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Applying to Cambridge: Advice for teachers, tutors and HE advisers 2015 entry


2 why Cambridge?

4 Cambridge explained

6 support

7 Applying to Cambridge

12 selection

20 Frequently asked questions

22 working with schools and colleges

23 Further information and advice

Inside back cover Application timetable

E-nEwslEttEr Keep up-to-date with the University’s E-newsletter for Teachers, Tutors and HE Advisers. The e-newsletter, which comes out twice a term, includes information about admissions policy and procedure, support for applicants, and a guide to forthcoming events. You can subscribe to receive the free e-newsletter at:



Dear Colleague I am fond of the American bumper sticker that proclaims: ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher.’ Perhaps this reflects my own experience, aged 14, when my Deputy Headmaster and history teacher, Mr Shaw, confronted me with the question: ‘Are you going to Oxford or to Cambridge?’ I didn’t think that lads from my school in Whitby went to such places. Thanks to Mr Shaw, I did. I look to you as a colleague and partner in encouraging your students to ponder the question that I was faced with years ago. We want to provide you with all the material we can to help you advise your students so that the choices they make are well informed. We all face uncertainties over funding, qualifications, assessment regimes, and so many aspects of schools’ core activities. Changes to A Levels mean that we will have to adapt in time for the 2016-17 admissions cycle. For universities, as for those advising students, the key

work starts sooner. Exactly how we will adapt remains to be seen but we are already considering the issue. One thing is certain. My Cambridge colleagues and I depend on you to let us know your views both on the impact of reforms on your students and on your provision. This dialogue is crucial if the University is to sustain the fundamental fairness of our admissions process. We remain committed to our agreement with OFFA to a target of having between 61 and 63 per cent of our UK student intake from maintained sector schools. The target itself is derived from performance in A Levels nationally. We feel that is a fair way to set our expectations. That the Colleges have responded to a challenging target range by reaching it in successive years is testimony to the use we have made of detailed research to inform our decision-making (see our website at: and our careful use of contextual data.

Our commitment to fair admissions for all remains paramount. That record numbers of students applied to Cambridge in 2013 is itself a reflection of the confidence they place in our system as fair. It also surely helps that they have a clear idea of what is required of them. This publication is intended to help ensure that the clarity is maintained. I look forward to working with you and to hearing from you. Do not hesitate to get in touch. Dr Mike Sewell Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges


Why Cambridge? The University of Cambridge is one of the world’s great universities. It provides a challenging, flexible and individual learning experience, and is consistently rated at the top of national and international league tables. Below are 10 reasons why we feel your students should consider applying to the University.

Academic excellence

Flexible learning Outstanding Many of our degree courses support (formally referred to at Cambridge

Our teaching staff includes many national and world subject leaders, so students have the exciting opportunity to be taught by experts in their fields.

as Triposes) encompass several subjects, with some options available in several courses where the subjects overlap. Our courses are generally very broad in the first year, before becoming increasingly focused in later years (see p4). This allows students to explore their subject, strengths and interests before specialising.

The collegiate structure As well as being a member of a large university, students are also part of a smaller College community. The collegiate system (see p4) offers a huge amount of pastoral and academic support for each student individually.


With the exception of St Edmund’s College.

More personal tuition In addition to lectures, practicals and seminars, students receive regular small-group tuition (often in pairs). This more personal tuition, known as a ‘supervision’, allows students to explore course material in much greater depth, investigate new approaches and clarify anything they are unclear about.

To help our students to succeed we provide expert teachers and lecturers, excellent library and computing facilities, superb labs and lots of support. Our extensive welfare and support systems ensure that students’ individual needs can be recognised and met – as a result we consistently have one of the highest student retention rates in the UK (see p5).

Accommodation guarantee The Cambridge Colleges1 guarantee accommodation to single undergraduates without children for three years (many also provide for fourth-year students). Students are only charged rent when they are in residence – most accommodation contracts are for 30-39 weeks – and the competitive rates compare favourably with other universities.


Low cost of living Cambridge is a relatively inexpensive place to study. Study costs are kept low because we are fortunate to have excellent computing and library facilities (all departments and Colleges have a library and provide computing facilities, in addition to the resources at the University Library); and transport costs in the city are minimal as it is easy to get around on foot or by bicycle.

Substantial financial support

Everyone ‘fits in’ There is no such thing as a typical Cambridge student. We have students from all parts of the country (and the world) and from all backgrounds and this diversity is valued and celebrated by all. However, one thing all of our students have in common is that they work hard and play hard. In addition to world class tuition and learning facilities, there are more than 700 clubs and societies and all sorts of student-organised entertainments, and students make the most of everything the city has to offer too.

Excellent career prospects Cambridge graduates from all disciplines go into a very wide range of occupations, and are highly employable and greatly sought after due to the key transferable skills our students develop and hone here. We have one of the highest graduate employment rates in the UK,2 are in the top three in the world for employer reputation,3 and are one of the top five universities targeted by Britain’s leading graduate employers.4

The University and Colleges are committed to the principle that no suitably qualified UK/EU student should be deterred from applying to Cambridge by their financial circumstances, and that no publicly funded UK/EU student should have to leave because of financial difficulties. Therefore, an extensive programme of financial support – including non-repayable Cambridge Bursaries of up to £3,500 per year – is offered to ensure our students can meet the costs of their Cambridge education, regardless of background.


