Student Blog

From Devon to Cambridge

14 Dec 2015 | Tom | Courses, People, Societies, Student Life

Below is a blog from former JCR Access Officer Tom, who is now studying for a PhD in the department of Geography. Before starting his undergraduate at Downing, he got involved in a number of our South West Access Initiatives, which are part of the Area Link Scheme. Want to find out more? Email

Hi, I’m Tom and I’m the JCR Access Officer at Downing (an elected position on our undergraduate student College committee)! I’m a third year Geographer, and in my role I’m responsible for proving to school students what a great place Downing (and Cambridge in general) is to study and live.

Before I was at Cambridge I went to a state school in Devon. At the start of sixth form I didn’t really know a lot about what I wanted to do afterwards – I had some vague idea that I would quite like to go to University, but my parents never went so I didn’t really know what the process would entail. My first experience of the university process, in January of Year 12, was a trip to a nearby college which I was forced to go to against my will by my teacher (who I am now greatly indebted to!). This event was run by Downing College in coordination with Exeter College, Oxford, and reinforced to me that a degree was desirable, affordable, and manageable.

The talk was also my first hint that perhaps I could think about Oxbridge, and that – in spite of the rumours – open to (and full of!) people from my background. This was enough to get me consider the next event I went to, the South West Open Day at Downing College – again with encouragement by my teacher! The event was run by Downing for state school students from Cornwall, Devon and Dorset in late June of Year 12. It was a fantastic experience and speaking to current students and staff made me see what a supportive environment the College was, and I realised it was definitely a place I could see myself living for three years.

By this point I was pretty certain that I wanted to study for a degree in a geoscience, due to my interest in environmental issues. Between Years 12 and 13, I was able to explore this decision more by going to the Sutton Trust Summer School in Geography, again run by the University of Cambridge on behalf of the Sutton Trust. Staying a different college (Fitzwilliam) and working with staff in the Geography department, I was able to see the appeal of the subject, crossing both the humanities and the geosciences, and decided that it was the subject for me.

By the time I had entered Year 13, then, I was able to experience a wealth of information to help support my application in Geography both to Cambridge and to universities further afield. All of the events I had attended were of no cost to me, with travel refunded entirely by the University and to a large extent staffed by a crowd of willing student volunteers. This was of great help to me throughout my university application experience, and I am of no doubt that without these Downing events it would have taken me a lot longer to find the subject I love, and I would definitely not have even thought about applying to an Oxbridge university.

When I was fortunate enough to gain a place at – where else? – Downing to study Geography I knew that I wanted to get involved in helping others be aware of Cambridge as option. There’s loads of opportunities to do this, be it through your college as a volunteer, through the Student’s Union, or through the University Admissions Office. There’s so many people and events at Cambridge dedicated to helping people from all backgrounds get the information they need to make an informed decision about choosing a degree and university as a high-achieving student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to help out to some extent with all the events I’ve mentioned here, as well as finding out about even more events I had no idea existed, such as the Student’s Union Shadowing Scheme. I hope that if you’re considering applying to Cambridge, you’ll use some of these resources – and definitely consider Downing!

If you have any questions about live at Downing as a student, or my experience with Cambridge widening participation events, don’t be afraid to contact me at

Tom is now studying for a PhD, and his research uses UAV technology to explore interactions between surface melt and subglacial processes on the Greenland Ice Sheet. You can find out more about what he gets up to here.




I'm a current Downing undergraduate from Devon, studying Geography. I'm involved in helping with lots of College and University schemes which look to dispel the myths around Cambridge and encourage people to apply!