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Welcome to the Varsity Education Student Journal!

Find out what students experience each day on a Varsity programme.

Welcome to Oxford Summer College 2017!

Students arrived in Oxford throughout the day, welcomed into Somerville College by our staff. For those who arrived early enough, there was a tour of the city’s main sights, including the Bodleian Library and Oxford’s Ashmolean museum.

Once everyone had arrived, the Dean gave a talk to officially welcome everyone to the programme. He talked about Oxford’s long and illustrious history as the second oldest university in Europe, its collegiate system, and the general rules and expectations of the programme. After their first dinner, the students played games to help everyone get acquainted. This included a competition to make the tallest and strongest tower from spaghetti and marshmallows. While some students proved to be budding architects or engineers and excelled at this game, others found their towers ending up in a heap of pasta.

Everyone then had a early night ahead of the first day of classes on Tuesday.

First day of classes

After breakfast, all of the students had their first classes. For English Literature students, this consisted of their first of two guest lectures from Dr Tolley, a fellow from Oxford University, who introduced them to different ways of analysing Shakespeare.

In the afternoon, the students had their first two workshops. In the Oxbridge introduction session, our tutors explained what makes an Oxbridge education so unique, including the collegiate system, tutorials, and the applications processes. Students had an opportunity to ask questions about studying at Oxford and Cambridge which were answered by recent graduates from the two universities.

The second workshop was about current affairs, and the students were put into groups to discuss some contemporary global issues which frequently make headlines. They had to analyse information from a particular news report and present their conclusions to the rest of the students. Topics included cyber security, terrorism, medical epidemics and recent world political events.

In the late afternoon, all of the students had a guided tour of Oxford. They learned about the history of some of the oldest colleges, like Christ Church and Merton, and visited famous Oxford locations including Radcliffe Square and Magdalene Bridge.

In the evening, the students had free time after dinner to explore Oxford more and get to know each other better, before heading back to Somerville college for the night.

Global Trade Challenge

This morning the Mathematics and Engineering students had their first guest lecture from Dr Vinko about machine learning, while the English and Biology students had their second guest lectures. For the latter, the lecture focused on evolutionary biology and antibiotic resistance, a growing public health challenge in the 21st century. The Medicine students enjoyed a lecture from Dr Walker considering the ethical ramifications of genetic research, including the morality of producing ‘designer babies’, and the economic divide between rich and poor becoming a biological one.

In the afternoon the students had a workshop on essay writing skills, with the tutors explaining the differences between school essays and those which are expected from students at university. Students also had a session on course and college selection, giving them the opportunity to ask tutors for advice. This was followed by the first small group tutorials, allowing students to delve deeper into parts of the syllabus that they had found challenging or wanted to explore further.

In the evening, the students came together to participate in the Dean’s ‘Global Trade Challenge’. Students were separated into groups, each representing a different country. They had to trade certain items, but each group started off with a different set of raw materials and so they had to bargain to get what they needed. The group that made the most money from this trading won, which was the group representing the United States. They received chocolates as a reward for their entrepreneurial efforts.

Getting down to business

The students started their day with classes as usual. The Maths and Engineering students had their second lecture from Dr Vinko, who is a Research Fellow in the Atomic and Laser Physics Department at Oxford University. In the afternoon, the students had workshops on personal statements and critical thinking.

In the former, students were advised on what sort of information should be included and what would not be considered relevant for an Oxbridge application, as Oxbridge personal statements tend to be more academic than those for other universities. In the latter, the students were asked to argue in favour of illogical statements to try and hone their persuasive abilities and encourage them to think outside of the box. These statements included ‘computers are useless’ and ‘the Earth is flat’.

After the workshops, half of the group played sports outside in the park, while the others put their negotiation skills to the test with a Harvard Business School task involving a hypothetical land purchase deal.

After dinner, the medical students had a guest lecture from Dr Walker, an expert in Cancer Genetics from Balliol College, which was very similar to that usually given to first year undergraduate students. Our other students had some free time to explore Oxford, play Jenga in the common room or croquet on the lawn.

Adventures in Cambridge

The students left Oxford at nine in the morning for their trip to Cambridge, which kicked off with a guided tour of King’s College and its famous chapel.

The chapel, which took almost seventy years to construct, has the largest fan-vaulted ceiling in the world. The students learned that during the process of building the ceiling, which took three years from 1512 to 1515, many men lost their lives, due to the height of the ceiling and the unsafe wooden scaffolding they used. It was another thirty years until the stained-glass windows were all installed; these were removed and put into storage at the beginning of the Second World War to protect them from bomb damage.

