Imperial FAQ

Blog 2, Imperial FAQ

Hey. Since this blog is probably mostly read by prospective students trying to figure out if Imperial is for them, I thought I’d answer some of the questions people ask me about Imperial.

What is it like living with ‘The Ratio’?

For any of you that don’t know, The Ratio is the ridiculously high number of boys to girls at Imperial. It’s different in different subjects- I think medicine and biology don’t really have problems with this for instance, but it is hugely noticeable when you first move in. There may very well be only one or two girls on your floor in halls for example, which can be odd, especially for the girls. But really once people settle in I personally don’t find it a problem.

My friends are predominantly boys, especially in Physics, and I don’t really notice the difference. For any girls thinking of applying, I don’t think you should let this put you off- if you are studying a subject taught at Imperial, then you are likely to be working in a male-dominated field for a long time, so you might as well get used to the idea of it now. For boys, no doubt the odds are against you finding a girlfriend at Imperial- but it can be done!

Is everyone like Sheldon from the big band theory?

No! Well, some people are kind of… Since everyone at Imperial is basically doing science you can get away with more geeky conversations, and you definitely come across people with not the best social skills- but really who isn’t hideously awkward sometimes in their first years at uni?

No but seriously- there are no English or History noobs? What is that like?

Not too noticeable, I think. We have to complain about biologists instead.

There are still drama societies  and book clubs and things for people who want to find others who share their out-of-science hobbies. I suppose Imperial doesn’t have the diversity of people at other unis, but the hey scientists can have fun too.

Will I be the worst at my subject?

No. This worried me before coming, but should not put you off. I used to hate doing maths problems in front of people, and I spend a lot of lectures very confused and just trying not to ask annoying questions to the people next to me, but I’ve never felt like people are judging whether they are cleverer than me, or that I should be worried. That said, you probably won’t be the best either! I like that about Imperial though, that everyone works hard and that you’re not always the keen-bean for handing stuff in early or wanting to do well in it.

London. Is it scary? Is it awesome?

Both! I love living in London, and I came from a pretty small town. South Kensington also is amazing. I still can’t believe I got to live there for a year. If you get put in further-out halls the first year is a bit more stressful with travelling in every day, but if you are lucky enough to get a hall close to college like I did, it is brilliant.

But is it safe?

No less safe than any other city- probably more safe in the areas that you will be spending most of your time in. I’ve never felt threatened walking around by myself in South Kensington or even now in Fulham or Hammersmith where most people rent houses and flats in their second years. I was once approached by a scary man outside Earl’s Court after getting off a bus, but it was nothing seriously threatening. Having a phone on me is enough for me to feel safe- obviously it is best to walk around in groups at night when you can and stay in busier areas- but that is the same for parts of any large city.

How do you rent in London?

I think pretty much the same as anywhere else, expect that you tend to look for houses much later in the term because the London housing market is crazy. We went and viewed about six houses and flats, which were fairly easy to find through Imperial’s website or through estate agents. For five people, it was pretty easy. Imperial offer a lot of help with checking contracts and following up landlords if they are being unreasonable.

The cost of living- the cost of living!?

I am really appalling with money so am probably not the best person to ask. Living in London is definitely more expensive. I don’t think the food and stuff is in supermarkets- obviously you just have to choose where to shop. South Kensington, where Imperial’s main campus is based, is a ludicrously posh area, but even around there there are places to eat and shop that are reasonably priced.

The two things I have noticed a difference in price are drinks, which are manageable if you buy from supermarkets and stick to two-for-one offers etc., and renting. I pay hugely more rent than my friends around the country. Imperial do offer a good bursary scheme though, based on your parent’s income- the best out of the universities I applied for, which is worth looking into. Also Student Finance England can give you a larger loan to compensate for living in London.

Money will certainly still be a problem for some people. My opinion is that it costs so much to come to uni anyway that more debt shouldn’t put you off too much, but obviously that’s not the most sensible of long-term views.

Does everyone from Imperial go into banking?

Imperial Physics seems to be divided into two camps- the bankers who are getting a degree and then rushing off to make their fortune, and the researchers, who would never dream of selling out like that! Second year is making both camps a little less zealous as they realise that Physics is actually pretty difficult.

However, if you like getting emails inviting you to eat, drink and chat about investment banking, Imperial is definitely for you. Seriously- I get so many. If only I had any opinion on banking, I could have cut my food costs by half last year.

Aren’t you all bitter Oxford and Cambridge rejects?

Ummmm… well lots of us are. But not bitter! Apart from the odd joke it doesn’t come up much. Everyone I’ve asked said that they wouldn’t change now. Yeah. Who needs Oxbridge anyway?

Are there forms and tutors and pastoral care and stuff?  Does anyone care if I fail?

In Physics they have recently changed to a system where we no longer have small tutorials with four or five people once a week. Instead we meet as a tutorial class of about twenty people three times a week and do problems from the lecture courses.

I find it much more efficient to work on my own, so did not particularly enjoy either of the systems last year, preferring the small tutorials as they took up less time, forced me to articulate my thoughts and my tutor was lovely. This year I find the tutorials more useful as we mostly do problems off the problem sheets, which I find difficult to make time for on my own. It is also useful to discuss questions with other people.

I do have a personal tutor. Yes, they care if you fail. But not much else besides. It is definitely not like Cambridge where everyone knows everyone’s results and you get prizes for doing well. It is very much up to you to get in touch with someone if you are struggling. My lab partner no longer comes to Imperial, and no one noticed that he hadn’t turned up for the first four weeks, and probably would have continued not to unless I told them.

Does anyone have a social life?

Yes! There is an active freshers fortnight like any other uni and millions of clubs and pubs and bars around. The union is pretty hilariously bad on a Friday night, but has great Wednesday sports nights, which I obviously go to all the time, what with participating in so much sport.

Why are there clusters of ladybirds on inaccessible parts of my ceiling?

This question has been bugging me (quite literally) all term. It turns out they congregate in sheltered places- sometimes in their thousands- to hibernate in winter. I suppose my ten or so aren’t that bad. Maybe next summer I can catch them aphids and teach them to fly me into Imperial to avoid the traffic.

Are there any Ben’s Cookies nearby?

I know this is the question you have been waiting for. Yes, there are two within walking distance of South Kensington Campus- one by South Ken tube station and one on the high street. If you don’t know why you should care about this, find out!

Why Quantum, why?

A year and a third in, and I just don’t know.


Hope some of you found this helpful 🙂

(Wow this is a long blog. If I had this many words written on my end of term essay I would be a happy bunny…)



One comment for “Imperial FAQ

  1. I’m hoping to study Physics at a UK Uni and I have to say… I love reading your blog! It’s both informative and fun- plus super encouraging!

    I hope you keep blogging even after your graduate…

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