Of the UK/EU students who graduated from the University in 2012, 91.0 per cent were in employment or further study within six months. QS World University Rankings 2013. 4 The Graduate Market in 2013. 3


Cambridge explained

A collegiate university: who does what? Cambridge is a ‘collegiate’ university that comprises: n n

various faculties and departments in different academic subjects a number of Colleges

The key functions for which the University (through its faculties/ departments) and Colleges are responsible are outlined below, to show how it all fits together.

ThE UnivERSiTy: n n n n

determines course content organises lectures, seminars, practicals and projects sets and marks examinations awards degrees The Backs

ThE COllEgES: n n n n

admit undergraduate students organise small-group teaching (supervisions) are responsible for academic and pastoral support provide accommodation, places to eat and recreational facilities

OUR COURSES Many of our courses encompass several subjects, with some options available in a number of courses. This offers students much greater flexibility than more narrowly focused courses elsewhere. Those with a clear sense of the subject they wish to pursue at university can specialise. However, students who are less certain are able to explore the wider subject area before deciding what to focus on. Our course list as well as a full subject A-Z can be found on our Undergraduate Study website ( Due to the scope and flexibility available, most students stay on the same degree course. However, it is possible to change after one or two years (with agreement from the student’s College that any change is in their educational interests). This means that numerous subject combinations are available. The more popular/common changes can be found in the course entries on our website. We encourage any prospective applicants who may wish to change course to contact a College admissions office for advice. They should also consider if/how changing course may affect any financial support arrangements.



Undergraduate admissions

KEy faCTS anD figURES

The University of Cambridge and its Colleges are committed to offering admission to students of the highest academic ability and potential, irrespective of social, racial, religious and financial considerations.

The University of Cambridge has around 12,000 undergraduate students and approximately 9,000 postgraduates. The

Two further aims of our Admissions Policy are:

per cent of all undergraduates are from overseas (outside the EU).



aspiration – to encourage applications from groups that are, at present, under-represented at Cambridge fairness – to ensure that each applicant is individually assessed, without partiality or bias, in accordance with the policy on Equal Opportunities, and to ensure that, as far as possible, an applicant’s chance of admission to Cambridge does not depend on choice of College

Once students are admitted, we ensure that they are given the academic, personal and (where appropriate) financial support necessary for successful completion of their course at Cambridge.

Further information

undergraduate male:female ratio is 53:47. 16.4 per cent of UK undergraduates are from black, Asian and minority ethnicity backgrounds (where known). Around 11 Cambridge consistently has one of the highest retention rates in the UK, with the latest figures indicating that 98.4 per cent of students

complete their undergraduate degree at the University (compared to 90.7 per cent nationally). In the 2011-12 undergraduate admissions round (ie applications for entry in October 2012 and deferred entry in October 2013):1

around 15,700 applications were received for approximately 3,400 undergraduate places

the state:independent school ratio amongst UK accepted applicants was 63:37

Of those accepted, 97.4 per cent achieved A*AA or better at A Level (or equivalent). A further 4,843 applicants with the equivalent of A*AA or better were unsuccessful. 1 Updated figures for 2013 entry (or deferred entry in 2014) will be added to the website as soon as they are available.


Support There is an extensive welfare system in place at Cambridge. Throughout the University and Colleges there are numerous individuals and services that offer academic and personal support and guidance if and when students need them.

College welfare Within their College, undergraduates have a Director of Studies (DoS) who looks after their academic welfare, and also have access to a Tutor who can advise on any personal or financial matters. In addition, Colleges have a variety of other staff, such as a nurse and counsellor, and Welfare Officer(s) on the College students’ union committee who can all offer advice and support.

n n

n n n


specific learning difficulties (SpLDs, eg dyslexia, dyspraxia) mobility impairments and injuries (eg wheelchair users, upper limb disorder/RSI) sensory impairments (eg hearing, visual) mental health difficulties (eg depression, anxiety disorder) long standing illnesses/medical conditions (eg cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, diabetes, epilepsy) Asperger syndrome and autism

Care leavers The University has been awarded the Buttle UK Quality Mark in recognition of our commitment to supporting prospective applicants who are (or have previously spent time) in care and our care-leaver students. As well as the support that is available to all students: n

University support The University’s Counselling Service is a free and confidential service available to all students, and the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) provides a range of student-run welfare services as well. The University’s Childcare Information Service offers guidance and advice to student parents. Further information undergraduate/support/

Disabled students The University’s Disability Resource Centre (DRC) provides information and support to applicants and current students with any impairment/disability, medical condition or injury, including those with:

Applicants and their advisers/ supporters are welcome to contact the DRC (see p23) to arrange individual visits and informally discuss their support needs. The DRC also gives advice on the accessibility of Colleges and departments, and facilities on offer ( Prospective applicants with a disability/SpLD/medical condition/ injury are advised to contact the DRC and a College admissions office as early as possible to discuss their application and specific requirements. We also strongly recommend that they disclose their disability in their UCAS application so that appropriate adjustments to the interview process can be made, if required.

