When it comes to academic prestige, Cambridge is the Harvard of the U.K. It’s notoriously difficult to get into, with more than 16,000 undergrad applicants vying for one of 3,400 places.
So it makes sense that the students who pass the long and rigorous interview process deserve to be here.
They’re inventors, actors, athletes, and philanthropists — and some of the most impressive students we’ve met.
Homerton College, class of 2016
Adam Crafton has been writing about sports for U.K.-based publication The Daily Mail since he was 16, and last summer was finally named the Manchester Football Reporter for the paper's online division, MailOnline. In this role, Crafton covers one of the most demanding and competitive beats in the country by conducting exclusive interviews, planning features, and reporting breaking news.
Crafton admits he's not gifted in playing sports, but his sportswriting has been widely read and recognised. In February, Crafton was nominated by the Sports Journalist Association for the Young Sports Writer of the Year Award -- an impressive accomplishment for a 19-year-old. The year before he was nominated for Feature Writer of the Year at The Guardian Student Media Awards.
During the semester, Crafton works as a contributor for MailOnline, and during school breaks he's a full-time reporter. He resumed his full-time position this summer, with a focus on the World Cup. He's also a prolific writer for Cambridge publications, including his work as a contributing editor to The Cambridge Tab, the most widely read student publication in the U.K.
Outside of his work as a sportswriter, Crafton has been a soccer coach and referee since the age of 14 and, after a four-week intensive, gained professional coaching qualification.
The French and Spanish major, who speaks five languages, ferries off to Barcelona in August for a year abroad. He plans to combine teaching at a school with sports journalism in Barcelona while writing a book. When he graduates in 2016, Crafton hopes to join a graduate scheme (similar to a work-study program) at a national newspaper.
Amber Cowburn started a national mental-health organisation with her family after a devastating tragedy.
Emmanuel College, class of 2015
Amber Cowburn suffered an unimaginable loss when her brother, after a short and debilitating period of mental-health issues, took his own life in 2010. She and her family were determined to enact positive change after the tragic event. They set up The Invictus Trust, a charity to support teenagers with mental-health issues that started off as a local organisation to her county of Cornwall, but soon gained national support.
Today Cowburn and her sisters organise all the fundraising events and lead branding efforts, with Cowburn at the helm of their online and social-media presence. To date, they have raised over £50,000, produced three short films that were picked up and broadcast on Sky TV, and started lobbying for a £5 million adolescent-specific mental-health unit in Cornwall, the first time this age group has been recognised in patient care.
Cowburn is also an unwavering mental-health advocate at university. As the president of the Cambridge chapter of Student Minds, Cowan organised the largest mental-health conference ever hosted at Cambridge, which included five key speakers and the debut of the first-ever video of students talking about their mental-health issues. The event was over capacity, and was attended by the chief executives of the three largest mental-health organisations in the U.K.
Outside of her work in the mental-health field, Cowburn is a jack-of-all-trades. At various points she's worked as a professional Bollywood dancer, photographer, and brand ambassador, and is passionate about fitness.
Cowburn, whose mother is an entrepreneur, hopes to go into business. With dreams of one day starting her own fitness brand, Cowburn hopes her upcoming summer internship at Goldman Sachs will give her a well-rounded insight into big business.
Murray Edwards College, class of 2015
Last month, Carina Tyrrell ran against 11 young women for the title of Miss Cambridgeshire and won, which now puts her in the running for the prestigious title of Miss England. Contestants for Miss Cambridgeshire are scored on more than just beauty: They have to be sporty, personable, eco-friendly, charitable, and talented (Tyrrell is a skilled tap dancer).
Tyrrell's charity is Beauty With A Purpose, a Miss World nonprofit that donates money to disadvantaged children around the world. She has raised over £3,000 for her cause, and will continue campaigning until the Miss England finals in June.
When she's not prepping for her upcoming competition, Tyrrell spends a lot of time at Cambridge University's teaching hospital, Addenbrooke's, where she works as a student doctor as a part of her premed degree. There she studies under physicians to learn good bedside manner, a skill she says is fundamental to being an effective doctor. Tyrrell will receive a first-class honours degree -- meaning perfect grades, essentially -- when she graduates, an esteemed accomplishment achieved by just one in six undergrad students.
