From Henley to Imperial

Former Student, Tom Hubbard, opens up about his time at Henley College, the advantages he found from attending a sixth form college, and how this experience has set him up to succeed throughout his Geology course at Imperial College London.

I am currently studying Geology at Imperial College London, one of the top universities in the world and a specialist in science and engineering. Initially, Imperial College wasn’t a realistic choice for me. I called them on impulse, asked to have a look around and they could not have been nicer, even though my target grades were Bs. I was determined to try to get there, but I fully expected my application to be rejected. I believe I got to Imperial because Henley gave me the opportunity to study an entirely new, and very rare, subject: Geology.

Geology was the perfect fourth A level for me, being a combination of my other choices of Geography, Biology and Chemistry. My teacher, Marco Azevedo, was amazing and very soon Geology was my favourite subject and the one in which I was most likely to do well. All my teachers were fantastic, pushing me to exceed my target grades. At Henley we were trusted to manage our own time – it’s a fantastic preparation for university life. Henley’s geography department really promotes fieldwork. The independent fieldwork project accounted for 20% of the final mark. We were given complete freedom in location and subject, so I decided to take a geological slant on a subject that was not covered as part of our course. My geography fieldwork project was given 100% by the exam board and, I’m sure, helped get me into Imperial – I took it with me to the interview. Fieldwork is probably the area in which I now feel most confident.

Moving on to Imperial was exciting, if a little daunting. I’d not done Maths and Physics at A level, so I have had to study these subjects during year one at Imperial. Many of the students on my course went to top public schools and a fair few have much better grades than my AAAC. However, as a sixth form college student, I do not feel out of place and have really enjoyed my time so far. I’ve made some great friends, from all over the world and from all sorts of backgrounds. I love my course and the people in my department, even the chemists who are even odder than the geologists. It’s an extremely academic environment, with lectures pretty much every day from 9am to 5pm, for which the work ethic I had to have at Henley was the perfect preparation.

The highlight of my year at Imperial was two weeks of fieldwork in Almeria Province in southern Spain, which is about as exciting as it gets, geologically speaking. We climbed into an extinct volcanic crater, finding thousands of metamorphic garnet crystals, up to 1cm across; it was as if they had been scattered like confetti. We visited 30m high ‘gypsum tree’ cliffs made from crystals up to 10cm long, remnants from the last cycles of Mediterranean evaporation. It was like something out of a science fiction film. The heat reached 42°C as we walked miles through arid hill-country, carrying at least three litres of water each. In week two we surveyed designated areas of semi-desert in pairs, the task being to produce an accurate geological map in an area covering sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock types. We were out on our own, having undertaken advanced first aid training at the start of the year, in a remote area inhabited by snakes and scorpions, which my mapping partner was glad not to have seen. The working day was, at times, excessively long – up at seven and then usually working until late into the evening (at the end of week one we worked through the night until 4am to get our assignments done). It was one of the best things I have ever done, and I ended up getting a solid first.

When I mention I am studying geology, the most common response is a generally mystified look, and awkward silence. Okay, not quite, but it’s generally a subject about which people know very little, which is a shame considering how diverse of a subject it is and how important it is going to become in the future. It does provide the opportunity, however, to tell all nine year olds, to their amazement, that I am doing a degree in dinosaurs. Not strictly true, but accurate enough to not be a complete lie. Get them hooked early!

Henley is still the place at which I have been happiest studying.