Further information


care leavers are entitled to yearround College-owned accommodation, should they wish to stay in Cambridge over the vacations Colleges are keen to support care leavers should any financial or pastoral issues arise

In order to ensure they get the support available to them as care leavers, students should indicate in their UCAS application that they have spent time in care. More information about visiting or studying at the University can be found online or by contacting the Cambridge Admissions Office (telephone: 01223 766872; email:


Applying to Cambridge To apply to Cambridge, the process is much the same as that for other universities. However, at Cambridge the process starts earlier to allow time for all of the application information to be gathered and considered, and students are required to provide some additional information not covered by the UCAS application. The five steps below outline the application process (with further detail given on the following pages). We also encourage prospective applicants to try to visit the University at some point so they can see for themselves what it may be like to study at Cambridge. There are more than 180 open days and events in Cambridge and across the UK each year to choose from – details can be found online at:

Consider a course









Consider where they would like to live when they are here – applicants can either choose a preference College or make an open application n


APPlY UCAs application1 submitted online by 15 october2 Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) submitted by students shortly afterwards


IntErVIEw Conducted in December n





DECIsIon Applicants will be advised of our decision before the end of January


An additional application must also be submitted by students living/attending school/college outside the EU, applying for the Graduate Course in Medicine, and/or applying for an Organ Scholarship. 2 Other application deadlines apply for those wishing to be interviewed in particular overseas countries (see information online at:, and for some mature applicants (see p21).


Choosing a course Post-16 subject choices The AS and A Level/IB subject choices made in Year 11 (or equivalent) can have a significant effect on a student’s higher education (HE) options. When assessing applicants, we consider not only the individual subjects being offered but also the combination of these. Many Cambridge courses require prior knowledge of certain subjects and the Colleges expect such subjects to be passed, normally with an A or A* grade at A Level/ grade 6 or 7 at Higher Level of the IB (or equivalent). Students who have decided on a university course should look at the course requirements before finalising their A Level/IB Higher Level subject choices to check their suitability for entry. Those students who are unsure about the course they would like to study should note that there are certain subjects that are considered either ‘essential’ or ’desirable’ for a number of courses at Cambridge. Therefore, choosing one or more of these can help keep HE options open. Further advice about subjects and subject combinations that provide a more effective preparation for study at Cambridge can be found in our Subject Matters leaflet, available on our website ( undergraduate/publications/).

Degree course choices Our Admissions Tutors are looking for the students who they believe have the most academic ability and potential, are best suited to the course applied for and who will most benefit from the teaching and learning environment offered at Cambridge. Therefore, when considering their degree course choice(s) students should be encouraged to: n


identify their interests and motivations. Students should consider what they most enjoy learning about – this may be particular topics within subjects currently being studied and/or something from their wider interests. It is crucial that they have a genuine personal interest in their subject to be motivated and successful at university be open-minded and avoid limiting themselves to the more ‘obvious’ or familiar-sounding courses (see also p4). For example, students interested in history, literature and language may like to consider courses that incorporate all these areas, such as Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Classics; Linguistics; and Modern and Medieval Languages, as well as English and History



not make assumptions about career prospects. While a small number of professions do require specific qualifications, most employers do not specify particular degree subjects. For example, you do not need an undergraduate degree in Accountancy and Finance to become an accountant. Students with a particular career in mind should be encouraged to research what those in that profession studied at university – they may be surprised at the range they discover research course outlines and understand what they entail. Courses with the same title at different universities can vary greatly, with different entrance requirements, content, structures, options, and teaching and assessment methods

Further information


Left: College Junior Common Room (JCR) Right: College accommodation Opposite left: Practical Opposite right: Seminar

Choosing a College At Cambridge, as well as being a member of the University, students are also a member of a College (see p4). If a student decides to apply to the University, they will need to consider their College choice – on their UCAS application, they can indicate a preference College or make an ‘open’ application (see right). Applicants should be advised not to agonise over which College to choose – students quickly settle in whichever they attend (see also information about the ‘pool’ system, p11) and the Colleges are more alike than they are different. The differences that do exist lie in the ambience, rather than the educational opportunities. There are no Colleges that are ‘better’ for certain subjects than others. Students from all Colleges studying the same course attend the same lectures/practicals and sit the same examinations together (see p4). For equally well-qualified students, making an open application (see right) or applying to a specific College makes no difference to their chances of being made an offer. When choosing a College, students might find it helpful to consider: n


course – some Colleges do not take students in all subjects so they should check availability age – four Colleges are exclusively for mature students (aged 21 or over)


n n n

n n

gender – three Colleges consider applications from female students only size – number of students location in the city appearance and type of accommodation (eg on-site or College-owned houses) particular facilities personal instinct/preference – where the student thinks they would feel most ‘at home’

Information about the different Colleges can be found in the Undergraduate Prospectus and on Colleges’ own websites. Students may also find it helpful to visit some Colleges, either by attending an open day or arranging a separate visit ( Despite occasional rumours to the contrary, there is no problem with more than one student from the same school applying to the same Cambridge College. We are also aware of a number of other misconceptions that exist about ways of choosing a College (eg based on application statistics, specialisms of College Fellows etc). Therefore, advice about how not to choose a College is available on our website as well. Please note that students can only submit one application to the University, either choosing a preference College or an open application. If a student has unusual qualifications or has particular requirements, it is advisable to apply to a specific College having sought their advice at an early stage, rather than make an open application.