After their tour of King’s College, the students were free to explore Cambridge for a couple of hours before assembling again to take a chauffeured punting tour along the River Cam. Afterwards, everyone boarded the coach to return to Somerville College in Oxford, with pizza for dinner and then free time to study or relax.

Studying and sports

After their usual morning classes, the students had an afternoon of free study time to allow them to complete their assignments ahead of their tutorials. In the late afternoon before dinner, the half of the students which had earlier participated in the Harvard Negotiations Workshop had the chance to play some team sports, and vice versa. The sporting students played rounders and other games as the sun shone on a bright warm day. The students also came together to wish one of our students, Emelie, a happy birthday!

In the evening, the students had a guest lecture from Anastasia Chitty, a medical graduate from Oxford University who was also a successful rower in the University’s boat racing team and now competes for the Great British national team. She spoke to students about studying whilst participating in sports.

Focusing on university entrance skills

After morning classes, students had workshops on succeeding in examinations and interview skills. Students had the opportunity to sign up for a mock interview with our tutors in the following week, allowing them to get a first hand experience of what an Oxbridge admissions interview could be like.

Later on, the students had one-on-one tutorials with their tutors, providing them with the opportunity to have an extended conversation about a piece of work they had recently submitted. These sessions are unique to Oxford and Cambridge amongst UK universities, and help students understand in depth where they excel and where there are areas which need improvement.

In the evening, students had some free time to socialise and enjoy Oxford or to relax in the college at the end of a busy week.


Quiz night!

After a long week of lessons, students were treated to a morning off and some had a lie in while others used the time to do more things in Oxford. Some of our students organised their own visit to other colleges.

In the afternoon, the students had their first workshop on critical thinking, in which each student was allocated a particular job and had to argue how it makes a necessary contribution to society. For example, one student had to argue why florists are important, and another why we need professional swimmers, which is a much more difficult question to answer than why we need police or nurses! The second workshop focused on persuasive writing. The student’s analysed famous speeches by Obama to understand what about them worked and why.

In the evening, the students enjoyed a quiz with rounds on general knowledge, science, geography, music and Oxbridge.


Preparing for the big debate

During their morning classes, the physics students enjoyed a guest lecture from Dr Chisari, who talked to the students about the research that takes place in labs at Oxford University. In the afternoon, the students had a workshop on debating skills and the procedures of an Oxford style debate, in preparation for a team debating competition the following day.

In the afternoon the students had group tutorials, allowing the students to explore their subjects in more depth.

In the evening the students attended guest lectures from Dr Richard Beven-Jones, a neurologist, and James Manning, a criminal defence barrister. Each spoke to the students about the transition from studying into starting a career, and why they decided to study what they did. James spoke about several of his most interesting cases, and the moral dilemmas that can be involved in defending suspects. Richard spoke about his research into brain diseases, and some of the more difficult diagnoses he has had to make.

Public speaking and the debate of the century

In the second physics guest lecture, the students learned about the evidence for the expansion of the universe, its structure, the big bang, and more. In psychology, the students learned about some of the drugs used to treat mental disorders and ethical questions around performance enhancing drugs. After the morning classes and lunch, the students had a public speaking workshop, including tips about how to prepare themselves mentally and how to engage their audience with their body language, tone and content. At the end some of the students had a go at giving a presentation and the guest lecturer analysed their performance and showed them where and how they could improve. Students then had some private study time ahead of a busy evening.

After dinner, the students took part in the Oxford style debate that they had started preparing for the previous day, putting their public speaking and critical thinking skills to the test. There were various motions to debate, including “this house would reveal the magic world to the muggles,” referencing Harry Potter. Despite this lighthearted motion, they took the debate very seriously, arguing intently for and against letting ordinary people know about the witches and wizards in their midst.

The War of the Roses

The students had an early breakfast ahead of their second excursion to Warwick Castle, one of England’s most popular tourist attractions. The sun was shining and everyone was excited, especially the history students. Upon arrival at Warwick Castle, the students were greeted by actors in Tudor dress; just the first taste of the immersive, interactive and entertaining experience that Warwick provides.

The students were free to explore the castle independently at first, with sights including the magnificent Great Hall, filled with medieval weapons and armour, the chapel and luxurious state rooms, and a number of activities and performances. These include escaping the maze, watching a birds of prey performance featuring eagles, hawks, buzzards and owls, and witnessing the firing of Europe’s largest trebuchet, a medieval siege engine.

