/ Which uni to choose?
There are lots of reasons why I'm undecided. Obviously cambridge has the prestige, but it also seems like an awful lot of hard work and I don't really like the city.
Sheffield on the other hand has not so good a reputation, but it's right next the peak district, has amazing night-life and appears to be way more chilled out.
I guess sheffield to me, represents having loads of fun and not really caring that much about my eventual career and cambridge represents spending my whole life in a library with the sole purpose of earning more money and getting a slightly better degree.
This is four years of my life and It'll probably affect a lot more afterwards. I'm just not sure what to do.
What would you do if you where in a similar position. And are there any civil engineers out there who have views on this, such as are cambridge graduates really more employable.
Depending what sort of nightlife you're after...yes the clubs are generally not great, but there is a huge social life within your college and between colleges which you don't get at other unis. Plus there are some pretty nice pubs, once you find them!
It's a long way from climbing - no getting away from that - and the wall isn't (or wasn't when I was there) great. That's a sacrifice you'd be making. But it does have a very active climbing club so you can get out every weekend if that's what you want.
I didn't do engineering, and haven't gone down a traditional oxbridge route of going into 'the city', but having a Cambridge degree has done me no harm whatsoever and has perhaps helped a bit. All of my engineering friends got jobs ok, though again this was a few years ago.
So based on my experience, I would go for Cambridge... But message Si_dH for the engineers perspective - he studied engineering at Cambridge (though not sure if civil?). There are quite a few ex-CUMC bods on here as well.
Do you have a good idea of what you want to be doing in 10 years' time?
> And are there any civil engineers out there who have views on this, such as are cambridge graduates really more employable.
I know nothing about civil engineering, but the answer to this will certainly be yes. Oxbridge degrees have prestige throughout the world. I guess it comes down to how important this is to you.
I would imagine that Sheffield will be more down to earth. I know that in some ways I have felt more at home in Manchester (I'm still here after 12 years!) than if I had been successful in my application to Oxford. On the other hand at Cambridge I would imagine you will meet interesting people from all over the world.
With regards to climbing, it is obviously no substitute to being on the edge of the Peak district, but a quick google indicates that Cambridge has a uni climbing club. If you're keen I reckon you could get away most weekends - AA route finder says Cambridge to Hathersage is 2 hrs 53 mins.
Ultimately only you can decide what to do, weighing all the various factors. Personally, I would think long and hard before declining Cambridge though.
... one more thing. I have just noticed that you're from the Peak. In my view it's worth going somewhere new for uni. If you've got a base in the Peak you can climb here in the holidays and can always move back afterwards.
> This is four years of my life and It'll probably affect a lot more afterwards. I'm just not sure what to do.
You're absolutely right. The people I know that went to Oxbridge ended up with radically different lives to the people who went to the red bricks like Sheffield. Seems to me that by going to Cambridge you would meet very different people, get very different opportunities and, if you want it to, could set you off on a very successful career path. Remember that careers are not just about money - if you're really good at what you do by 'getting on' you're fulfilling your potential in that area. If you look back and think "I could have done..." it's not a great feeling.
That's coming from someone who did a fairly prestigious degree but then wasn't actually bothered about a career at all and ended up in a job I hated - now I'm starting over.
It's a pretty serious decision and you've got the dilemma nailed - how much do you prioritise having more fun now over conventional "success"? Would you sacrifice one for the other? Although you're bound to have a great time at Cambridge, it's not going to be climbing on grit until you can crank out 8a boulder problems and cruise bold E6s, with a lot of fun going clubbing in between a little bit of work (which if you're good enough to get into Cambridge you could probably do and still get a good degree from Sheffield).
Think about looking back in 10/20 years? Will you think, "working my arse off with a bunch of toffs is simply not me, glad I went to Sheffield, it was great fun and I like my job now" or "I'm glad I went to Cambridge and made the most of my career, not many people have this kind of job - I'm seriously respected in my field, it's challenging and rewarding and I'm very well paid for being very good at what I do"...or other scenarios? Which scenario fits best with who you are?
Difficult decision - good luck!
[For what it's worth, I'd go to Sheffield. I'm not bothered about reaching great heights career-wise and I prefer more ordinary, down-to-earth people and don't have a lot of time for the rarefied and privileged side of life, I find it dull and stuffy. I felt better after I climbed Archangel than after any promotion or award I ever received at work!]
If I go to cambridge I can see this happening a lot of the time and not just for climbing, i get the feeling that everything, such as going out with my friends and going on runs would get marginalised to make more time for studying.
And when It comes to careers, i want a good one, but as long as it gives me enough money to get by comfortably and enjoy the free time I do get then i don't really care how much money i make.
