Ever wonder what life would be like studying Law at Cambridge university?
In this series, we asked current and past students what a day in their student life is like. This particular article is all about life as a Cambridge Law student, courtesy of Jiaqing Low.
My name is Jiaqing Low, I studied Law at Churchill College, Cambridge from 2017-2020.
I am an international student from Singapore. During my time at Cambridge, I was on the Organising Committee for my college annual Ball, and was President of my college Law Society.
What is Churchill College, Cambridge, like?
Churchill is one of the newer colleges, with modern brutalist architecture that appeals to me as a ‘city girl’. Being further away from the city centre also means less noise pollution and tourist presence compared to central colleges.
Churchill is, uniquely, a predominantly STEM subject college, with 60-70% STEM students in each year group and no more than five Law students in each year. However, I see this as an upside; the Law students form a very close-knit community across year groups, with rarely any competition between us for resources like library books. I have also found that the Arts and Humanities are not neglected at Churchill; there is a good balance of academic resources and activities.
A typical day starts by waking at 7:45AM and leaving my room by 8:30 to commence my 20-min walk to the Law Faculty, which is located on Sidgwick Site group of faculty buildings.
Many students choose to cycle around the city; Cambridge is a bike-friendly city and cycling can help you save significant travel time. However, you can get around on foot equally easily. Alternatively, there is a University bus service that runs past several colleges and all the faculty sites, with charges capped at £1 per trip for students.
Lectures commence at 9:00AM. on most days. First-Year students take four papers and can expect 2-3 lectures per day. Second and Third-Year students take five papers with 3-4 lectures per day.
The (Early) Afternoon
Most first-year lectures would finish around 12:00PM. Second and third-year lectures tend to run later since students get a choice of papers and the lectures are more spread out.
In between lectures, I go to the Squire Law Library to get some work done. ‘Work’ for a Cambridge law student is mainly reading textbooks to supplement the lecture content and writing (ungraded but supervisor-marked) essays on past-year questions.
The Squire Law Library is one of the best faculty libraries in Cambridge; it is devoted entirely to Law books, is incredibly spacious and well-lit. It also has one of the longest operating hours for those uninterrupted study sessions – opening till 9:00PM on weekdays as well as half-days on weekends. If you fancy a change of scenery, most faculty libraries are open to all students regardless of the subject.
Cambridge terms are only 8 weeks long, with no reading weeks. Thus, the workload can get quite intense, with Week 5 being the busiest – ‘Week 5 Blues’ is a term of Cambridge slang, and my worst Week 5 had me juggling 4 supervisions to prepare for and 3 essays to submit.
However, the shorter terms also mean longer vacations; I am able to set aside time in the vacation to catch up on undone reading and plug the gaps.
For lunch, there are three options available:
Dining Hall food is the most affordable option, averaging £4 for a filling hot meal. The campus cafés offer a good selection of sandwiches, salads and pastries.
As for the town, the Market Square is my favourite haunt, for its wide variety of stalls serving street food from all over the world. I am partial to the Chinese dumplings stall; there’s nothing quite like sinking my teeth into a steaming hot, succulent dumpling, especially on a frosty winter day.
The (Late) Afternoon
The late afternoon between 3:00-6:00PM is usually when supervisions are scheduled. Supervisions are the pièce de résistance of the Cambridge experience—nowhere else will you have the opportunity to sit with a leading academic in the field together with no more than four other students, and quiz them on aspects of the topic that you did not understand or hear their opinions on a controversial part of the law.
This is especially valuable in Law since so much of it rides on ideas and arguments. Supervisions are scheduled to last for an hour, but this is rarely enough given the depth and breadth of content covered in each topic; I usually find that the sessions extend by 15-30 minutes.
In the evenings around 6:30PM, I have dinner with my college friends in the Dining Hall. In the summertime Easter Term, we can choose to eat outdoors on many grassy courtyards around college – Churchill is one of the only colleges which allow people to walk on the grass lawns. Alternatively, on special occasions such as a friend’s birthday, I would dress up and attend a Formal—a three-course meal served in the Hall.
Formals are another highlight of the Cambridge experience, and some students try to attend Formals in every college, dubbed the ‘Formal challenge’. Formal culture varies by college; most colleges will require attendees to dress smartly and don gowns, and some have stricter rules of conduct whilst others are more laid-back.
Churchill falls into the latter; it is the only college that does not require gowns, and you can find attendees singing birthday songs to their friends towards the end of the meal. If I don’t have a Formal, I am usually back in my room by 7:30PM, where I spend the rest of the night working, though generally at a more relaxed pace.
I take breaks to clean my room, do laundry, call home, listen to music, go onto YouTube and Facebook, etc. The day typically ends at 11:00PM – late nights do happen occasionally, especially in Week 5, but can generally be avoided or minimised with careful time management.
A Little Extra Day In The Life At Cambridge Info!
Due to its history and presence of strong traditions, Cambridge understandably has a stereotypical reputation of being full of posh snobs of elite backgrounds – however, I have found this to be untrue, and would urge prospective applicants not to be put off by this perception. For one, the numbers don’t lie; the state school intake to Cambridge has been on the rise in recent years. Churchill, in particular, has one of the highest/top state school intakes of all Cambridge colleges.
Most fellow students I’ve met are incredibly down-to-earth and welcoming, and everyone in my year group at college and the faculty is happy to mix around, chat and hang out with one another. For example, I met my close college friends at the most unexpected place—the freshers’ week consent workshop—and made friends at the faculty simply by sitting beside them lectures or sharing tables at lunch.
If nightlife is for you, Cambridge has a decent clubbing scene with student nights at different clubs nearly every night of the week. However, if nightlife is not for you, don’t fret—coming from someone who neither drinks nor clubs, I have never felt any peer pressure. Balancing work and social activities can be challenging at Cambridge since the terms are so short and the workload so intense.
I find that rigorously planning my schedules ensures that I can always monitor and be in control of where my time is going—I can ensure a steady stream of activities to keep me going throughout the term, and I can fully immerse and enjoy myself in the activity without worrying about undone work. You do need to do some introspection to find where the balance lies for you; mine lies at 1-2 big social activities per week, but I have friends who engage in more and have done equally well academically.
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