When you think of Cambridge University, a student twerking on a “Do not step on the grass” lawn might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet that is the vision being put forward by Ibrahim Mohammed, better known as Ibz Mo, a student YouTuber who is breaking down Cambridge stereotypes with the hope of inspiring prospective applicants.
Mohammed – a psychological and behavioural sciences student – makes videos that provide a fly-on-the-800-year-old-wall view of the university. He speaks candidly about formal dinners, end-of-year parties and the quirks of Cambridge’s student body to more than 48,000 beloved subscribers, while also poking fun at Cambridge’s whiteness (the university accepted more black British men than Etonians for the first time last year) and discussing the challenges he faced in joining the university.
Cambridge vlogging is a growing phenomenon. There is a range of YouTube channels, from Holly Gabrielle, a natural scientist who speaks about veganism and eating disorders, to Courtney Daniella, who received widespread media attention after calling out trolls who claimed she was admitted to “fill a quota”.
“We always do get compared,” says Mohammed. “But the end goal is access, so we support each other.” Like Mohammed, many are keen to challenge perceptions of their university. “Don’t be afraid of universities as institutions,” he says. “Instead, try to bring them your own unique style.”
Mohammed’s slogan, #bringthemyourseasoning, encapsulates this philosophy and has been picked up on Twitter with students celebrating their offers. “He breaks down the stereotype that Cambridge is an old institution only available for a select, privileged few,” said Maja Lezo-McFarlane, an incoming archaeology fresher from California. She found Mohammed’s videos while scouring YouTube for videos about Cambridge students, worrying about whether she would fit in. Many universities have vloggers, but few are as popular as those at Cambridge – even video-makers at Oxford don’t gather as many viewers (although Oxford has Cambridge soundly beaten in the all-important Facebook likes and Instagram followers).
When Mohammed’s college found out about his videos, they didn’t immediately see the appeal. They told him they wanted to see more essays and fewer videos. The central university, however, saw things differently. It has slowly adopted the vloggers, enlisting them to write and produce videos. On A-level results day, a video introducing seven student YouTubers, including Mohammed, was at the forefront of Cambridge’s social media onslaught.
Shihad Basit, another incoming fresher, says Mohammed’s videos opened his eyes to the mixed academic success that prospective Cambridge students might have. “It made me realise that even if people don’t do well in their GCSEs, it probably doesn’t matter.”
This year’s application round will be the real test. Mohammed says about 2,000 people have contacted him, saying he inspired them to dream bigger about their education. “It has got to the point where I can’t even check my notifications,” says Mohammed. “I can’t wait to see how many apply in October.”