Student Blog

Law to HSPS? Changing course at Cambridge

Sofiya is a third year HSPS student and currently Downing’s JCR President. The JCR is the name for the committee of students within a College – a bit like a school council – who work with senior staff at Downing, as well as organising events for students. 

Most students stay in the same degree course that they originally applied to – however there is flexibility once you’re here. To be able to change course, you need the agreement of your College that any change is in your educational interests, and you must have the necessary background in the subject to which you wish to change – in some cases you may be required to undertake some catch-up work or take up the new course from the start/an earlier year.

Read on to find out about Sofiya’s experience at Downing


I’m Sofiya from East London and went to a school called Seven Kings. It has great attainment compared to other schools in the underprivileged area, so I am very fortunate to have gone here. Support from the school, support from my mum and a lot of hard work helped me to achieve 2 A* and 1 A at A-Level. I would have never thought about applying to Cambridge if a few teachers hadn’t suggested it…neither of my parents have post-16 education! I am of mixed Pakistani and White heritage which also statistically disadvantages me compared to the average student, but Cambridge as a whole definitely has a space for Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) and working-class students like myself.

Downing college main entrance

I chose Downing on a whim really because I did not know anybody from Cambridge, nor how the collegiate system worked. I thought it looked nice, was in a good location, and had nice accommodation. In many respects I am glad I did because the accommodation is as good as I thought, and as someone from a low-income background there is a great financial support system. It isn’t advertised very widely, but basically you will not have to worry about money; a welcomed relief because for many of us, our upbringing has been characterised by financial concerns which at this stage would distract from our degrees.

I actually applied to and was granted a place for Law at Downing. A few days into lectures, I realised that it really was not what I thought it would be, and it was hard for me to relate law to things I actually cared about. I spoke to my very supportive tutor, Dr. Tomalin, and was able to change very quickly when college became aware of my reasons. This was the best decision I have ever made as studying HSPS, specifically Sociology, has completely transformed my world view. I am able to read about pressing issues such as racism and classism at such depth and with the support of some super-human academics ( the best being Dr. Figueroa who is a fellow at Downing!). I love being supervised by people who are just as interested in these issues as you are, and have dedicated their careers to understanding important social phenomena. It’s different studying sociology here because you are often critiquing the institutional practices of the University whilst yourself being a part of it, and ultimately obtaining your degree from it. Although it took a while for me to feel comfortable in this elite institution and my time here hasn’t been without it’s obstacles, I feel very fortunate to have studied here with some incredible academics and to have made some life-long friends.

Studying here is not a walk in the park – but if you are genuinely obsessed with your subject, then your thinking processes, critical capabilities, knowledge, and interests will be entirely transformed by studying here. Eighteen-year-old me would never believe I’m saying this, but I am truly sad to go!


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Sofiya Gatens

Sofiya is a current third year HSPS student, specializing in sociology. Originally from East London, she is now Downing's JCR president.