Around midday, the students had free time to explore Warwick’s historic town centre and have lunch. The group assembled at the castle again at 15:30 to enjoy the War of the Roses live show. Based on a period of civil warfare in the 15th century, when two branches of the Plantagenet royal dynasty fought for the English throne, the show included jousting between armoured knights, stunt riding, and melee fighting.

The students and staff were divided into two camps to cheer on separate sides. The show culminated in a marriage between actors portraying Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, uniting the two feuding sides. The students then returned to Oxford, with some free time to relax, explore or study before everyone had pizza in the evening.

Test tube time

During the morning classes, the politics and international relations students enjoyed a lecture from Dr Toth on symbolism within the European Union. The science and medical students had the opportunity to use the Oxford University labs, familiarising themselves with the equipment whilst performing several tasks.

In the afternoon some of the students had 1:1 tutorials, allowing them to discuss their progress over the duration of the programme and identify areas for further study or improvement. Other students took part in the team photo challenge, attempting to take the best selfie in a famous Oxford location.

In the evening the students had private study time to work on their final assignments.

The last day

The students had their final classes in the morning for their two chosen subjects, followed by a feedback session with each of their tutors. Afterwards, the students had free time to visit their favourite places in Oxford for the last time and to socialise with their new friends, whom they would soon be saying goodbye to.

In the evening, everyone attended the formal dinner in Somerville College’s Great Hall. This was followed by a graduation ceremony, with each student receiving a certificate for completing the programme, along with other awards, some more serious than others, for ‘Best Debater’ and ‘Best Party Planner’, among others. Afterwards, the students gathered for group photos with their tutors, the housemasters and the Dean. Some of our students left the same evening so goodbye’s were said, while for those leaving the following morning, there was some time left for them to chat before bedtime.

We hope our student’s all had safe journey’s home and we wish you all the best for the future!


With all students arriving safely and and excitedly on Saturday, we today embarked on day one in Cambridge.

After a good sleep and an English breakfast, all students were met by their enthusiastic tutors ready to begin their Cambridge Winter College journey. The Philosophers were met with enigmatic questions about the nature of consciousness led by their tutor, while the Mathematicians and Engineers enjoyed a lecture led by a Cambridge University Fellow. After lunch, all students enjoyed a critical thinking workshop led by an engaging London School of Economics Fellow, helping to sharpen their analytical skills to ready them for the world of academia.

In the afternoon the students sampled the beautiful Cambridge scenery on a professional tour of the city, led by a current PhD student at the University who, with insider knowledge, explained the quirks and traditions of this truly awe-inspiring city. They saw a number of colleges including the academic home of Stephen Hawking, pausing to take in the enormity of the façade of King’s College in earshot of the bells ringing from the tower of Great St Mary’s, the University Church.

To round off the day students enjoyed having dinner with their new friends and Housemaster and Mistress, reflecting on some of the challenging questions and concepts they have encountered throughout the day. For those interested there was a trip to the cinema and for those a little tired it was an early night (and perhaps a little preparatory reading for Monday classes).

Day 2

Monday started with small-group seminars for all of our students. Our Business and Management students were given an insider’s perspective on business development from Varsity Education’s director, while the Medicine students learned all about cancers.

After lunch, all of our students were brought together for an essay writing skills workshop, followed by a Q&A session on course and college selection coupled with application advice. Our students were keen to learn as much as possible from Alex, a Medicine undergraduate at Oxford, and Jack, a World History Masters student at Cambridge, and they asked lots of great questions.

These workshops were followed by the first tutorials of the programme, held in the college’s beautiful Erasmus room. These sessions with two students to each tutor match the Oxbridge experience, giving students an unparalled level of engagement with subject experts and allowing personalised development.

The day came to a close with dinner in the Queens’ College dining hall, followed by some free time to socialise with their new friends and then prepare for the day ahead!

The Official Welcome

Today, our students had a very exciting morning as Lord Eatwell, the current President of Queens’ College Cambridge, delivered a lecture to the students on his specialist subject, Economics. Lord Eatwell has been President of the college since 1997 and actually attended Queens’ College as an undergraduate. He welcomed the students to the college and Cambridge before giving his talk, “Can international financial markets ever be stable?”. The students all thoroughly enjoyed the lecture and it was a great way to start their Tuesday.