open applications If a student does not mind at which College they end up, they do not have to choose – they can make an open application instead. After the closing date, each UK/EU open application is allocated by a computer program to a College which happens, in that year, to have received fewer applications per place in that subject than the average number across all Colleges. Open applications from overseas students (from outside the EU) are evenly distributed across Colleges in each subject. Once allocated, open applications are treated exactly the same as any other application and the success rate for equally well-qualified UK/EU applicants making open applications is the same as for those applying to a particular College. Before submitting an open application, students should be sure they will be quite happy whatever the outcome of the allocation, as it cannot be changed once it is made. Further information


Left: University museums and collections Right: Student clubs and societies

UCAs application To apply to the University, students must submit a UCAS application online, listing Cambridge as one of their options in the ‘choices’ section (institution code CAM C05) as well as entering the appropriate College (UCAS campus) code or ‘9’ if they are making an open application. To ensure that there is sufficient time for all applicants to be assessed equally and fairly, the deadline for applying to Cambridge for most students is 15 October.1 In addition to a UCAS application, students will need to submit another application if they are: n n n

living/attending school/college outside the EU applying for the Graduate Course in Medicine applying for an Organ Scholarship (

If there are extenuating circumstances which have caused significant educational disruption or disadvantage for a student, the school/college referee should also complete and submit the Extenuating Circumstances Form by 15 October (see p15).

supplementary Application Questionnaire (sAQ) In order to ensure that we have complete and consistent information about all applicants, students will be asked via email to complete a Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) online following receipt of their UCAS application.2 The SAQ enables us to collect information that is not part of the UCAS application and that is useful when assessing applications, for example topics covered as part of AS/A Level (or equivalent) courses (which helps interviewers decide which questions to ask). To make a valid application to the University of Cambridge, applicants must submit their SAQ by the deadline set. In the majority of cases this will be 22 October.3

Application outcome Following the assessment of each application (see p12-9), there are three possible outcomes. 1 Applicants may be made an offer. If they have already gained the qualifications required, they may be made an unconditional offer. If they are still studying, an offer will usually be conditional and dependent on them achieving particular grades in those qualifications. 2 Applicants may be ‘pooled’ for other Colleges to consider their application (see opposite for details). 3 Applicants may be unsuccessful. On average, we receive around five applications for each place, so every year we have to turn down many students with good grade predictions whom we would like to have taken. Disappointing though this is, we hope that all applicants find the process a useful experience and valuable preparation for their other university choices. We hope students will not to be deterred from applying by the prospect of not being successful – we can only offer places to those who apply to us.

1 An earlier deadline may apply for applicants wishing to be interviewed in particular overseas countries (see information online at:, and a later deadline may apply for some mature students applying to one of the mature Colleges (see p21). 2 Students must regularly check both the inbox and ‘spam’/’junk’ folder of the email account they give in their UCAS application as they will be contacted by the University and/or UCAS by email at various stages of their application. 3 If a different deadline applies, the applicant’s College will notify them of the date. If a student is in any doubt about the deadline by which they must complete the SAQ, they should contact the College as soon as possible to check.


The winter pool

ThE POOl The ‘pool’ system is designed to ensure that the best applicants are offered places, no matter which College they applied/were allocated to. If a College is over-subscribed in a particular course, strong applicants are put into the ‘winter pool’ for other Colleges to consider. Applicants will also be pooled if they need reassessment and to give Colleges the opportunity to consider applicants pooled by other Colleges as a ‘calibration check’ before finalising their offers. All Colleges can consider pooled applicants and Directors of Studies in each subject meet during the admissions period to discuss the overall standard of applications so that they can see by January how their own College’s applicants compare – Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant from the pool than a weaker applicant who applied directly/was allocated to them. As a result of being placed in the winter pool, applicants may be asked to attend another interview at a different College, usually in January; may be offered a place at another College (or the College that pooled them) without further interview; or may be unsuccessful, in which case they will be notified of this by their original College. Normally, around one in five applicants is pooled and, of these, around one in four receives an offer of a place from a College other than the one they applied/were allocated to (876 for 2013 entry, about 25 per cent of all offers made). A second smaller pool (of offer holders who have narrowly missed the conditions of their original offer) takes place in August when examination results are released and places are confirmed; this again helps to ensure that the best applicants gain places.

Clearing and the adjustment period The University of Cambridge does not enter Clearing, nor will places be available in the August adjustment period. If applicants decide that they wish to try for a place at Cambridge after receiving their examination results, they will need to apply in the following year’s admissions round.

