Sidney is an amazing place to study; very central with a really friendly community.
During first year, you’ll have five modules (or ‘papers,’ as they are referred to in Cambridge lingo). These are in Metaphysics, Ethics and Political Philosophy, Meaning, Set texts, and Formal Methods. Don’t worry if you’re new to philosophy; so was I! There’s no need to be an expert on anything. The important thing in your first term (aka ‘Michaelmas’) is for you to get a good grasp of how the degree works and how to organise your studying. Exams for all the papers are in the final term, so there’s absolutely no need to worry about them for a while.
During your three years you’ll have lectures which take place in the lecture block on the Sidgwick site (where most of the arts and humanities faculties are located). This is only a 15 minute walk (or 5-10 minute easy cycle) away from Sidney, with a shortcut through King’s College which is lovely. I’ve discovered that the philosophy faculty is a particularly good place to sit around wasting a lot of time chatting and drinking coffee – a good way to get to know the other philosophers! You’ll have lectures in the first two terms (Michaelmas and Lent) which are useful to give you a picture of what may come up on your exams. You might have around 7-10 a week in first term and fewer in second. You’ll also have logic classes and discussion groups – seminar-form teaching for which you are normally asked to prepare beforehand with exercises (in the case of logic) or readings (in the case of discussion groups).
The main learning method, though, is supervisions (or ‘supos’). These are hour-long, one-on-one sessions on a particular topic in your papers (usually with a PhD student). You’ll have four supervisions in each of your papers, so usually around one supervision each week. Normally, you’re expected to write an essay (1500-2500 words) for your supervision. This might sound daunting, but the essay is meant to start the learning process and stimulate conversation in your supos rather than being a perfect piece of work. You do get used to the process very quickly! The weekly essay, together with the corresponding supervision, is in a sense the most substantial part of your studies, and the one that constitutes the greatest part of the workload. Supervisions are a helpful way of cementing the material, and are absolutely not a test (they function much like a lesson at school would, except one-to-one).
In your first year, the focus will be on learning the format of essay writing. Your supervisions will be in blocks, meaning your four supervisions per paper will be in four consecutive weeks. You may find it strange that you will be supervised on topics that will be lectured three months later, but it’s really not that bad as they are quite separate ways of learning the content and skills.
Aside from academia, there is so much you can get involved with at Sidney and at the University of Cambridge. From College sports and societies, to University wide ones, there will be something for everyone. However, life at Cambridge can be busy and hectic, and you really don’t need to fill every spare minute of time with an extracurricular activity. Sometimes just chilling in the JCR, bar, gardens, or in someone’s room and watching a movie or chatting is the best way to unwind. Formal hall is also another fun way to spend an evening, and a lovely part of College life.