Cambridge has one of the oldest and most prestigious law faculties in the country. This means that a Cambridge law degree is particularly well-respected, and matched only by Oxford in the graduate careers market.
As a result, it is difficult to get a place and hard work once you arrive. However, the standard of teaching is extremely good, with a large number of textbook writers and ‘big names’ lecturing at the Faculty. This premier position seems secure, with Cambridge consistently topping University League Tables.
The Law Faculty is in purpose-built modern glass building, designed by Lord Foster in 1995. All lectures and seminars take place in the faculty, which also houses the ‘Squire’ Law Library. The three lecture theatres are large and comparatively comfortable, though they are in the basement so there is no natural light.
The building itself is fairly functional, and looks a bit like an airport on the inside. However, it boasts a cafe and plenty of computer access, though no common room as such. The library is one of the largest in the UK, and easily satisfies any undergraduate curiosities. The building itself is central, on the Sidgwick Site along with most Arts subjects and close to the city centre and colleges.
The faculty is one of the largest in the country, with 740 undergraduates and just under 100 academic staff. Lectures are given at the faculty, with undergraduates receiving between 8 and 12 hours a week. The additional teaching is organised through Cambridge’s 30 colleges, with each student having a Director of Studies in their college who will arrange ‘supervisions’ with a relevant Fellow in each subject. First year students sit four papers - Constitutional Law, Civil (Roman) Law, Tort and Criminal Law – which are supervised in 10 one hour sessions per subject over the course of the year.
In the second and third years, there are five subjects and therefore 50 supervisions rather than forty over the year. Supervisions normally take place in groups of 2-5, and provide the focus for study. Supervisors will provide reading lists and assess work. This system has some significant benefits – students are given access to experts in the relevant field in small numbers, and given the opportunity to articulate their views.
This gives excellent preparation for the three hour exams that determine all papers (with the exception of an optional dissertation option in the third year), and avoids the frequent undergrad complaint that the faculty appears faceless and impersonal. However, this method does not suit everyone, and there are occasional complaints that it is better suited to male students because of the adversarial style. While most supervisors are adept at getting the best of their students, quieter people arguably run the risk of falling behind.
Overall, the supervision system is definitely a selling point for Cambridge, offering a very personal teaching style not available anywhere else but Oxford.
Cambridge is a small city (population about 125,000) in East Anglia, about 50 minutes by train from London. There is no campus at the university, but the colleges are all in the city centre, much of which is made up of university buildings. This means that almost everything is within walking distance, making life pretty convenient for students. There are two universities in the city (the other being Anglia Ruskin), which makes Cambridge very student-heavy during the academic year.
There are plenty of student-friendly bars, pubs and clubs to meet this demand, but only allowing for the size of the city centre. Cambridge’s nightlife is fine, but it doesn’t compare well to larger places like Manchester, London, or even Oxford. So there’s plenty to do, but Cambridge can seem a little quiet to those used to larger towns. The city is beautiful, on the upside, stuffed full of stunning architecture and scenery - punting on the Cam and walking round King’s College Chapel are just two highlights.
And while there may not be the pubs and clubs you’d find elsewhere, Cambridge has plenty of drama and music to keep you occupied. The Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) Theatre is an entirely student-run venue in central Cambridge putting on a main and late show every day throughout term times. Music and drama also take place on a smaller scale in the colleges, though there is also The Junction and The Corn Exchange for bigger stuff.
Cambridge is often rated in student surveys as being an expensive place to live. This is misleading, because it actually reflects the fact that Cambridge students are, on average, better off (only Oxford has a higher number of privately educated undergraduates), and so spend more. In fact, rent is very cheap because almost all colleges can house all undergraduates in college accommodation, which is often heavily subsidised. The average weekly rent is probably between £60-£80, though the rooms are among the largest you will see in UK universities.
Drink prices are standard southern rates, roughly £3.00 a pint, though college bars can be as cheap as £1.20 for a budget option. The tuition fees at Cambridge are the maximum allowed (about £3000, as at most universities), though Cambridge boasts an impressive bursary scheme through its Isaac Newton Trust. The university’s pledge that no student will be prevented from studying for financial reasons is therefore quite accurate even after top-up fees. The downside, however, is that the University prohibits paid work during term time, so that students will concentrate on their studies.
Obviously this is difficult to enforce, but very few people find they have time for a job on top of their academic work. This is because the terms are short (8 weeks) and intense, though this allows for work at Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays if necessary. The Law Society has a small membership fee (about £10), with book costs being the usual, expensive £20-£40. However, as each college has its own library, many Cambridge students find they can avoid buying too many books with so many (often literally) a stone’s throw away.
Transport costs are almost non-existent, unless you want to visit London (£15), as everyone walks or cycles round the town. Food costs are variable from college to college (all accommodation is catered), though a termly bill of £250-£300 for two meals a day is probably average. The only central supermarkets are Sainsbury’s and M & S.
Cambridge has an active University Careers Service available for consultation but few law students use it because if a legal career is planned, much of the information and guidance is available at the Faculty. Law fairs occur on a termly basis, as well as the many opportunities to talk to barristers and solicitors over champagne or dinner (yes, they really do take people out to dinner!).
Directors of Studies in college also tend to offer sound advice, although their proficiency and interest does vary. As a rule, students at Cambridge find that work experience and advice finds them rather than the other way round (with a bit of effort from the student too, of course). That said, the Careers Service can be useful as an impartial advisor, and for people thinking of less traditional work after graduating.
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Guardian School Law ranking:
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University of Cambridge
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