Feedback on decisions Many Colleges provide written feedback to schools/colleges after decisions have been made as a matter of course, and all Colleges are happy to discuss the outcome of applications by telephone or letter, providing the applicant has given us permission to do so. This is a requirement of the Data Protection Act, and applicants will normally be asked for their consent in a preinterview questionnaire. Feedback is not, in general, sent to students or their parents/guardians, and teachers should decide what information it is appropriate to pass on. Further information


Selection Admission to Cambridge is highly competitive and staff are required to make very difficult decisions when choosing between applicants. Applicants are assessed on their academic ability, their suitability for the chosen course and their potential to benefit from and flourish in the Cambridge environment. There is no blueprint for an ideal Cambridge student. However, there are certain academic qualities that Admissions Tutors look for. n



Ability and potential – in addition to their academic record, selectors are assessing how well applicants can discuss their ideas and opinions, whether they are capable of logical and independent thought, and whether they show intellectual flexibility and are willing to engage with new ideas. Motivation and suitability for the chosen course – applicants should show enthusiasm for their chosen course, and the desire and potential to go beyond what is required in their studies. This could be demonstrated, for example, by the exploration of their subject beyond the school curriculum and by wider reading (their ‘super-curricular’ activities). Commitment and selfdiscipline – successful applicants are self-motivated, self-disciplined and academically committed. This could be shown, for instance, by good time management in the balance of their various academic and personal commitments.

We want to give applicants as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate their strengths and potential. Therefore, each application is considered individually and holistically, using all information available (as outlined below and on the pages that follow): 1 2 3 4

academic record school/college reference personal statement any written work submitted or done at interview 5 performance in any required tests 6 contextual data 7 performance at interview (if interviewed)

1 Academic record Successful applicants are amongst the most able students in their school/college in the subjects most closely related to their chosen university course. All Colleges modify offers to take account of individual circumstances. As such, some applicants will be set lower/more challenging offers than those listed.

GCsEs/IGCsEs With the exception of Medicine (including the Graduate Course) and Veterinary Medicine, there are no GCSE/IGCSE requirements for entry to Cambridge. GCSE/IGCSE results are looked at as a performance indicator, but within the context of the school/college performance. Applicants have generally achieved high grades in subjects relevant to their chosen course, and most have at least four or five As or A*s at GCSE/IGCSE. However, there are always exceptions: for example, a brilliant mathematician whose only A* at GCSE/IGCSE is in Mathematics. One of the strengths of the Cambridge admissions system is its ability to assess all applicants individually.



As and A levels Students should choose a combination of AS and A Level subjects which gives a good preparation for their selected course at university (see p8). Applicants’ Uniform Mark Scheme (UMS) performance (requested in the SAQ) has proved to be a valuable Year 12 progress check and a better predictor of success at Cambridge than GCSE results (see Admissions Research at: /teachers/). Admissions Tutors look at the average performance across an applicant’s three best/most relevant AS Level subjects (students are not required to achieve 90 per cent or above in all modules). Most applicants are studying three or four A Levels. This is usually sufficient to show breadth of interests and ability to manage a range of differing academic tasks. We would rather applicants develop broader and deeper knowledge of the subjects most relevant/closest to their chosen course than accumulate additional A Levels. For 2015 entry, the typical conditional A Level offer for arts courses and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) will be A*AA. The typical offer for most science courses (excluding PBS) will be A*A*A. Applicants may be required to achieve A* in a particular subject(s), depending on individual circumstances.

We recognise that predicting the A* can be difficult. Therefore, we do not place weight on whether or not an applicant is predicted an A*(s). Applicants not taking modular As levels Where the school/college delivers A Levels without external assessment in Year 12 and this UMS information (or equivalent) will be absent from an applicant’s profile, more weight will inevitably be placed on the other elements of their application. Occasionally, an applicant without this information might not get the benefit of the doubt in comparison to one with a very high AS UMS average. Alternatively, doubt might be resolved by making a higher than usual offer. Evidence of any internal Year 12 assessments (in the school/college reference or sent as a transcript to the College) could be helpful in such cases. Extended Project We encourage students to undertake an Extended Project to help them develop independent study and research skills valuable for higher education. However, completion of an Extended Project will not be a requirement of any offer made.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) Typical offers require 40-41 points out of 45, with 776 in the Higher Level subjects (see Admissions Research at: teachers/). Applicants may be required to achieve 7 in a particular subject(s), depending on individual circumstances.

scottish qualifications AAA at Advanced Higher Grade is usually required. Applicants prevented from studying more than two Advanced Highers for reasons outside their control are considered on a case-by-case basis and should contact the College to which they intend to apply as early as possible for advice. Applicants studying towards a Scottish Baccalaureate qualification are expected to offer three Advanced Highers as part of it.

welsh Baccalaureate Applicants are expected to have studied three A Levels as part of their qualification. Offers are conditional on achievement in the A Levels (see guidance left) within the qualification, rather than the overall Baccalaureate award.


Irish leaving Certificate

Advanced Diplomas

Typical offers are AAAAA at Higher Level, and A1 may be required in the most relevant subjects. Applicants for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine may be asked to take an IGCSE (or equivalent) in the science subject not taken within the Irish Leaving Certificate.

The Principal Learning components of the Advanced Diploma in Engineering is accepted for Engineering, and the Advanced Diploma in Environmental and Land-based Studies is accepted for Geography and Natural Sciences (Biological). Conditions apply in all cases (see the website for details).

AQA Baccalaureate Offers are conditional on achievement in the A Levels (see guidance on p13) within the qualification, rather than the overall Baccalaureate award.

Cambridge Pre-U Diploma Offers are set on an individual basis but are likely to require the achievement of Distinction level grades (D2 or D3) in Principal Subjects.

