Abbey College Cambridge is a small, private college situated near the train station, in the city of Cambridge. They offer A-Level, GCSE and foundation courses although the subjects offered are somewhat limited due to size of the college. In terms of the application for the A Level course, it was fairly simple – most of my friends applied through their agents in Malaysia, ASA, but I opted out and applied directly. All I had to do was submit an online form, a statement of results and a personal statement, which was followed up by an informal skype interview. Entry into the course is not competitive and neither is it to obtain their partial scholarships, which is given based on your results in a test they conduct. Applying through the agents makes the process easier and enables you to meet some future schoolmates beforehand, so I would recommend using them.
The student community at Abbey is a close knit one. People from Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Russia and Nigeria make up the majority of students and there are few local students. There is no large segregation between people of different nationalities, although fellow countrymen tend to group together. The small student population, small class sizes and the common catered accommodation makes it easy to assimilate into the college. Most of the students at Abbey are competitive academically and college culture is very much driven by grades. Therefore, the extracurricular activities offered is somewhat lacking. There are a number of clubs but the range is by no means an extensive one. A fair bit are catered to help with subject specific UCAS applications, such as the Medic Club. Regarding college events, for what they lack in terms of frequency, they make up for it in terms of quality and fun.
The location of the college within Cambridge is convenient. It is a 20 minute walk from the accommodation halls to the furthest building and a 10 minute walk from the aforementioned building to the city centre. However, the buildings where lessons are conducted are spread out which makes it a bit tricky in between lessons. The construction of a new campus is scheduled to be completed by 2016 so newer students need not worry about the mad rush to get from one building to another.
Personally, the most valuable thing Abbey offered me were my teachers. They were dedicated and knowledgeable people who, as cliché as it sounds, were passionate about what they do. My physics teacher would leap whenever an exciting question was posed, my mathematics teacher would see me individually after school to run through certain topics, my economics teacher marked all my past paper essays overnight and my history teacher was such an inspiration, I seriously considered doing History at university. In all respects, there was a great deal of student support. The small class sizes meant that learning was often catered to each class and varied in terms of pace and teaching methods. Each student was assigned a personal tutor, with personal tutor group meetings each week and an individual meeting with the tutor every two months. My personal tutor would give me the push whenever I needed it and was definitely a key person in helping me settle in. At the college accommodation, I had house parents who would call me if I was late for curfew and come visit me with the college nurse whenever I was sick.
When applying for university, each student is allocated a UCAS advisor and a subject specialist who oversees the application process and assists in every way they can, such as giving feedback on personal statements. My UCAS advisor went out of his way to help me with mine, contacting his architect friends to look through my personal statement and application portfolios. My history teacher and personal tutor also vetted through my application and listened to my lengthy portfolio presentations, a testament to the sort of student-teacher relationship at Abbey. Contact between teachers and students is facilitated through emails and most teachers reply their emails within a day.
Retrospectively, the students and teachers form an integral part of Abbey College. The dynamics between students and students with teachers changes with each intake – it differs based on how large certain groups are, which subjects are being taken and which teachers you have. My view of Abbey may not have been as favourable if it were not for the community there, because the head administration of the college isn’t great and the fees are relatively high. However, the intimate college culture and its location in Cambridge make it an ideal environment to form relationships that would last a lifetime and to push yourself academically. For students looking for a gradual transition between the national education system and university life here in the UK, Abbey is one of the best places to go to. I found it easy to make friends quickly and constant interaction with other students helped me grow accustomed to different cultures. The teachers were always willing to help and this eased me into the more self-directed way of learning. In short, Abbey College Cambridge is a great college to learn, to grow and to find a home away from home.
Lim Li Ann is a self-funded student pursuing a degree in Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. When she isn’t glued to a drawing board, she’s probably looking for new places to explore, a good book or any form of food.