Students then continued with their usual morning schedule, with the Historians learning about the history of Cambridge itself in anticipation of a small field trip tomorrow, the Philosophers debating whether the mind and the body are made of the same matter, and the Medics learning about genetic mutations. After a very busy morning, students headed into the city for lunch before returning for their second critical thinking class of the programme. Led by Dr Metinsoy, a graduate of Oxford and a Fellow of LSE, the students learned how to deconstruct arguments to find the hard facts behind a piece of writing. After this lesson, students had a class on interview techniques with Dr Metinsoy and some of our undergraduate tutors, who gave their insights into their Oxbridge interview experience. Students learned some tips and tricks to help them during their interviews, including suggestions on how best to prepare and there was even a mock interview in front of the class with a brave volunteer! This class will be very valuable and will help our students to hone their interview technique before sitting a mock interview themselves later in the course.

Later in the afternoon, the students participated in the Harvard Negotiations workshop. In groups of two or three, students negotiated the sale of some land (on which to build a coffee shop) against another team, with each team having slightly different information on the potential value and worth of the land. All the teams did very well, negotiating and debating with their counterparts in an attempt to get the best possible deal. All teams reached a resolution and some teams even factored baked goods into the final agreement! After a long and busy day, students had dinner in Queens’ dining hall – Toad in the Hole, a British classic.

Sky-high spaghetti

There was a special treat for the History and International Relations students in their morning class as they swapped their classroom for an excursion to Little St Mary’s Church, where Jack explained its significance to the university. Meanwhile, medicine students examined the impact of high altitudes on the respiratory system, while Physics students explored Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

As their 1-1 tutorials take place the next day, students were given time in the afternoon for private study. Later on they were given a masterclass in public speaking by Simon Gfeller, a trained opera singer and actor. Students learned about the importance of projection, pitch and body language, and were trained in several body language techniques. Three of our students, Ipsita, Ed and Janna, volunteered to talk to their fellow students about a subject of their choice. Their fantastic speeches on astrology, vegetarianism and feminism, respectively, were given constructive feedback by the group, helping everyone understand how to improve their oratory skills.

After dinner, and a quick photo stop by the Christmas tree, the students gathered in the Erasmus room to spar with spaghetti in our tower building challenge. Divided into teams of 3 or 4, the students were tasked with building the tallest possible tower with spaghetti and marshmallows in the space of 15 minutes. While some groups approached this pasta problem with mathmatical precision, the winning team was the one that ultimately took a speedier approach. The winning marshmallow marvel soared over 70cm high. However, there is a reason why Rome wasn’t built in a day, and by the time we took the winning photo, the tower had collapsed!

Day five

After their morning classes, students participated in two workshops. First was persuasive writing, a useful skill for university applications in particular. Students examined two examples of persuasive writing, which were an extract from the end of the Communist Manifesto and George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. They analysed the rhetoric used and identified key techniques like repetition. The second workshop focused on current affairs, with global warming as one of the key discussion points. Students considered whether we’re doing enough to combat climate change, who should invest and how, and why some leaders deny man-made global warming exists altogether.

The first of the programme’s one-on-one tutorials also took place on Thursday, which for most students was a brand new experience. They received comprehensive feedback about an essay or task which they had completed, helping them to understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Our law students, for example, discussed their essays on constitutions.

In the evening, students were treated to guest lectures from James Manning, a criminal Barrister, and Dr Richard Bevan-Jones, a Neurologist, who discussed their career journeys. Questions for Dr Bevan-Jones included about going into research after a clinical degree and how to choose the best medicine course for you, while James Manning was asked about choosing between being a barrister or a solicitor and how to defend clients when the evidence is stacked against them.

Day six

As usual Friday kicked off with subject classes for all of our students. Politics & economic students were treated to a class led by Dr Harald Wydra, and together they considered if the world is becoming more or less democratic. They also explored how democracy should be defined, and how it had evolved over the past century. Meanwhile, in Biology, students looked at the effects of new CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, of course!) research, which allows us to make very specific changes to DNA.

After lunch students had two more workshops focusing on competitive university admissions processes. In the first workshop, students learned how to create an outstanding personal statement, conveying their passion and enthusiasm for their chosen subject whilst avoiding clichés. Next was the exam skills workshop. As entrance exams become increasingly common at top universities, we gave students tips about time management, exam preparation, and how to write a focused essay. Students were then familiarised with the aptitude tests for Oxford, Cambridge and clinical degrees.

Later that afternoon, everyone took part in a badminton tournament in the Fitzpatrick Hall. Eight teams fought it out until Ed and Baris emerged as our Varsity badminton champions. Afterwards, however, there was a chance for mind to triumph over matter as we held our Friday night quiz! Six rounds covered history, literature, general knowledge, sport, music and geography, with the winners receiving lots of yummy chocolates.