Access to HE Diploma Attainment of the Access to HE Diploma with Distinctions in all relevant subject units can be acceptable preparation for most arts subjects and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) at Cambridge. An Access to HE Diploma alone is not sufficient preparation to study a science subject (excluding PBS) at Cambridge. Some courses may have additional academic requirements. See online for more details (, and in all cases students should contact a College admissions office for advice.

Vocational qualifications VCE and Applied A Levels, GNVQs and BTECs do not provide an appropriate preparation for most Cambridge courses, where the emphasis is more academic than vocational. However, certain combinations of A Levels and vocational qualifications may be acceptable for some courses. Potential applicants taking these qualifications should seek advice from a College Admissions Tutor as early as possible.

sixth term Examination Papers in Mathematics (stEP) STEP Mathematics is used to assess applicants’ aptitude for studying Mathematics at Cambridge. Papers are based on material that is common to the core of A Level Mathematics and so require no further knowledge. The questions are designed to test qualities such as insight, originality, and the ability to use standard techniques in unusual ways and situations.

Colleges use STEP as part of almost all conditional offers for Mathematics and Computer Science with Mathematics. Some Colleges also include STEP in conditional offers for other courses which require strong mathematical ability (see the website for details at:

Applicants studying a mix of qualifications Applicants who are taking a combination of qualifications drawn from different examination systems, for instance a mixture of Scottish Advanced Highers and A Levels, are considered providing that the individual qualifications are acceptable and any subject requirements are met. Conditional offers are made on a case-by-case basis but will normally be in line with typical offers made when qualifications are taken on their own.

other qualifications Whatever system students are being educated in, Cambridge requires top grades in the highest level qualifications available for school/college students. Typical offers for a range of other examination systems can be found on our website.

Further information entrancerequirements/


Right: Department library Opposite left: Quayside Opposite right: Field class

2 School/college reference The reference is helpful because it tells us about an applicant’s abilities and potential. Admissions Tutors look for indications that a student’s academic strengths are well suited both to the course and to the style of study at the University. Comments from subject specialists that show evidence of an applicant’s intellectual flexibility and curiosity, analytic ability, logical reasoning and the ability to learn quickly are most useful. Most of our applicants are predicted top grades and words such as ‘outstanding’ appear in many references. Instead, it is helpful if remarks about academic performance and potential are made as specific as possible. The following can be particularly informative: n



evidence of a willingness to explore and discuss ideas outside the confines of the subject specification, if applying for a subject studied at school/college evidence of steps taken to find out about the subject, for a nonschool/college subject comments from subject teachers indicating a rank order in class (such as ‘top of 20’ or ‘in the top four of 23’) or a comparison with current/previous applicants (eg ‘one of our top 10 university applicants this year’)


n n

updated information about an applicant’s progress or personal circumstances, providing it is received before the December interview period reasons for underperformance in qualifications, if applicable any health or personal circumstances that might affect performance at interview

A separate Cambridge reference is not needed as we receive a copy of your UCAS reference. However, if you wish to make any Cambridgespecific comments please direct these to the Admissions Tutor at the College to which the student applied or to the Cambridge Admissions Office in the case of open applicants. Please ensure that the applicant’s name, course and UCAS Personal ID are clearly stated.

Extenuating circumstances The Extenuating Circumstances Form (ECF) has been designed to ensure that the Cambridge Colleges have the information they require to accurately assess any applicant who has experienced particular personal or educational disadvantage. The information provided on the form will help Admissions Tutors by giving context against which they can judge the applicant’s academic record (whether the student has excelled in spite of, or been hindered due to their personal/ educational circumstances), and provide information that is useful when assessing performance at interview (if interviewed).

The ECF should only be used where an applicant’s education has been significantly disrupted or disadvantaged through health or personal problems, disability or difficulties with schooling, for example: n


n n

a serious, acute or chronic medical condition (especially since the age of 14) which caused significant educational disruption significant caring responsibilities, or recent bereavement or serious illness within close family serious disruption to educational provision at school/college other circumstances where serious disruption has occurred – the school/college is welcome to contact a College admissions office to discuss an applicant’s particular circumstances

The student should apply in the usual way. The ECF (available online and from College admissions offices) should normally be completed and submitted by the applicant’s school/college for receipt by 15 October. In those rare cases where the applicant’s school/college is unaware of the circumstances, a doctor or social worker may complete and validate the form on the applicant’s behalf.

Further information


Left: Subject Masterclass Right: Relaxing by the Mill Pond

3 Personal statement Personal statements allow students to tell us about their subject interest, and the process of writing a personal statement can often help a student better understand their academic interests and intellectual motivations. what should a personal statement contain? Students are advised to follow the UCAS advice about what to include ( At Cambridge, all admissions decisions are based solely on academic criteria (ability and potential). Therefore, in their personal statement, we are looking for applicants to: n n

n n

explain their reasons for wanting to study the subject at university demonstrate enthusiasm for and commitment to their chosen course express any particular interests within the field outline how they have pursued their interest in the subject in their own time

Such information is often used as a basis for discussion at interview.