Where I live, there are a fair few big houses with big fancy cars and massive TV's in there front rooms. When I see houses like this I don't really envy them, to me it just looks like they don't know what to spend there money on.
I don't want a career where I have to work stupid hours so that I have no time to spend the money I do earn.
I can remember a post on here a while ago that talked about having a reduced salary but also a three day weekend. Although I've got no idea what it's like earning money for a family, I've got a feeling I would fall firmly in the three day weekend category.
Fast forward a couple of years, and my course (Chemistry) started to actually require some effort... I discovered that in having let recreation drive my choices, I'd let everything slide... It's been an uphill battle ever since to achieve anywhere near my potential*
I'm not telling you to choose Cambridge, The prestigious universities have their own unique pro's and con's; but i would Strongly Urge you not to let your hobbies drive your choices, Whichever uni you choose... do it for the right (or should i say sensible) reasons.
*Point in case: I'm preparing for two exams next week, and I've had to turn down five invites to go biking/paddling/climbing today alone. It's hard, not least as I got to do so little 'fun stuff' when I was working to keep afloat as I figured out my options last year...
Nice to have options eh? Can you not go to Cambridge and if you find that after a couple of terms you feel you have made the wrong decision withdraw and reapply to Sheffield (or transfer directly for that matter). I worked at Oxford University for a while and I was gobsmacked by the difference between the student experience there and the student experience I had at King's London. Oxbridge is another world and one very few are able to experience. Let us know what you decide!
I then decided to cut down my partying in exchange for not having a hangover Sat mornings so I could get on rock
Worth thinking about, degree lasts a lifetime, uni only lasts 4 years.
Plus the diverse people you will meet may help at Cambridge
Tough call, but climbing can take a back-burner for 4 years to concentrate on your degree - it's a life-long sport, remember!
I'm in my 30s and back at uni again, on a totally vocational course. I simply couldn't have gone somewhere for 3 years that didn't have any climbing close by. Trips with 3h drives are not good enough for me - I need evening cragging, that simple. And even the career I've chosen has a lot to do with getting enough time free to go climbing.
I don't think there's anything wrong with letting climbing have an influence on your work life, so long as the balance is right for you. It's about deciding priorities and making them work so you don't miss out on something you really want.
Here's another angle - prioritise Uni for the next four years with the aim of getting a job that gives you the financial security to work a four day week for the rest of your life?
Congratulations on being offered places at Sheffield and Cambridge, no mean achievement!
Would getting a good degree at Cambridge require 'an awful lot (more) hard work' than getting a good degree at Sheffield? Obviously the mountains are further from Cambridge, but there's a very active mountaineering society with a fine pedigree. It is important that you choose both a course and place that suit you; if you're not sure, maybe visit both places again in the Spring for another look.
My experience of students at a Russell Group university is that 'having loads of fun' is becoming a bit less important than it was 10 / 15 years ago as they're making the most of their educational opportunities, very aware that they'll be paying back their loans for a long time.
Im a 2nd year engineer at cambridge and the CUMC meet sec so feel free to drop me an email if you've got any questions climbing/work etc wise.
Those that go for jobs in the city get a signification advantage having a degree from Cambridge (supposedly with a 2.1 often being equivalent to a 1st at Durham/Warwick etc). How much that transfers to engineering careers i don't know. I would guess however that the general stuff you learn in the first 2 years at Cambridge would give you an advantage promotions wise.
In my opinion getting a 2.1 at Cambridge will require more work than a 2.1 Sheffield, so if you ended up struggling at Cambridge and getting a 2.2 or a 3rd you might have been better off going to Sheffield and getting a 2.1.
One other thing to consider is how set you are on civil, as for me one of the main reasons i chose Cambridge was for the general course.
My two pence would be that a lot of people go to Oxbridge because they have a genuine passion for their subject and want to be taught by world experts in their chosen field. But to get the most out of the education side of things you might find that you don't have enough time to pack in everything else you want to do.
So I'd say you need to decide what matters more to you,plentiful climbing time or a learning experience like no other... bear in mind once you pass 1st year exams at Cambridge you can always try to transfer to a different uni if you find that the work ethic is not to your taste. In my mind three years spent getting a good degree isn't much of a sacrifice if it means having way more prospects later in life (and more opportunities to move to a suitable climbing location :P).
If you're interested in the research side then you need to be ok with working hard and prioritising your academic studies (and should probably go to Cambridge) -- though there's nothing wrong with "playing hard" as well as working hard. You'll find there's time for at least two main priorities; it's when you don't prioritise anything and just faff about that you run out of time.