Tyrrell is the president of Cambridge's Global Health Committee, through which Tyrrell is championing a project to help the homeless community in the surrounding Cambridge area.
Tyrrell was born in Switzerland and speaks French fluently. She plans on spending the summer working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva developing leadership and international-relations skills. She eventually aims to become a doctor and work in the global- and public-health fields.
Trinity College, class of 2015
Isabel Adomakoh-Young has been writing fantasy chapter books for young readers with her mother under the pen name Zizou Corder since the age of 7. The first book they cowrote, 'Lionboy,' launched their famous trilogy about a boy who can speak to cats. The books received high praise, and Adomakoh-Young and her mother went on to write two more books after the trilogy: 'Halo' and 'Lee Raven, Boy Thief.'
The 'Lionboy' books have been published in 37 languages, and the authors made initial film deals with both DreamWorks and Warner Brothers. Though the film deals fell through, the books were adapted for the stage by a British theatre company that toured the U.K. in 2013. Adomakoh-Young served as a consultant to the theatre company on the play productions, and did a little performing as well.
Adomakoh-Young is the cofounder of Brainchild, a nonprofit dedicated to developing creativity and inspiration in artists and audiences. Last summer, Adomakoh-Young planned the organisation's weekend-long arts festival of workshops, panel discussions, and music and theatre performances, attended by 800 people.
At Cambridge, Adomakoh-Young is the commissioning editor of Ladybeard, a Kickstarter-funded feminist magazine, and writes and performs in Pecs, an all-female drag show that performs sold-out shows in London and Cambridge.
This summer Adomakoh-Young begins internships with Marie Claire and First Story, a U.K.-based nonprofit that works to combat illiteracy and inspire young writers. When she graduates, Adomakoh-Young hopes to launch a travel-writing project she calls 6 Degrees and become a novelist or playwright.
Trinity College, class of 2015
In 2010, James Popper represented the U.K. at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in San Jose, California, where he submitted his design for an inexpensive, effective, and sleek-looking infrared fire detector. His aim was to develop a kitchen-based device that would respond quickly to danger with fewer false alarms.
The alarm works through an electromagnetic detector that senses infrared radiation from flames, meaning it detects fire more quickly than a traditional smoke detector, which doesn't detect fires until -- or unless -- smoke reaches it, at which point it could be too late.
Popper's innovation won in the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering category, as well as a couple of others, making him the most successful European ISEF participant to date, and sparked his desire to create and sell this fire-detecting product to consumers. Popper incorporated into a company, Sinclair Fire, and is now doing a large-scale trial phase with his product. Many units are installed throughout Cambridge University residence halls, and Popper is working closely with Fire and Rescue services to install the device in social housing in the near future.
Outside of school, Popper is an officer cadet in the British Royal Air Force Reserves.
When he graduates in 2015, Popper hopes to build and expand Sinclair Fire, capitalising on his product to gain a foothold in the market. Popper has plans to launch a series of complementary fire-safety products and create a brand that sells reliability, innovation, and a consumer-focused mindset.
St. John's College, class of 2015
Joseph Mambwe was nearly failing his first-year software module when he started his app company, Ruvix. The company started simply as a way for Mambwe to challenge himself but it grew into a series of apps that were being downloaded by tens of thousands of users in more than 130 countries. His app GymStreak was featured on iTunes as the No. 1 new U.K. fitness app. Mambwe incorporated, and he now manages a handful of employees to help him keep the company and its 11 apps running.
At the start of his third year in school, Mambwe created a local mobile social-discovery network for Cambridge students. Called TipOff, the network allowed students to engage in events and get discounts, news, and recruitment opportunities in the area. It gained over 1,000 student sign-ups in one week before it even launched. Mambwe took the network down when it became too big for him to handle, but he's in talks with an investment fund looking to acquire it.
Mambwe is getting a video-production product patented that he developed with three of his peers. While he can't divulge much information in the middle of the patenting process, Mambwe says the product 'could change the way millions of people shoot video.'
Inside Cambridge, Mambwe has consulted for the university's Manufacturing Engineering department, and won three awards in all three categories of the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) Ideas Take Flight 2013 business-pitch competition.