Saturday sightseeing!

On Saturday morning, students participated in mock interviews to get a flavour for the kind of questions they could expect to face if they applied to Oxford or Cambridge. Afterwards, our students had the opportunity to go punting on the river Cam past Cambridge’s most famous sights. While it was a chilly and misty morning, blankets and hot water bottles ensured our students stayed warm as they glided beneath the city’s iconic bridges. With the ancient college buildings, including the enormous King’s College Chapel, shrouded partly in fog, it was a uniquely atmospheric experience.

In the afternoon, students took part in a group discussions workshop. To build their confidence and increase their presentation experience, students presented about topics of their choice, and then the tutors led a discussion with the rest of the group. Subjects varied widely from baking to gender discrimination! After the presentations, students had tutorials with their tutors. The rest of the day was free for students to study, play games and enjoy some hot chocolate.

Day eight

On Sunday, students resumed their morning classes. Medical students learned about antibiotic resistance, a key challenge of the 21st century. At the same time, the young philosophers were grappling with the ontological argument for the existence of God, while our politics students debated the politics of inequality. Biology students studied the metabolic response to starvation and learned about the digestive system of pythons.

In the afternoon, we held a workshop about debating, starting off with effective oratory techniques and discussing its place in university life. Afterwards, students split into groups to argue for and against on the following motions:

The house believes that human engineering is a step too far.

The house believes that in modern society there is no longer any privacy.

We followed a formal debate structure with four speakers offering introductions, arguments, rebuttals and conclusions. The debate was also opened up to the floor to allow the rest of the group to participate.

Later that evening, students had the option of unwinding by playing pool or taking some time out to study before the start of the second week.

Day nine

In Monday’s morning classes, Biology students looked at how animals adapt to different environments, while the Politics class examined the workings of democratic institutions. Meanwhile, Law students discussed various ways in which to define intention in criminal law, and the problems of each.

In the afternoon, the science students went into the lab to practise their practical skills. Two experiments aimed to assess the presence of proteins in serum samples and measure their concentrations. The rest of the students had tutorials, and received constructive feedback about their mock interview from the weekend.

After dinner, students had time to study, relax and finish working on their personal statements.

Day ten

Students had their penultimate morning seminars on Tuesday. In Politics and Economics, Dr Wydra returned to do another class on democracy and republics. Physics students learned about Einstein’s general theory of relatively, while our future doctors had a brief introduction to neuroscience.

After lunch, the students took part in a current affairs forum, where they looked at several articles about immigration, including about Brexit’s effect on the higher education sector, before having a group discussion regarding border control. Afterwards, students had their final tutorials of the programme.

In the evening, the students headed out to visit ‘North Pole Cambridge’, the city’s festive Christmas fair, where they had a chance to go ice-skating, duke it out on the dodgems, and enjoy some hot drinks on a chilly December night.

The last day!

In the morning, our students had their final classes. Our Biology students presented about a topic of their choice to the rest of the class, including one about the field of palaeontology and dinosaurs. Meanwhile, in Physics, students had a class on special relativity, finishing off by looking at the ‘ladder paradox’, a well known thought experiment. Our History and International Relations class featured presentations about Gionvanni Boccaccio’s writings about the black death in Florence, and the levellers, a political movement during the English Civil War.

In Law, our students took part in a mock trial which they had been preparing for in the preceding days. They grappled with legal and moral dilemmas around the death of a premature baby in a over-capacity neonatal care unit. With the students taking the roles of prosecution and defence, and with the trial judged by a Law tutor, a vigorous debate ended in the defendant being found not guilty of murder.

In the afternoon, students had their final consultation sessions with tutors for further feedback on their interviews, personal statements, and advice about course, college and university selection.

Later in the evening, it was time for the formal dinner in Queens’ College’s beautiful Old Hall. Our festive themed meal was followed with our graduation ceremony, where each student received a certificate for completing the programme. Other light-hearted awards which were given included best debater, happiest person and ‘keenest bean’, and students posed together with photos for their last meal with their new friends.

Farewell future leaders!

On Thursday, Cambridge Winter College drew to a close. From Fellows to tutors to students, everyone is thrilled at the outcome, especially the superb performances of all the students. At Varsity Education, we would like to thank everyone who made the success of the Winter College possible.

To all students, we hope you have safe journeys home and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

Here’s to you, future leaders!

Welcome to Cambridge Summer College 2017!