Interesting one. I rejected Cambridge after striving very hard to get a place BEFORE I was into climbing. I escaped to Aberystwyth on a full History scholarship, stumbled into the mountaineering club there and have never looked back. I now teach climbing and enjoyed my 3 years by the seaside immensely.
University will change you. At A levels its all 'careers and finance'. The aim is to try and enjoy life, and let it all gradually fall into place. It's what you make it; even Oxbridge can't make your life!
Good luck with the future and all your exams :)
"I don't want a career where I have to work stupid hours so that I have no time to spend the money I do earn."
Ah-ha you have chosen the wrong career then! 6 days a week is very common. Nights are also common!
Regarding contracting or consulting, as a graduate contractor you would be most likely travelling between small sites within, say, a county in your company car, whereas if you worked as a graduate in a consultancy you will be based in an office. I have friends in contracting who have moved between large projects in scotland (some bridge near edinburgh), cumbria, all over the north. On the flip-side I have another friend in consultancy, and having wanted to go for that side for ages, now he's in it he hates it - based indoors almost all the time just stuck on a computer. He does bits for projects all over but doesn't actually see them.
I work for a surveying company (a big part of Civil Engineering, but the contracting side) and I work all over the UK, and the company I work for do jobs all over the world, infact we just sent a team to scan some Himalayas with a laser scanner for a month!
Wait till you get some experience before looking at contracting/consulting properly!
As for a uni choice it won't really matter. In ten years time a graduate of cambridge with an MEng and from sheff with an MEng will both be earning the same anyway!
I made the old list of pros and cons but it was still too close to commit to a decision, I spoke to all of my teachers, adult friends and contacts in the Engineering industry.
Although Newcastle would've been a slightly more interesting course, I figured that if I could get out climbing and exercising more often then I'd be happier have the motivation to study hard, so I chose Sheffield Hallam.
I have not looked much further ahead than the age of 24, when I will finish the course, I just want to study hard at a degree I will enjoy and have lots of fun climbing and cycling with friends at the same time.
If you do choose Sheffield, feel free to get in touch for a climb.
> If you're interested in the research side then you need to be ok with working hard and prioritising your academic studies (and should probably go to Cambridge) -- though there's nothing wrong with "playing hard" as well as working hard. You'll find there's time for at least two main priorities; it's when you don't prioritise anything and just faff about that you run out of time.
This is true, I think. When I was an undergrad at Cambridge there were a lot of people getting a lot of stuff done outside of their studies. You just need to accept that it's going to be a fairly manic lifestyle for the duration of each term and you might not be able to keep up with daytime TV at the same time.
The other thing to remember is that Cambridge terms are well short, so if you're based in the Peak outside of term then you'll spend about 50% of your year there...
As to whether it's worth it - dunno. Although it's worth reiterating something that other people have alluded to - the benefit of a Cambridge education isn't just that it puts you on a conveyor belt to a highly paid, highly stressful job in London, it can take you in all sorts of other weird and wonderful directions as well...
As an example, of myself and 3 of my close friends from uni:
I have a fairly average job, earnming a fairly average salary - with not a huge amount of career progression in my field
One friend is now a finance director of a small company, having started off in environmental consultancy, decided she wanted to earn more money and moved to train as an auditor at a big company.
One friend is a geography teacher
One friend decided after a couple of years of odd jobs she wanted to train as a chef and now has her own business teaching cooking classes - at the moment, earning very little.
Going to Cambridge will not automatically guarantee you a job with a shining salary, and it doesn't limit what you want to do. You could probably combine studying (and get a decent grade) with keeping climbing up (a couple of sessions a week and day at the weekend), and maybe odd night out. Plus terms are only 8 weeks long, so shorter than at other unis.
From personal experience I underestimated the value of the teaching at Cambridge when I was there. Having done my masters at Coventry (which I'm not suggesting is a valid comparison to Sheffield!), the amount of dedicated teaching time (inc small group sessions), quality of the lectures and professional set up was far superior at Cambridge.
If you like your selected subject (Civil Engineering) enough you won't care about working hard at uni. And I'm sure you can fit in climbing at Cambridge anyway.
I didn't care too much about working hard at uni because for me it wasn't really work doing a subject I loved (Mathematics). Of course I partied hard in the first year and still managed to have a decent enough social life in the next two years - plus I also worked a part-time job on the weekends.
My opinion anyhow.
I was in your situation (offers from Cam and Shef). I went to Cam. Do it.