Mambwe, who grew up in Zambia, graduates in 2015 and says he'll 'be an entrepreneur until the day I die.' He plans to continue growing Ruvix, but he has an obsession with commercial space travel and is considering this industry as a potential area in which to grow and create.
St. John's College, class of 2015
Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan started experimenting with spoken-word poetry to advocate for women of colour and the issues they face, and found she not only enjoyed it but excelled at it. In November 2012, she won the Benjamin Zephaniah Poetry Competition for a poem on female genital mutilation, and she realised that her performances had the power to inform, entertain, and educate.
She's since written about other issues, including human trafficking, domestic violence, and racism, and won several competitions. In November 2013, Ogunseitan was invited to be a keynote speaker at the global TEDx Youth conferences, where she performed.
Ogunseitan is no stranger to the stage. In the fall of 2012, she directed, coproduced, and acted in the first all-black, all-female production in Cambridge history. The show, 'For Coloured Girls (Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf),' based on the famous poem by Ntozake Shange, uses poetry, song, and dance to confront subjects like rape, sisterhood, love, and abortion. The sold-out show was revived this past fall in the London theatre for a one-night-only performance that sold out in 24 hours. Ogunseitan acted in this show, along with fellow Cambridge cast member Ifeyinwa Frederick.
In addition to her work in poetry and performance, Ogunseitan cofounded, with recent graduates Robyn Taylor, Susy Langsdale, and current undergraduate Priscilla Mensah, FLY, a forum for minority women at Cambridge to meet and support one another.
When she graduates, Ogunseitan hopes to work in the social-justice field, on issues of human and sex trafficking. Her plans aren't too clear yet, she says, but as freedom means a lot to her, her ideal would be 'to become a modern-day abolitionist.'
Clare College, class of 2014
As a high-school senior, Mark Chonofsky's plant-sciences project won first place at the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He sequenced DNA from Taxaceae, a plant family that includes about 30 species, and used the information to resolve its evolutionary history.
His prize: a minor planet. Discovered in 2000, planet 25662 now bears his name. And while Chonofsky lost interest in molecular systematics over time, his win turned him on to contemporary quantitative methods in biology.
At Cambridge the Lexington, Massachusetts, native has immersed himself in biology, chemistry, and physics. He recently coauthored a paper in the Molecular Biology of the Cell journal, detailing his research for new variants of a cellular protein, dynein, and its regulators that could account for genome sequence mutations in yeast. Dynein in yeast is similar to in humans, and could lead to better understanding of diseases arising from dynein malfunction.
This fall, Chonofsky will begin teaching 11th- and 12th-grade maths and physics in East London. He plans to return to research eventually.
And as for his minor planet, he's keeping an eye on it. 'It has absolute magnitude 13.9, which means it's too faint to be seen by most amateur astronomers,' Chonofsky says. 'Some day I hope to have access to a sufficiently powerful telescope. But for now, it's nice to know that it's there.'
Trinity College, class of 2015
As a mathematics major, Michael Dunn Goekjian didn't expect to have much overlap with the arts or current affairs. Through his experience with the Cambridge Union Society -- the world's oldest debating society, which counts 70% of Cambridge undergrads as members -- he's duked it out with students around the world on everything from interest rates to doping in sports.
Goekjian, 19, serves as the society's youngest president in recent memory. The role tasks him with coordinating weekly debates and speakers (past line-ups include Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the Dalai Lama, and Muammar Gadhafi), managing the 50-member committee, and ensuring that the society meets its long-term goals and charitable objectives.
The hallmark of his tenure has been passing a new constitution for the society, a task that has beleaguered various presidents for years. Working with a leading charities lawyer, Goekjian drafted a shorter constitution that better aligned the society's governance with best practice in the charities sector, and secured approval from trustees within the first week of his term.
The London native works hard on the debate circuit as well. He's represented the Union at tournaments in New York, Paris, Dublin, and India, and in April, reached the final of the HWD Round Robin, a high-level tournament that invites collegiate champions from around the world. After arguing for motions he fundamentally disagreed with, he was named the fourth-best overall speaker at the tournament.