How important are extracurricular activities? As our admissions decisions are based on academic criteria, we expect to see evidence of students’ super-curricular activities – their wider engagement with their area(s) of academic interest, such as reading and other exploration relevant to the course they have applied for. A student’s participation (or not) in specific extra-curricular activities that are not relevant to the course applied for are not taken into account and do not affect their chances of being made an offer of a place at Cambridge. However, when composing their personal statement, students should consider the importance that their other university choices may place on extra-curricular activities. Cambridge-specific comments Applicants can make additional comments particularly relevant to their Cambridge application in their SAQ (eg to highlight particular features of the Cambridge course that attracted them). This additional personal statement is optional. Applicants will not be disadvantaged if they have nothing to add in this section of the SAQ and should not repeat information provided in their UCAS personal statement here as we will have already received a copy of this.

4 Submitted work Applicants may be asked to submit examples of their written work from a relevant A Level/IB (or equivalent) course (as submitted to and marked by the teacher), particularly for arts and social sciences subjects. A discussion of this may then form part of the interview. Details of the Colleges that ask for written work can be found in the relevant course entry on our website. However, if this is required the College will advise the student about what sort of work this should be, where it should be sent and the deadline for its submission. If requested, we recommend that students submit work that they will be happy discussing during their interview. Schools/colleges are asked to complete a cover sheet confirming that it is the applicant’s own work and detailing the circumstances in which it was written.

Further information undergraduate/teachers/ selection.html


Market Square

5 Test results Applicants for some courses are required to sit additional tests, designed to supplement the information in their application and assess particular abilities, such as thinking skills and logical reasoning. This may be one of the tests listed below, and/or a test organised by the College. If an applicant is invited to attend an interview and will also be required to sit a test at that time, the College will advise them of the arrangements for this.

thinking skills Assessment (tsA) The TSA aims to test critical thinking and problem-solving skills which are highly relevant to successful study at degree level. It is taken by applicants when they come to Cambridge for interview. A number of Colleges use/may use the TSA to assess applicants for the following courses: n n n n n

Cambridge law test Most Colleges require applicants for Law to take the Cambridge Law Test. The test lasts for one hour and is taken by applicants when they are in Cambridge for interview. For further details about the test, including specimen papers, see the Faculty of Law website ( No prior knowledge of law is required or expected. Students do not need to register in advance for the Cambridge Law Test and there is no charge associated with taking the test.


Computer Science Economics Engineering Human, Social, and Political Sciences Land Economy Natural Sciences

Further information about the TSA and details of which Colleges use the test for which courses can be found on our website. Students do not need to register in advance for the TSA (Cambridge) and there is no charge associated with taking the test.

Bio-Medical Admissions test (BMAt) All applicants for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine are required to sit this test in an approved centre, after making their application and before interview. Applicants must register online for the BMAT by 1 October 2014. The test itself will be taken on 5 November 2014. The BMAT is used to assess scientiďŹ c aptitude and focuses on abilities relevant to the study of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge. It is based on factual knowledge of mathematics and science to GCSE/IGCSE, and does not require special teaching or preparation. Please note that there is a fee associated with taking the BMAT. Any UK/EU students who are concerned about meeting the cost of this test should refer to the BMAT website ( for advice about available ďŹ nancial support.

Further information undergraduate/teachers/ selection.html


Department computer suite

6 Contextual data

7 Interviews

overnight, in which case they will not normally be expected to pay for accommodation or meals.

In order to assemble a more complete picture of the educational and social circumstances that underpin students’ applications and performance in our assessments, we also use up to six types of contextual data (where available):

All applicants with a realistic chance of being offered a place are invited to attend an interview (more than 80 per cent of our applicants every year) – a process involving more than 20,000 interviews.

what are the interviewers looking for? The main focus of interviews is to explore applicants’ academic potential, motivation and suitability for their chosen course. Questions are designed to assess applicants’:

n n


n n n

rates of progression to HE in an applicant’s local area the socio-economic characteristics of an applicant’s local area whether an applicant has spent time in care at some point (declared in the UCAS application) school GCSE performance recent school/college history of entry to Cambridge or Oxford any information provided in the Extenuating Circumstances Form (where submitted)

This information allows us to assess applicants more holistically and may result in applications being ‘flagged’ to receive particularly careful attention. However, academic achievement remains central to all admissions decisions – ‘flagged’ applicants will not necessarily be called for interview, made an offer or made a lower offer.

Further information undergraduate/info/ contextualdata.html

Applicants with a good examination record and a favourable reference are likely to be asked to attend an interview. However, due to the level of competition for places, there are applicants each year who are not interviewed. when do the interviews take place? Most interviews take place in the first three weeks of December and students are strongly advised not to make any unbreakable commitments for this period. How long are the interviews and what are the arrangements? The exact form and length of interviews vary from College to College and between subjects, but typically applicants have two interviews of 20-45 minutes each. All Colleges send out detailed information and advice about interviews to applicants; explaining where to go, the format, and what will be expected of them, including whether any written work will be set. Applicants may be asked to stay

n n n

problem-solving abilities assimilation of new ideas and information intellectual flexibility and analytical reasoning

Interviews help selectors to gauge how an applicant would respond to the teaching methods used at Cambridge, while also giving the applicant the opportunity to experience this style of teaching. It is important for applicants to realise that interviewers will not be trying to ‘catch them out’, but will be challenging them to think for themselves and to show how they can apply their existing knowledge and skills laterally to less familiar problems, in a manner comparable to that demanded by the supervision system. It is also important for students to understand that their performance at interview alone does not determine their application outcome. Admissions decisions are made holistically, taking all available information (see p12) into account.