I think I had as good a time at Uni as any of my mates. The climbing club was really active (and the wall is apparently better now), the city was great (have you spent much time there?), everyone was really nice, and you'll get a better degree than anywhere else. Yes you might have to work hard, but if you've got an offer from them, you are presumably capable of doing that already.
In terms of employability (I am an engineering employer although not civil), if you get a 2.1 from either you will have good prospects in engineering. Cambridge does have some extra cache but for me it wouldn't be a deal-maker - a decision between a Cambridge grad and a Sheffield grad with similar degrees would come down to interview. Although I don;t work in HR looking at the grad schemes - I'm only interviewing for specific jobs.
However, I'm sure I'm biased but I think Cambridge is a perfect place to be a student. Don't turn it down.
The pros of Cambridge have already been discussed, but I don't think the cons are as bad as you might think. I'm an undergrad at Oxford- I have 24 weeks of teaching per year and last term I got out on 5 weekends out of 7, all over the country. I also have 28 weeks off in which to do as much climbing as I like. I know Cambridge has an equally active climbing club, so if you're dedicated enough (I suspect you are if you're having this dilemma!) you can easily get out nearly every weekend in term, and go to other places than the Peak while you're at it. So what are you giving up, climbing-wise, by going to Cambridge? The opportunity to do some evening cragging during term and an extra 5h's driving per week, versus having gigantic holidays to do as much climbing as you want?
Go to Cambridge.
You'll have a great time at either, but Cambridge will give you a life-long extra few % on your CV no matter what you choose to do next.
I have done degrees at both Oxford and KCL and the gulf between the quality of the experience was pretty striking.
I'd always encourage anyone to take up an Oxbridge place and if they don't like it transfer somewhere else etc but give it a chance at least as both universities are pretty incredible places.
I went to Sheffield uni and loved it and ended up staying there for nearly 10 years - I liked the city and how easy it was to get to the peak (20 mins). I now in Manchester and it takes more like an hour.
However I would give Cambridge a try as it will be excellent education (and you are paying for that) plus it will open doors to prospective employers in a job market that is only getting my competitive. Cambridge is also not a bad place to live and has plenty to entertain especially with a bunch of uni friends! You can always live next to the hills and get climbing done later in life but I doubt you'll get another shot at Oxbridge.
You'll have great fun either way. Cambridge is beautiful, and the people are really lovely (honestly, fantastic bunch I know from there) and it will give your CV a golden edge, but there is NO REAL ROCK ANYWHERE!
Sheffield is a BIG city, absolutely everything there, and the university experience will be a more 21st century one (clubbing as opposed to formals, cans of beer instead of bottles of wine, shots instead of port, etc. ok, so I'm exaggerating a little bit :) ) plus, the peak!
There will be an active enough climbing club at Cambridge to keep you entertained with like minded people, you would be a fool to pass up that place, it really is game changer on your CV.
Best of luck (fellow engineer)
> I know nothing about civil engineering, but the answer to this will certainly be yes. Oxbridge degrees have prestige throughout the world. I guess it comes down to how important this is to you.
> I would imagine that Sheffield will be more down to earth. I know that in some ways I have felt more at home in Manchester (I'm still here after 12 years!) than if I had been successful in my application to Oxford. On the other hand at Cambridge I would imagine you will meet interesting people from all over the world.
> AA route finder says Cambridge to Hathersage is 2 hrs 53 mins.
You can do it in less than 2hr30. We also used to day trips to wye valley and swanage on occasion although the peak was the vast majority. I went up every weekend, sometimes twice. You get used to the long drives after a while!
Sheffield, for civil and structural engineering is almost on a par with cambridge, if it wasn't and if career prospects were drastically different after graduating then my decision would have been made very easily.
My uncle who studied at Cambridge in the 1960's and is now doing pretty well said that the weight employers put on the university that you go to is now significantly less than it used to be. Real life experience/achievements working in a given field count for a lot more than whether or not you went to Cambridge or Sheffield (both good universities).
In other words don't assume that you are sorted for life if you go to Cambridge, what matters more is that when your degree is over you are smart about how you get your foot in the door with the industry you intend to be in.
If I were you I would visit both of them, talk to the lecturers, talk to the students, look round where you will be studying, ask questions. I'm sure from that you will probably get a vibe about each of the places and realise which you are most psyched about studying at, that's how I was when I visited some uni's earlier this year anyway.
Cambridge is up with the very best in the world for the overall quality of facility, staff, high level educational support, peer intellect, active encouragement of involvement in non-academic activity (things like a climbing club). Why settle for something very much second best?
It also has short terms so the time away from climbing is less than you might think.
