let it control you” 

– Matthew (Classics, 2nd year)

These quotes are as simple as they sound, and they ring true throughout the whole year. If you find yourself staying up frantically trying to get an examples paper or an essay done, don’t kid yourself into thinking that this is the harsh reality of a Cambridge education.

As much as everyone says otherwise, it really is possible to work, have a social life, and keep healthy, but only if you make good use of your time. Do make use of calendar apps and reminders, and- most importantly ⎼ plan your day in advance. A simple but effective way to structure your day is to set out to achieve one big thing, three medium-sized things, and five small things. Write your plan and stick to it (but make sure you allow time for socialising and the odd trip to Sunday Life).


“Focus on how you work, how you study and how you perform best” 

– Daniil (Engineering, 2nd year)

Before coming to Cambridge, you might not have thought much about how you work, and everything probably came quite easily. You probably understood concepts pretty quickly, regardless of the method you used to learn. Cambridge is different. The things you learn here are hard to understand, and there are a lot of things to understand. When you’re faced with this dilemma (and you inevitably will be, unless you’re some kind of super-genius), you need to know how to deal with it.

Writing simple notes and doing past papers got me through A-Levels. I will now swallow my pride and admit that flashcards are useful. But the thing is, it couldn’t matter less how you revise, as long as it works for you. What I’m really saying is this: don’t be surprised if you go into a friend’s room during exam term to find all four walls, and maybe even the ceiling (trust me, I’ve seen this), covered in sticky notes. Experiment to find out what works for you, and embrace it!


“Whilst you may not be aware of it, you have a personal brand – a way that you appear to the rest of the world as a result of the digital footprint you’ve created over the years (note to self: edit Facebook privacy settings)” 

– Mila (PBS, 3rd year)

This quote is actually from one of our previous blog posts. You can read it here.

You’ve probably noticed that all of your friends have been updating their profile pictures before they head off to uni. I can admit to this, and there’s no shame in trying to make a good impression. Have you ever scrolled back to your 2011 Facebook statuses, cringed, but strangely felt some kind of sentimental attachment to them, so changed the settings so they’re only visible to you? Nope, me neither. If you have done this, then you’ve already made an effort to shape your personal brand.

What impression does your social media give off? What do others think you’ll be like before they meet you? These things matter – and not just during freshers week, but when you start searching for jobs, summer internships, or even roles in student societies. Expect everyone to check your social media. Think of all of those people you’ve seen in freshers groups. For anyone of note, you’ve already developed an image of them in your head, which is based entirely on their ‘personal brand’.

LinkedIn is a great tool to develop your personal brand. Don’t worry if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, or if you haven’t even heard of it… you definitely will soon. If there’s one thing you need to bear in mind when creating your Linkedin profile, it’s this: your online presence can be beautifully polished, but you must to be able to back that up in person. You can’t afford to lie or exaggerate online. And if you do lie on LinkedIn, you will almost certainly be caught out at interview- or even before.

With all of this pressure to create and refine your personal brand, it’s incredibly important to be true to yourself. Building a personal brand is all about recognising and highlighting your unique strengths.


“The more socials you go to, the more people remember you and recognise you around, and suddenly Cambridge isn’t so lonely!” 

– Rohan (MML, 2nd year)

As well as getting to know people in your college, it’s a good idea to branch out and get to know people from other colleges too. You might get to know people through societies, sports, or even just by chatting to them in lectures.

But careful: explore your options, but don’t dabble in too many sports or societies, or you’ll soon find yourself struggling to balance extracurriculars with your studies. If you want to get involved in student-led group projects, get involved with one! We’re running our own this year, CAMBrand. Participating in CAMBrand will give you the chance to work for some of the UK’s hottest startups, and you’ll gain some major CV points while you’re at it. If that’s not your kind of thing, there is always plenty of support and funding available for other projects, and you could even start an initiative of your own.

Networking events at university are an incredible way to gain contacts in industries you’re interested in, and you might even land a job or internship while you’re at it. Showing your face at networking events is also a great way to improve your communication and interpersonal skills in general.

As a final word on this subject, absolutely do not limit yourself to networking events and career-oriented socials. Go on swaps with your mates to Sesame (or even Curry King if you’re feeling adventurous), and go to Cindies on a Wednesday night- even if you have a busy Thursday. Some of my best friends are people I never would have known if I’d stayed in all the time. You never know who you could meet: your best friend, your future business partner, or maybe even your soul-mate, if you believe in that kind of thing. (Surprisingly going out and meeting people is a much more ‘effective’ than Tinder. Who would have thought?)


“Not that keen on the people you live with? Don’t worry – there are plenty of other people to get to know.” 

– Me! (Engineering, 2nd year)

You have at least three years here! Don’t assume you have to be best friends with the people you’re living with in first year. Take your time! Now, I’m not discouraging you from being friends with people on your staircase – they’re probably lovely, but don’t feel obliged to hang around with them all of the time. After all, it’s your decision who your friends are. You’ll have until the end of Lent term (give or take a few weeks depending on your college), to decide who you want to live with in second year, so don’t sweat!

All that’s left to be said from myself and the rest of CAMSoc is once again, congratulations on getting into Cambridge, and a huge good luck from all of us!


Look out for our stall at the Freshers’ Fair, and explore the rest of our website to see what’s on offer this Michaelmas.

Dom Kirkham

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