Varsity Education staff were thrilled to welcome students to the first day of Cambridge Summer College and everyone was in high spirits as they arrived at Clare College.

Our Dean gave the students a welcome lecture, outlining what students can expect from the programme and talking about Cambridge’s long and distinguished history. They were then given a tour of the college, the oldest part of which, the ‘Old Court’ on the east bank of the river Cam, dates back to the 17th century.

After dinner, everyone took part in some ‘icebreaking’ games to learn more about their peers, and enjoyed getting to know one another. 

After a long day of travel for many, everyone retired to their rooms to got some much needed sleep, ready for the full day ahead on Sunday!

Introductory sessions and a tour of Cambridge!

Our students kicked off the day with breakfast in the Old Court at 8am. An hour later, they started their first classes of the programme. The Politics and Economics students were given a lecture by Dr Harald Wydra, a fellow from St Catherine’s College, looking at the history of democracy.

These initial subject classes were followed by two workshops for all of the students. One workshop was about the unique Oxbridge style of undergraduate teaching and how the applications processes work. The other workshop was about Current Affairs, covering the challenges posed by international terrorism and how countries respond to crises like the Ebola epidemic. Students were put into groups to argue that their given issue was the most important.

Afterwards, we took our students on a tour of Cambridge to help them get to know the city. Many of Cambridge’s top tourist attractions are parts of the university, including Queen’s College and its famous mathematical bridge, which was first built in 1749, and the gigantic 15th century King’s College Chapel, with the world’s largest fan vault ceiling.

After dinner, most of the students were free to head back out to the city to explore more. Meanwhile, the literature students watched two recorded Shakespeare plays: Macbeth and the Merchant of Venice, to help them prepare for Monday’s lecture.

Applying to Oxbridge, essay writing and group tutorials

After breakfast, the students had their morning classes. The politics students had a second guest lecture by Dr Wydra, continuing on the previous day’s theme of the history of democracy and considering questions like ‘what are the limits of humanitarian intervention?’ and ‘is democracy more than a system of government?’. The literature students enjoyed the first of two guest lectures from Dr Tolley from Oxford University, covering difficult interpretations of Shakespear’s Macbeth. In the International Relations class, Dr Toth delivered a guest lecture about symbolism in the European Union.

After lunch, students were given a workshop about course and Oxbridge college selection, and got to listen to Oxbridge graduates talk about their experiences of the applications processes. We then hosted a question and answer session, with our students asking questions including why our tutors chose their degree subjects and what the differences are between the colleges. A second workshop focused on essay writing skills, setting out the distinctive features of a undergraduate level essay, and how to write one, compared to one typically written at high school.

Later in the afternoon our students had their first tutorials, getting the opportunity to talk through the material covered in their classes in greater depth in groups of just 2 or 3 students. These tutorials are a unique feature of teaching at Oxford and Cambridge and help students to develop a much more thorough understanding of their subjects.

After dinner, there was a lighthearted guest lecture for everyone from Dr Tolley on modern interpretations of Shakespeare, exploring Shakespearian theatre’s influence on cinematography.

Critical thinking and personal statements

In the morning the students had their classes as usual, with the English Literature students enjoying their final guest lecture about Shakespeare from Dr Tolley.

In the afternoon, the students took part in two workshops: critical thinking and personal statement writing. In the critical thinking workshop, students were taught new ways in which to explore problems and challenged to argue in favour of things that seem patently wrong or absurd, like ‘fast food is the best food’. The second workshop aimed to show students what Oxford and Cambridge want to see in an applicants personal statement.

Afterwards, half of the students took part in a Harvard negotiation workshop. The students were put into teams and were challenged to negotiate the sale of a property, with each team provided different information about its value. This taught students how to make coherent arguments, compromise, analyse and challenge opposing viewpoints and defend their own position from cross-examination. The other half of our students enjoyed some summer sunshine as they tried out a number of different sports, including rounders, badminton and football.

In the evening, students had some free time to explore Cambridge. While some studied, others went out to get snacks for the journey to Oxford the next day.

Adventures in the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’

On Wednesday, our students were up bright and early for their trip to Oxford, Cambridge’s academic arch-rival. Like Cambridge, many of Oxford’s beautiful historic buildings belong to the university or its various colleges. The students visited the 400 year old Bodleian library, the UK’s second largest. Afterwards, they had a look around the Ashmolean museum, the world’s first university museum with a substantial collection of art and archaeology from around the world and dating back as far as 8000 BC.