From my experience at Oxford this just isn't true: everyone makes time to do more. You get really good at managing your time and you get to do everything - go out, take up new sports, continue with old sports, meet great people, and studying gets to fit in around this. Sleep suffers, but you make up for it in the first week of the holidays!
I'm going to be different here... I considered applying to Cambridge (Computer Science) but for various reasons didn't and went for Manchester, and I don't even slightly regret it.
Quite a few reasons really, in no particular order:-
- Wasn't sure I was ready to move too far from home (though had I been really enthusiastic for Cambridge I reckon I'd have put up with it!) - in practice I moved into halls in my 2nd semester anyway.
- Preferred the way Manchester sold itself to me - Cambridge was too over-traditional and tried to push me towards maths, whereas Manchester had both historical prestige in CS and a very forward looking view at what was (late 90s) a very exciting time for IT in general.
- Manchester offered me the chance to combine with a foreign language (not many places did).
- I preferred the idea of working in a much more self motivated way in a big university to the collegiate approach.
- Having grown up largely in a market town (Ormskirk, Lancs) but with a big city in reach (Liverpool) I wanted to go and "play" properly in a big city for a bit.
I was (in my view and that of my school, and my A-level results would have helped) up to it but decided not to.
Didn't climb back then (I only really took it up in my 30s!) so that wasn't really a consideration - but had it been the location would have been spot on for it!
(Though to be fair I now live in Milton Keynes, though I do a lot of business travel and am at this very second in Vevey, Switzerland, and don't find getting somewhere to climb e.g. the Peaks all that much effort - Cambridge is slightly further north I think).
I haven't found having a degree from Manchester rather than Cambridge in any way career limiting. The approach I took was to go for a corporate graduate scheme (which was rubbish) but then found my way into a smaller IT Service Management consultancy some years later in which I am now very happy.
If Sheffield has a similar prestige for engineering as Manchester has for CS, I wouldn't think there's a big problem there.
But some of the answers may depend on if you live to work or work to live... I want (and I would say have) a good, fulfilling career which I enjoy and pays me well, but it isn't what defines me, IYSWIM. That might help you take my answers in context.
I reckon you'll make the best of whichever you choose. I don't know your industry, but I would say to look at more than just the high level - look in more detail at how you want to learn etc - you'll find the approaches of the two very different indeed.
For me, this is the key thing. It is only four years of your life. The Peak District will still be there when you are done. In today's tough world where everyone has a degree and four As at A level, you need to be able to distinguish yourself one way or another. Just because you have a Cambridge degree in civil engineering does not mean you have to pursue a career in that field but will be a massive help to you if you do want that.
You live in Sheffield, so I guess 90% (or more?) of your climbing is on the grit. Full term is only 24 weeks so you'll have more time at home than at uni, so you're not going to miss out on the grit.
If you go to uni in Sheffield, then most of your climbing during term time will be on... the grit. Again.
The thing about Cambridge (and indeed Oxford) is that, whilst there's not much climbing nearby, pretty much *all* of the best climbing in England and Wales is accessible. From Oxford, it's less than 3 hours to Portland, the Peak, Wye, Gower and Southern Sandstone. Within about four hours you get to Devon, Clwyd, Yorkshire and the southern lakes, and about 30 minutes longer gets you to North Wales, Cornwall, the northern lakes or Pembroke. Because of this, the OUMC climbs in all these places - a typical year sees us visit almost all those venues - and I believe CUMC is about the same. So the range of climbing you would get is far far greater than what you might get from Sheffield. Sure, you lose the ability to nip to the crag for thirty minutes in the evening, but tbh you'll be too busy for that anyway.
And you'll be come proficient at writing essays in the back of a minibus or in a tent, which is a useful life skill.
Cambridge. It may open doors you don't even know are there. For most peole it's not about big salary jobs in the city. They won't have offered you a place unless they are certain you're capable of it. It's not all posh gits; it's mostly people who are bright, hard working, interested in their subject, and most have something else interesting about them as well. I read an arts subject, but for some reason knew a lot of engineers - they were a pretty well grounded bunch, and I think they had more of a group ethos to get them through the work. Don't base a decision on three years access to local crags and a city you know - try something new. Like people say in the thread, there's plenty more to Cambridge than work. Get in touch with the college again which one, BTW, if that's not too nosy) and speak to an admissions tutor and a current student or two - I'd be very surprised if they couldn't arrange this.
I'm going to recommend Cambridge too. I studied there in the 90's and had a great time. Whilst there is no doubt you will be working very hard, remember that the terms are only 8 weeks long. For example you will be starting in early October, while your mates leave for uni in mid September and will be home for Christmas at the start of December. This means there will be plenty of time for climbing and you will also find it easier to get holiday employment as you will have more time available.