Goekjian will intern in securities at Goldman Sachs this summer and plans to pursue a career in finance or politics.
Fitzwilliam College, class of 2015
Geography Tripos major Olivia Taylor serves as the president of the Cambridge University Expeditions Society, a 110-year-old organisation that exists to support students in continuing the great British tradition of exploration.
She caught the mountaineering bug at 16, and when she arrived at Cambridge she set out to make her time there as adventurous as possible. ('Which is a bit of a challenge, for someone who loves mountains living in East Anglia,' Taylor says, referring to the land's flatness.) She joined the near-defunct CUEX society -- whose alumni include Sir David Attenborough, Peter Scott, and Sir Vivian Fuchs -- and revived it.
Each year, several expeditions gain university approval and teams of students head off to remote places in the world. Taylor has traveled to Svalbard, the Alps, and the Indian Himalaya, and independently organised an all-women expedition to northern Iceland. The logistics of planning that trip challenged her, as did the experience of one of the tents collapsing their first night, but she says it made the success sweeter.
This year she aligned her academic interests with her passion, and will be leading an expedition to a part of the Indian Himalaya accessible only by foot to research the social narrative of climate change. Students will immerse themselves in the community and live-blog from the field to create a lasting record of experiences, not just statistics.
Taylor, a native of North West England, hopes to pursue a career in nonprofits or expeditioning.
Corpus Christi College, class of 2014
Ryan Anmar is the kind of guy who watches 'Lord of the Rings' on mute so he can 'do all the voices.' A self-described Kiwi -- Anmar attends Cambridge on a scholarship awarded to one New Zealander each year -- he lends his comedic talents as vice president of the Cambridge Footlights, a 120-year-old comedy troupe.
During his Footlights tenure Anmar has received critical acclaim. His stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's 'Esio Trot' garnered rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and four stars from The Times. He wrote 'The Golden Fleece,' which was shortlisted for the Harry Porter Prize, and performed in sold-out productions.
Next up Anmar will tour Footlight's flagship show for nearly four months, completing runs in London, Edinburgh, Heidelberg, and the U.S. The hour-long sketch show combines sketches, monologues, and songs written and performed by a cast of five, and expectations run high. Footlights alum John Cleese's international tour show transferred to London's West End, while the show performed by alumni Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson was picked up and broadcast by the BBC.
Anmar, who cowrote this year's family-friendly Footlights production 'The Princess and the Pea' and authored his first children's novel this year, hopes to write for children's television one day, either with Nickelodeon in the U.S. or Pukeko Productions back in New Zealand.
Pembroke College, class of 2014
At the age of 12, Skandar Keynes was attending a small acting class after school. A casting agent walked in and thought, with his mop of dark brown hair and rosy cheeks, that Keynes looked right for the part of Edmund Pevensie in the film adaptation of the classic children's books by C.S. Lewis.
Seven years later, the 'Chronicle of Narnia' franchise -- including 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, 'Prince Caspian,' and 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' -- raked in a lifetime gross of over $US500 million and made Keynes an international celebrity.
For Keynes, his blood runs Cambridge Blue. He is the nephew of two Cambridge professors: historian Simon Keynes and neuroscientist Roger Keynes. After the London-born actor wrapped the third instalment in 2010, he entered the university to study Arabic, Persian (Farsi), and Middle Eastern History.
The son of a British father and Lebanese mother, Keynes is passionate about the latter part of his heritage, having spent childhood summers in Lebanon. 'I was always frustrated at not being able to speak the language myself, and so I first approached my course (of study) out of a desire to put that frustration behind me,' Keynes tells Business Insider. 'Since the beginning, I've been captivated by the history, politics, and culture of the wider Middle East and North Africa region.'
For the past four years, Keynes put his acting career on pause -- explaining, 'I had found an area of study that I was really passionate about, and I couldn't rationalize delaying taking that opportunity.' While he hasn't discounted a return to the movies, he's secured a couple of post-graduate internships and plans to pursue a career related to his studies.
St. Edmund's College, class of 2014
Each year more than 7 million Brits tune in to watch The Boat Race, an annual rowing race between rivals Oxford and Cambridge. In his time at Cambridge, Wisconsin-native Steve Dudek has emerged as a dominant and unexpected force in the U.K.'s most beloved sport, and was awarded Triple Blues -- the highest possible athletic achievement -- for the sport throughout his rowing career.