The students were then given a guided tour of Balliol college, founded in 1263, with the oldest building dating back to the 15th century. Our Oxford alumni tutors talked to students about their experiences studying at Oxford and how it differs from Cambridge. Afterwards, there was some free time to explore the city’s bustling centre with its numerous shops and cafes, followed by a punting tour of the River Cherwell which meanders through the beautiful grounds of Oxford University.

After a long day of sightseeing, the students headed back to Cambridge around 5pm for pizza.

Reaching for the stars

The students were back to their classes on Thursday morning. In law, Dr Ruse-Khan talked about the complexities of intellectual property law. Mathematics and engineering students enjoyed a guest lecture from Dr Vinko on the topic of machine learning. In the physics class, Dr Allison introduced the students to cosmology, the study of the origins and evolution of the universe, focusing on the tools that scientists have developed to measure certain cosmological objects.

In the afternoon, the biology, physics and medical students had the opportunity to experience laboratory work. In particular, they took part in protein analysis using SDS-PAGE gel and Bradford assay. The rest of the students had a free period to study.

Later in the day, half of the students took part in the Harvard Business School negotiations exercise while the other half played sports including rounders and badminton.

In the evening, the students were treated to guest lectures from Dr Richard Bevan Jones, a neurologist, and Mr James Manning, a criminal defence barrister, talking about their respective careers. It resulted in a fascinating discussion about the overlaps between the two professions, and included some medical cases with ethical and legal elements to stretch students’ analytical faculties.

Interview and exam skills

In the morning classes, the physics students had their second guest lecture from Dr Allison, this time about dark matter. This is a hypothetical kind of matter which, while never actually observed, is believed to make up over 25% of the universe. The maths and engineering students were given a second lecture by Dr Vinko on machine learning, who explained how computers can learn to recognise handwriting.

The first of Friday’s afternoon workshops focused on exam skills, teaching students about different methods for revision and time management. The second covered interviews, giving students tips and advice on how to prepare, what to highlight and how to appear confident.

Afterwards, some of the students had one-to-one tutorials, allowing them to solidify their understanding of the course material and discuss their personal development. Some of the students talked to their tutors about entrance examination questions. In the evening, students were free to study or head out into Cambridge.

Quizzical education!

The students had the morning off so they could get extra sleep, have breakfast out in Cambridge, or catch up on their studies. In the afternoon the students had two workshops as usual, the first of which was about critical thinking. Students were asked to decide what kind of skill-sets and people should be saved if there was a global disaster, to help rebuild civilisation afterwards. The second workshop aimed to develop students’ persuasive writing skills.

Later on in the afternoon, half of the students had a one-to-one tutorial while the other students had free time to study. In the evening, everyone took part in a quiz with rounds focusing on Oxbridge, popular music, science and more. Questions included ‘how many vertebrae does a giraffe have in its neck?’, ‘how many children does the British queen have?’, ‘who won the 2017 Oxford & Cambridge boat race?’, and ‘which Cambridge College was founded first?’ The winners were given chocolates as a prize, but gracious in victory, they shared them with everyone.

Debate preparation

After breakfast and morning classes, the students took part in a workshop to prepare them for a big debate the following night. The students learned about the different methods used in debating competitions, including those favoured by the Oxford and Cambridge Unions. Students also learned which motions they would be debating, including “this house believes that performance-enhancing drugs should be legalised.”

Afterwards, students had their final group tutorials. There were guest tutors including those specialising in Astronomy, for students who were considering a more specialised undergraduate degree. In the evening, students spent their time preparing their arguments for the debating competition. They were provided with the criteria by which debates are judged to help guide them.

The big debate

In the morning, the International Relations class had their second guest lecture, continuing on the theme of symbolism in the European Union. The history students were treated to a historical tour of Cambridge, focusing on places affected by the ‘Black Death’, a bubonic plague pandemic that spread westwards across Eurasia, transmitted by infected fleas, and first reached Cambridge in 1349. Throughout the course of the 14th century, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population and as many as 200 million people throughout Europe and Asia. Some historians believed this to be a turning point in European history, spurring enormous social, religious, economic and political changes.

In the afternoon, the students had a guest workshop about public speaking, learning how to keep an audience engaged. After this, there was free study time or an opportunity for additional meetings with their tutors.

In the evening some of the students took part in the debate night. Teams of five worked together to argue opposing viewpoints on two motions, ‘performance enhancing drugs should be legalised’, and ‘Dumbledore was crazed with power’.