Everybody at Cambridge will have a whole load of top grade A levels, and like you, will also have other interests at which they excell. You will quickly learn how to work hard and play hard and get the balance right. You will not be spending 4 years in a library! Good luck whichever you choose.
Interesting pespective, but I think you're wrong. If you live 20mins from the Peak, it's brilliant. You climb on real rock all the time. You boulder several times a week all winter. You pop out soloing for a break in revision. You do classic, long limestone pitches in summer evenings. You go sport climbing when you want to get strong, or limestone bouldering if you're that way inclined. And if you have mastered (to whatever degree) bold grit, grit cracks, technical grit bouldering, trad limestone and short overhanging sport routes, I don't think that other rock types you'll find in N Wales (which of course is only 3h from Sheffield) or elsewhere are going to put up much of a fight.
In Spring, evening cragging is not 30mins - even when I was working full time, evening cragging was 4.30 'til 10pm. Besides, as a student you have oodles of time, could be a couple of days off per week plus weekends.
The reasons for going to Cambridge are purely about the university, you are having a laugh if you think that moving 3h away from the nearest crag is good for your climbing.
> The reasons for going to Cambridge are purely about the university, you are having a laugh if you think that moving 3h away from the nearest crag is good for your climbing.
But if it is all about the climbing, why waste £36k on a degree anywhere?
to the OP, you basically want to have as much time as possible as a student, DONT be in a rush to get into the career thing! best years of your life at Uni. If I was you I would study in Scotland and have a superb 4 years! Do Oil industry based engineering, scotland is the place, earn a fortune in the future. massive skills shortage predicted in the next 5 to 7 years
There is fun at Cambridge! I had so much fun in fact, that I did quite poorly on my degree (2:2)! Don't worry too much about what you want to do with the rest of your life quite yet.
If you want to work really hard and be geeky at Cam that's fine, if you want to priorities other things that's also possible (and the tutorial system means you will get good teaching).
I would spculate that the "only" reason to got o Sheffield is the climbing (I would caveat that by saying that I haven't been to Sheffield Uni so really how can I comment?!). But CUMC does seem like a good club.... My mate learned Winter Mountaineering there and went on loads of trips around the country and abroad.
I think you and a lot of people on this thread giving advice have got the wrong idea, unless acedemia has radically changed since I was there.
Cambridge's reputation speaks for itself but you are way wide of the mark thinking Sheffield is the easy option. Engineering degrees are intensive and if you set your sights on a first you will have your work cut out at Sheffield. I notice the Meng is accredited for Chartered status and the entry requirements are strict.
Of course there's masses to learn in North Wales (and many other areas of the UK) that you won't get in the Peak; I haven't had many multipitch abseil retreats in the dark off Stanage (thankfully I've not had *many* of them in North Wales, but you get the idea). And N Wales might be three hours away, but really, are you going to make the effort? The High Peak claim a massive five weekends away per year...
I think if the OP wants the easy option it's time to revisit whether he goes to uni or not.
But I didn't go for Manchester over Cambridge because it was the easy option.
While I find exploring the UK far more fulfilling than only climbing locally, what allows me to have great trips away is being happy on rock from climbing it several times a week. So when I'm in some horrific sea cave miles away from the Peak, I'm being freaked out by the incoming tide, piss-wet rock, hard moves and lack of gear, not just the fact that I'm out climbing for the first time in weeks!
I understand that Peak rock is not mountain or sea cliff experience (although negotiating your way around Beeston Tor can be much more challenging than a day on many sea cliffs!). But that experience can be gained in a few trips, which anyone at Sheffield with any motivation can manage. It's being out climbing several times a week that is good for your climbing and can't be replicated by being in an active uni club.
Also, Sheffield is full of climbers and climbing walls. A few of the Sheffield uni undergrads I've climbed with recently were not members of the club, they were out finding loads of experienced partners to climb with because there's hundreds. They're climbing E4s at Gogarth, E6s on grit, etc, not because they're members of an active club but because they live in a city which is next to a whole lot of accessible rock and has a massive climbing scene.
I fully endorse fulfilling your potential by choosing the best uni, and being a member of a great club that gives a breadth of experience round the UK, but I don't for a second believe that moving from the Peak to the South East of England is a sensible strategy for improving your climbing.
One more plus from Cambridge (sorry I'm biased) - it is (or was in my time - 10yrs ago) flexible.
I know people who changed from science to Engineering, from Engineering to Science, from Engineering to Ecconomics etc. after their first or even second year if they felt strongly that it was right for them (and had demonstrated reasonably good grades)
I think most universities will consider that if it's for the right reasons.
