Chaos & Confusion – Cambridge Open Day

Ever wondered what could possibly go wrong on a University Open Day? Look no further – this blog entry is tailored to answer that exact question.

I set the alarm for 6 am, got dressed, ate, and sat on the sofa ready to go. Half an hour ticks by, and the rest of my family join me in the living room. Without our tickets. Cambridge Open Days get super packed and so they force you to book in advance (which I did, luckily), but no one had thought to print off our tickets.

Finally, tickets in hand and fifteen minutes behind schedule, we pile into the car. A short stop at the local garage to stock up on snacks (don’t do this – always bring food from home as it’s healthier and cheaper). Then we hit the road for the 2 and a half hour journey from Brighton to Cambridge. About halfway in, we come to a standstill.


I’ve dozed off at this point, catching up on some much needed sleep after exam season. While we wait for cars to start moving again, I compile the itinerary for the day. I’d booked a Vet School talk & tour for 12.30, so the plan was to spend the rest of the afternoon looking at colleges. That did not happen.

Just over an hour later, we arrive at the town. We paid for Park & Ride (£1 parking and £2.70 return bus fare) where you drop off the car and then take a bus into the centre. Not only was the car park packed to the brim, but the postcode provided by the website took us 20 minutes out from our destination, so we also wasted time searching up the right address and circling back round again to find the place.

The bus dropped us off on a random street. Using maps provided by the university, we discovered that part of the map had been cut off while printing. In a bad stroke of luck, it was the part we needed. All the information stalls and the shuttle bus to the Vet School campus were located at the Sidgwick Site, but alas – such a place did not exist on our partial map.

I took the lead, naturally, with my superior map-reading skills (small confession – this is not my first time visiting Cambridge), and took us to the main market square. The aim was to find someone who could point us towards Sidgwick Site. But the closer we drew to civilisation (the restaurants and the shops), the fewer people there seemed to be. Everyone with some common sense stayed home that day. We ended up backtracking to where we hopped off the bus. Finally, we spotted some Student Ambassadors.


The first one we made the mistake of asking was representing a specific college. The conversation went something like this: “Where can I get the shuttle bus to Girton College?” “Why don’t you come to Caius instead? You don’t need a bus to get here.” I must admire their persistence, but that didn’t stop me from tossing their brochure in the nearest recycling bin.

One Ambassador pointed us towards Emmanuel Street (handily the exact opposite direction to where we needed to go). Once we’d reached the bottom of the road, we found another Ambassador who went to Girton College. They lead us the right way, and we were soon caught up in a crowd of people heading to the Sidgwick Site.

The shuttle bus ran every twenty minutes and was a tiny cramped rackety thing that swayed when people stood up. By the time we actually reached Girton College, I needed to be leaving for the Vet School or I’d miss my talk. So, naturally, we asked the Reception desk for directions. Big mistake.

The footpath you sent us to search for was not ‘next to the primary school.’ The vet school was not ‘twenty minutes away’. In fact, the only thing that you were right about was that the refreshments you were supposedly providing hadn’t finished being prepared yet.


Tired, sweaty, and fifteen minutes late for the Admissions talk, we trudged onto the Vet School campus. With the help of some nice Receptionists, I managed to sneak into the Lecture theatre and I did make it to the tour on time.

Anyway, maybe it was the circumstances, but I have to say I didn’t find the organisational skills or the facilities at all impressive for a World Class University. I guess I was expecting a bit more class?

Not trusting ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, we decided to cut our adventures short for the day. It wasn’t worth the risk of being directed onto a plane to Paris rather than the bus back to the car park. We stopped off at Robinson College and the University Library, the highlight of the day, and then called it quits.

The drive home was a sober affair. We did spot a rainbow in the sky, but that did little to lighten our moods. Returning close to midnight, we tumbled into bed and vowed never to go on an Open Day again (until my sister starts applying to Uni, that is).


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