As president of the Cambridge University Boating Club, Dudek says the role differs from how team captains operate in the U.S. While the leadership element remains critical, he represents the school's most popular team in a much larger public sphere. He does interviews with the BBC and other media, interacts with sponsors -- including their chief supporter Bank of New York Mellon -- and sits on the executive committee.
On top of those responsibilities, he commits 40 to 50 hours each week to training with the team.
Dudek's reach stretches even further as the chairman of the Blues Committee, the student-led governing body of the university's men's sports teams. It is responsible for awarding athletes with Full and Half Blues, which is the nearest equivalent of receiving a 'letter' in American parlance.
Dudek double-majored in English and History at University of Wisconsin, Madison, before returning for a second undergraduate degree in land economy at Cambridge. He hopes to pursue a career in asset management or investment banking.
Robinson College, class of 2016
The U.K. cyber-security challenge is a rigorous and competitive year-long competition that tests each competitor's knowledge and skills in a simulated cyberattack on the U.K. financial system. Will Shackleton beat out over 3,000 other entrants and 41 finalists in this year's competition, receiving a choice of prizes worth over £100,000.
During the tournament, Shackleton was given a realistic scenario in which the U.K. financial system faced a cyberattack. He had to assess the situation on a technical level, write reports, suss out the attack with a panel of real cyber-security experts, and give press conferences that were filmed by the BBC.
Shackleton entered the competition last year but didn't win; he upped his skills by reading and studying cyber security to win in 2014. Some of Shackleton's prizes include invitations to conferences, memberships in professional cyber-security organisations, and career-enhancing training courses.
On the side, Shackleton sings in two choirs and plays in a jazz-funk band with other Cambridge students.
The rising junior will be interning at Facebook this summer doing backend programming, and looks forward to playing with large amounts of data and the technologies the company has developed. He plans to go into the cyber-security industry after he gets his degree.
Churchill College, class of 2016
Yang-Fan Zhou has been called the U.K.'s 'prospect for a golden future' in chess. Once the U.K.'s youngest master, he used his gap year after high school to achieve the grand master title.
During the last decade in the U.K., junior standards have slipped with more and more high-school students ditching chess at the secondary level. Zhou was the first to achieve the lower-level international master status since junior titans Gawain Jones and David Howell.
Zhou, who maintains a FIDE score of 2,478, beat out other under-21-year-olds to become the British under-21 chess champion. He's reeling in wins for the university. Zhou was the Cambridge No. 1 in the varsity chess match against longtime rival Oxford, which the team drew this year.
His utter dominance in the sport is projected to spark other talents -- in the same way that '70s chess star Tony Miles drove young people's interest in the sport.
The London native is studying chemical engineering and plans to go straight into a master's program, which he will complete in 2017.
Emmanuel College, class of 2015
Inspired by the 'I, Too, Am Harvard' and 'I, Too, Am Oxford' campaigns to kill prejudice among elite institutions, Yasmin Lawal launched the 'I, Too, Am Cambridge' campaign, a photo series that highlights incidences of discrimination and stereotyping that occur at Cambridge. Lawal's initiative, however, also expands to highlight positive experiences. Her nationwide movement went viral, and has been covered by media outlets like The Guardian, Varsity, and BuzzFeed.
As the Cambridge Student Union Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) president, Lawal organizes and promotes BME-focused events that range from discussions challenging barriers and inequality to inspirational sessions with women of faith in leadership.
She is an active committee member of the Cambridge Student Union Women's Society. Through the Women's Society, Lawal works with Centre 33, charity in Cambridge that supports young adults who serve as the primary caretakers in their families. Lawal plans to organise a conference in Cambridge next year to raise awareness of issues faced by young caretakers who are also trying to pursue an education.
This summer, Lawal will continue working on issues facing young caretakers, and next year will continue the 'I, Too, Am Cambridge' movement, working with the student body to focus on education, admission, and the concerns of minority students at Cambridge. The prelaw major has experience in the financial and legal sectors, and plans to eventually get a master's degree in International Law while studying Arabic.
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