A few comments (and I know others have said the same):
1. Sheffield is not necessarily an easy option. You will need to work hard, unless you are a genius. However, it is true that it will be far far easier to go out climbing when you have free time.
2. Other than, that there is little doubt in my mind you would be best off going for Cambridge (and I have no axe to grind here).
3. I suspect you might well regret the lost opportunity for years to come if you reject Cambridge. For rather uninformed and badly thought out reasons I turned down Oxford many years ago and, hand on heart, I do regret it. I did not take counsel off anyone at the time and made what I am pretty sure was the wrong choice.
You have taken counsel off a fairly wide range of poeple herte, almost all of whom are active climbers and might be expected to suggest going for the Sheffield option, and yet 90%+ seem to be saying go to Cambridge. I would suggest you listen to that and at least consider it very carefully.
Going to a good university does not equate to how much money you want to make. In my case, if I had gone to Oxford and followed the career path that I was thinking of in relation to that opportunity, I would probably have ended up earning less than I do now. It's to do with opportunity and making the best of your talents - not having a big house/car/tv.
For me, though, I think exchanging easy access to the grit for, say, climbing indoors twice a week and going away every weekend to a different venue, for less than half of the year (and if you're going to get a decent degree, it's the half of the year when you ought to be busiest!) and spending the other half living in the Peak anyway... I don't think that'd be that detrimental in the long run. If the OP lived in the South-East, I can see it might be a different situation.
See - people can agree on UKC, it's not just pointless bickering for the sake of it.
I think it is important to dispel a few Cambridge myths though (the same myths that nearly put me off going)
It's not full of toffs (there are plenty, but there are also thousands of "normal" people too) and you will get to meet a huge spectrum of really interesting people from all different walks of life.
It's not boring - there is loads to do and because the work can be fairly intense people tend to get very good at organising their time off work to get the most out of it.
I didn't climb until after uni so can't comment there but I loved my time at Cam so would certainly recommend it. That said, I think you'd have a great time at Sheffield too and provided you get a decent degree it will do you no harm. I guess it comes down to climbing proximity vs. a slightly different uni experience.
The course is more general, but just as deep - what if, in two years time, you decide you would rather be an electrical/mechanical/chemical engineer, instead of a civil? In Cambridge, you will just choose modules to specialise in a different direction, whereas at Sheffield you will be stuck in a civil engineering course.
Someone mentioned the teaching; correct me if I'm wrong, but in Sheffield you won't get several hours a week of 1:1 or 1:2 contact with at very least a PhD student, if not a tenured academic and world expert, which is what you would in Cambridge.
Cambridge is very intense for the (rather short) duration of our terms, but you get the holidays to sleep in! I got away with doing nearly all my work within the 9-6 5 days a week window, and had evenings and weekends to myself, including lots of trips all over the country (rather than spending every single weekend in the Peak District). CUMC go climbing at least one day every weekend, CUHWC go for a weekend's walking/scrambling every other weekend, and some of the colleges have our own clubs in varying levels of activity. You then go and spend half the long summer vac in the Alps or Scotland...
I can't really comment on the Sheffield nightlife, but never let it be said that we don't have fun in Cambridge! I'd guess the typical student (I certainly do) has something on most evenings, whether training/rehearsal type or a formal/night out. The only thing that will suffer will be your daytime TV watching.
The one negative thing I will say is that even after 7 1/2 years here, the flat landscape still feels wrong... I have posters of mountains pinned up around my desk!
I don't know anyone here who regrets coming or would rather be somewhere else!
Havn't read all responses, and not an engineer but am a northerner who went to Oxford 05-08 so here's my two pennoth.
Oxbridge is hard but satisfying. People work and play hard, there are lots of hours in the day for you to fit multiple hobbies in if you want to if you're not chasing a first or watching daytime tv in your pjs every day.
I never felt uncomfortable or out of place there - there will be toffs but then there are at other universities too! They are just people and might be your new best friend. (The same goes for southerners in general which were a new species for me and are alright really *grins*)
University is a massive financial investment, you have to think about the return. If you just want the fun then why go to uni at all? Get any old job in a place you want to live for a few years and then think again about careers and studying. Or just have a gap year if you're sick of education and need a break. A levels are a pain, uni is easier in some respects.
Don't think that oxbridge degrees are only useful for certain career options, they are about getting skills and oppurtunities and yes, a certain kudos, that help you compete in whatever you want to do. Most of my uni friends are doing what they want, in a massive variety of sectors and locations. Lots of my school friends from home are not.