Trip to Warwick


It was an early start for our students on Tuesday, with breakfast brought forward to 7.30 ahead of their journey to Warwick and its historic castle. The pupils, decked out in Varsity Education t-shirts, were full of energy despite the early hour and ready for the day ahead.

The coach journey passed very quickly, with the tutors studiously avoiding the ‘beautiful singing’ of the rear portion of the coach, arriving in to Warwick Castle just in time for the Flight of the Eagles. Our group was treated to the sights of bald eagles, bearded vultures, and stellar’s sea eagles swooping overhead and soaring around the grounds of the castle.

Throughout the day, the pupils were able to tour the castle at will, climbing the towers, exploring the maze, and enjoying the sun. The pupils also took the opportunity to visit the historic town of Warwick during their lunch break, quickly finding the sweet shop in the process. After lunch the pupils were treated to Warwick Castle’s ‘War of Roses’ medieval themed live show.

Actors rode horses, jousted and fought with swords, bringing history to life before our eyes, before finally uniting the Houses of York and Lancaster through marriage. The pupils cheered on their respective houses, and particularly enjoyed seeing King Richard overthrown.

On our return to Cambridge, everyone came together to celebrate the birthday of one of our students, Shiva, with a couple of the girls kindly having bought a birthday cake and candles. Full of chocolate cake, the pupils set out into Cambridge town for dinner, before returning to Clare College to relax after a long day.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In their morning class, the medical students had their first guest lecture from Dr Walker, a consultant clinical geneticist who introduced them to her field and laid the foundations for a discussion on ethics in the following session. In the afternoon, students visited colleges that they had chosen to see earlier in the course. The most visited were Trinity, Kings and St Johns. The students were given guided tours by our tutors, learning more about what it’s like to live and study at them, and about some of the unique and strange traditions of each. Some students also requested a private tour of a college of their choice if they were considering applying to it.

A small group of students also visited an exhibit in the university library entitled “Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo.” This gave them the opportunity to look at documents from Cairo’s Jewish community, dating back a thousand years to the time of the crusades and the rule of the Fatimid Caliphs.

Later in the afternoon, a group of students participated in a photo challenge, tasked with taking the best possible photograph of certain locations, with extra emphasis on including animals or college porters. The winner is to be announced the following day. Other students remained in Clare College to work on their final essay, or had their last one-to-one tutorials with their tutors.

In the evening, the English and History students enjoyed a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Trinity College by the Cambridge Shakespeare Company. While the outdoor performance was a rather damp one, the students nevertheless enjoyed the experience.


In the morning, the students all had classes as usual, with the medical students enjoying their second guest lecture from Dr Lisa Walker discussing ethical principles and real life examples of difficult cases.

In the afternoon, students who are planning to apply to UK universities this year had the opportunity to undergo a mock interview with our experienced tutors. This gave them an insight into what an Oxbridge interview is like, the kind of questions they would face, and how they would draw upon their subject knowledge to answer them. Some of the students also had their last one-to-one tutorials, while others had free time so decided to play a friendly game of football in the courtyard of Gillespie Centre.

In the evening, the students were treated to a formal dinner; a unique and privileged part of Oxbridge life. Set in Clare College’s Great Hall, students sat with their gowned tutors. As is traditional in Clare College, the dinner was started with the ringing of a gong and a short prayer in Latin. At the graduation ceremony, students received their subject certificates, along with some special, tongue-in-cheek awards for things like ‘most interesting ties’, ‘most frequently late’ and ‘most dramatic running to find a lost phone’. The day ended with some words of advice from the Dean of Cambridge Summer College on how our students can make the most out of what they learned and experienced on the programme to help them achieve their academic goals.

The last day!

Students had their final classes in the morning, followed in the afternoon by an extended feedback session with their teachers and the tutor who gave them a mock interview. This gave them the opportunity to understand how they had improved and which areas they could develop further in future. This will be followed by written reports by the tutors. Some students also arranged additional tutor sessions, making as much out of their remaining time as possible, and one student even arranged a visit to the university’s observatory, where they were shown around by a professor of astrophysics.

In the evening, the students had their final social gathering, allowing them to say proper goodbyes to their new friends ahead of early departures the following morning. The Dean gave a speech with some final words of advice for the students, as well as talking to them about Varsity’s Ambassador scheme, which gives them the chance to build their CV with useful skills and experience. The students had a final opportunity to visit Cambridge city centre before retiring to their rooms to pack and prepare for the journey home.

At Varsity Education, we would like to thank everyone who helped make Cambridge Summer College a great success.

We hope all the students had safe journeys home and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

Here’s to you, future leaders!