The admissions process is pretty much the same across all Cambridge colleges. As we understand that this can be a daunting process, we have written a step-by-step guide in the hopes that it will make things a bit clearer!
STEP 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH
You’re going to be studying the subject you choose in great depth for a number of years so make sure you choose the course you’re genuinely interested in and will enjoy studying! Also, do your research around Cambridge – check out the Cambridge prospectus to see what A-Levels (or equivalent) are required, attend Open Days and look at College prospectuses.
STEP 2: UCAS APPLICATION
Applying to Cambridge through UCAS is pretty much the same as applying to any other university, with a few minor differences. Firstly, the deadline is earlier, usually the 15th of October to leave plenty of time for the University to gather a bit more information about you as a candidate. The other difference is that you also need to pick a College to apply to. If you genuinely have no preference, you can make an open application which means that the University will assign you to a college randomly. If, however, you have any preference at all, however minor (such as not wanting to have to walk far to get to your lectures), it may be best to pick a college yourself.
STEP 3: SUPPLEMENTARY APPLICATION QUESTIONNAIRE (SAQ)
After your application has been received, you will be asked to fill out the SAQ. This is a short online form that you will have roughly a week to complete. This is not something to worry about – it is just another way to help the University gather as much information as possible about you, such as class size and topics covered in your AS/A Levels (or equivalent). The Admissions Tutors will never look at just one part of your application in isolation – they take into account all the factors, including contextual factors like where you live, the school you attended and so on. It’s also a great opportunity for you to explain why you applied for the Cambridge course in particular, which is especially useful if you applied for different courses at other universities. You will also be asked to submit a photo of yourself – be warned, this photo will appear on pretty much everything once you are here, including your end-of-term reports and your university card so choose wisely!
STEP 4: SUBMITTED WORK AND ADMISSIONS ASSESSMENT
For many courses, you will be asked to send in some written work before your interview. Don’t panic – there isn’t any need to write anything new! The College simply wants an example of your normal school work which may then be discussed during the interview (so it’s always worth photocopying before you send it off so you can re-read it before your interview).
Most applicants are also required to take a written admissions assessment, either pre-interview or on the day of the interview. Again, there is nothing to worry about! The assessment is simply there to assess your skills and academic potential. You are not expected to revise new material beforehand – at most, you may want to read over your notes from school (particularly for science subjects). And do not fear – the admissions department will always keep you informed at every stage of the process.
STEP 5: THE INTERVIEW
Cambridge want to know about you as person, which they can’t really do from paper alone, so around mid-November almost all applicants (around 80%) will receive an invite to interview. Interviews take place in early December. The standard format is to have two interviews, each lasting between 20 to 40 minutes with specialists in your chosen subject. For many people, this will be their first experience of an interview and so this may seem quite daunting. Once again, there really is no need to worry – try to think about why it is you want to study your subject and what specific aspects of the course you find interesting. It’s difficult to know how to prepare for an interview as there are no set questions you will be asked so try read over your personal statement and things you have mentioned in it and your SAQ. It’s also helpful to practice speaking about your subject out loud so arranging mock interviews with teachers or parents, or even just talking to yourself can be very helpful.
To put you at ease on the day, Christ’s students will be on hand with tea, coffee and biscuits and we’ll show you to your interviews and any assessment tests you need to do so you don’t need to worry about getting lost – remember, we were there too not long ago so we understand how you feel! The ‘scare’ questions you may see in the press or hear about are usually very misleading and out-of-context – perhaps about something the interviewee discussed in their personal statement. It is not in the supervisors’ best interest to try ‘catch you out’ – they want to be able to test your ability to think for yourself and show how your ability to think flexibly and apply existing knowledge and skills to new concepts.
The interview also aims to replicate the system of supervisions in Cambridge so that supervisors can assess whether Cambridge is the place that will bring out the best in you – and for you to get a feel for small-group teaching. You’re not being assessed on your personal appearance either, so do wear something you feel comfortable in! Finally, be yourself – there isn’t any Cambridge ‘type’ you should try be. Almost everyone says after that the interviews weren’t that bad, and many enjoy the chance to talk about something you love!
You may also see private companies who offer, at a cost, interview advice. We strongly discourage you from paying for materials or interview practice from them – we have never seen any reliable evidence that paying any such company increases your chance of getting a place, and in reviewing many such services, we have found many to be riddled with misinformation and inaccuracies. The University stresses that the official resources 58 are all available online from official University websites and you will never be asked to pay for them.
If the college you applied to felt that you would do well in Cambridge but don’t have enough spaces for you, they may place your application in the winter pool. This is where all of your details (your personal statement, SAQ, interview report, admissions assessment) are put into a folder and then the folders of all pooled applicants are placed in a room for Director of Studies and Admissions Tutors from all the colleges can choose whether they want to ‘fish’ anyone. Occasionally, they will invite the applicant for an interview, but this is not common.
The winter pool exists so that you don’t have to worry about ‘tactically’ applying to a specific college to increase your chances of getting in, as if that college receives more applicants than normal but you are a strong applicant, you will be placed in the pool for other colleges to consider you so make sure you apply to the college you really want! About 20% of applications are placed into the winter pool, and about 20% of those end up receiving an offer. As the winter pool takes place before offers are sent out, you would receive your offer at the same time as everyone else. In August, there is also the Summer Pool, which is for those narrowly miss their offer – the original college might not be able to offer a place but another college may.