My career is not well paid, but fun, challenging and rewarding, thus competitive and hard to get into. My degree definitely helped me get into it in terms of raising my own expectations, my confidence, my communication skills and having a bit of paper from a particular place. Going out of my comfort zone geographically was a big boost too and opened up a new world.
You don't need a particular uni to get these things, but don't just write off Cambridge cos it will be hard. That is why there is kudos, because getting in is not the achievement, getting out the other end is (though drop out rates are extremely low!).
Why did you apply in the first place? Was it just expected by people cos of your grades? Does the learning challenge excite or interest you? Did you want a big name on your bit of paper? Are your family pushing you to go?
How did you feel when you went for interview, you must have got a sense of the place. Some people love it, some hate it. Either is valid, it's your opinion!
Uni is for 3/4 years, climbing is for life. Pick whichever you want and don't let anyone give you grief for it but base it on other reasons: not a false dichotomy of hard work/money chasing vs fun.
I think I should have mentioned earlier that I am really interested in civil engineering and have read loads of books on it, not just to put on my UCAS form, but because the subject matter really fascinates me.
I defiantly don't think Sheffield is the easy option. It's ranked consistently in the top 3 universities in the country for civil engineering. Where ever I go, I will defiantly work hard to get the most out of my degree but also play as hard as I can.
I think the fact that Sheffield is so highly ranked is the main factor that is making this decision hard, if it wasn't i would have chosen Cambridge by now.
Also I do realise that career prospects depend greatly, not on the university the applicant went to, but the actual applicant themselves.
Doesn't sound much different to my situation - at the time (late 90s) the ranking for Computer Science was:-
...if I recall correctly. Going for #2 on the list of grounds I posted upthread has not caused me any issues.
Spend time, research everything, then make a decision based on that - in either case you'll no doubt do well out of it.
I've just finished a masters in civil from Glasgow Uni. The last few years will be hard no matter where you go as you will want to get the best degree from it. The best Uni will mean you get the best teaching from it which makes a massive difference to how much you enjoy your course. I'd suggest you go to the best course you can, but take your time off seriously and make the most of it. A talk on an exped to Krygystan from a Cambridge Uni team is coming up in Glasgow soon, so they seem to be getting stuff done.
Another way to decide is to figure out what type of climbing you want to be doing? If it is bouldering and cragging, then Sheffield will allow a regular fix to get strong. If it is bigger stuff, or you want to explore then there will be different places you can go each weekend; from Swanage to Cornwall and Devon, to the Peak, Lakes and Wales if you choose a course further south. I chose Glasgow for the winter and mountain potential, but still found myself busy in the last few years so I struggled to get time for climbing.
OK - so you'd get the daily Girton cycle ride as well. Fitness routine thrown in for free. Good luck, whatever happens in the end.
Yes, of course. But don't underestimate the opportunities to demonstrate your personal qualities that having Cambridge on your cv will give you.
It's just inescapable that Oxbridge will sometimes give you an edge, often just when you need it.
In my own experience, university is what you make of it - there are opportunities to learn, succeeed and broaden your experiences (including climbing) at all universities around the country. And at any one of those institutions, there will be people succeeding and failing, working hard and slacking off, partying and revising, finding the course a joy or completely wrong for them. And a lot of ex-students don't really find out what they want to do with their careers until much later - maybe their mid to late twenties. Is deferring and taking a gap year an option? It's certainly something I would have found useful, in retrospect.
Good luck, I'm sure you'll do well.
I used to work in Sheffield so know the attractions of the Peak, but I would recommend Cambridge. CUMC is very active, the teaching is truely world class and the time passes very quickly and from the perspective of someone who graduated 35 years ago, what you do after matters more. You'll have plenty of time to climb later, perhaps with more opportunity due the value of a Cambridge degree, which I think still exists. But what a great choice to have...best of luck.
Another vote for Cambridge. I went there aged 17 from a state school in rural Scotland with a suspicion I should have gone to Glasgow instead. After 2 weeks, I never wanted to go back home (except for climbing obviously). As others have said the course is important but it is the layers Cambridge adds that makes it so unique (I can speak with some experience as I have since studied and worked at Glasgow and Liverpool Universities). 'Hard work' at Cambridge only means more time being taught and never was the 'work hard, play hard' more appropriate. Cambridge certainly isn't 'chilled' but you can do that when you retire. Night life is pretty rubbish in the 'gigs and clubs' sense but the University is more about people. In the front of the Gower guide book there is a quote: "If you are with the right people in the right place at the right time, what you are doing is irrelevant". Cambridge is the right place, your young adult years are the right time and I assure you you will meet the right people.
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