Left: Sidgwick Site Right: Downing Site

Helping students prepare for interviews Interviews are discussion-based, and predominantly academic and subjectrelated, so applicants will be asked questions that are relevant to the course they have applied for and about the information provided in the written elements of their application. Therefore, you can help students prepare for their interviews by encouraging them to talk with confidence and enthusiasm about their subject and their wider interests. A mock interview given by a teacher or someone the student does not know can be helpful to give them the experience of expressing their ideas and opinions to a stranger in response to unknown questions. However, students are not expected to have ready-prepared answers – overrehearsed answers can be counterproductive if students are preoccupied with recalling set speeches on general topics rather than listening to the interviewers’ questions and responding accordingly.

Students should be encouraged to read broadly in the areas of their A Level/IB Higher Level (or equivalent) subjects that they find particularly interesting and about topical issues and developments connected to their chosen course. Students must be prepared to think quite hard in their interviews but should also be reminded that often there are no right or wrong answers to the questions they are asked. It is the process of reaching their answer that is generally of most significance, rather than the answer itself. Short films and further information about the interview process are available on our website.

Further information

PlEaSE nOTE We are aware of private companies who offer, at a charge, information and advice on our admissions process and interviews. We DO NOT support or encourage any of these commercial enterprises. None of these companies has access to any information that is not already available free of charge to all schools, colleges and individual students from College admissions offices, the Cambridge Admissions Office or Cambridge University Students’ Union. Please contact the admissions office at any College or the Cambridge Admissions Office for more information.


Frequently asked questions

WhaT iS ThE UnivERSiTy’S POSiTiOn On ExaM RESiTS? While it is becoming less common to be able to resit exams, should the opportunity be available a student’s application is unlikely to be adversely affected by their resitting one or two modules – we appreciate that even very capable students may have a ‘bad day’ when an exam does not go quite to plan. On the other hand, there would be concern about an applicant’s potential to be successful at Cambridge if they needed to resit numerous exams, particularly where only a marginal improvement could be achieved. This is because once at the University, students are regularly assessed by examination and there is no opportunity to resit any exams (with the exception of professional qualifying examinations in Medicine and Veterinary Medicine). Applicants should indicate their intention to resit any exams in their SAQ. Where there are particular reasons for underperformance in qualifications it is useful if these can be outlined in the school/college reference.

WhaT iS ThE UnivERSiTy’S POSiTiOn On qUalifiCaTiOnS TaKEn EaRly? Although the University is in favour of stretching and challenging learners, this should not be at the expense of levels of achievement and we would discourage students from being entered for public examinations early unless top grades will be obtained. In addition, where students are successfully taking qualifications early, we would still want to see evidence that they can cope with a workload equivalent to three A Levels taken simultaneously. There are also potential disadvantages to taking qualifications early in subjects where the knowledge and understanding will be required at university. Students who have not studied a key subject in a structured way in the year before they arrive at university can find that their knowledge has atrophied. Further information and some suggestions for stretching students in Year 11 are available online at: undergraduate/teachers/ academic.html.

WhaT iS ThE UnivERSiTy’S aTTiTUDE TOWaRDS DEfERRED EnTRy? About one in 10 students takes a gap year before coming to Cambridge. This year out can be a useful time to improve skills, earn money, travel and generally gain maturity. Please note: n



a number of Colleges encourage Engineering applicants to take a year out to gain industrial experience most Colleges generally prefer Mathematics applicants not to take a year out, but to apply for immediate entry it is not possible to defer entry to the Graduate Course in Medicine

Students intending to defer entry should indicate this in their UCAS application and be prepared to talk about their proposed plans at interview.


University Library

iS ThERE an agE REqUiREMEnT fOR EnTRy TO CaMbRiDgE? The vast majority of undergraduates are aged 18 years or older when they come into residence. A student who will be aged 21 or over on commencing a course is classified as a mature student. All students need to demonstrate that they have the maturity and personal skills to cope with university level study, and will be able to gain full benefit from the course when admitted. Applicants who will be under 18 on admission should seek advice from a College Admissions Tutor as early as possible to discuss their application. If they are considering Medicine, they should also read the advice regarding age requirements for this course on the website. Applicants who would be under the age of 16 on admission may also be subject to additional requirements and restrictions in order to comply with legislation. Mature students Mature students with Access to HE Diplomas, A Levels, OU (Level 2 or above) or other qualifications are welcome to apply to any of the Cambridge Colleges ( Cambridge has four Colleges exclusively for mature students (Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund’s and Wolfson) and which have the most experience in assessing applicants with Access to HE qualifications.

The standard closing date for applications for 2015 entry (or deferred entry in 2016) is 15 October 2014. However, the mature Colleges will also consider some mature applications submitted as part of a second application round, the deadline for which is 1 March 2015. Please note: n


all mature applicants applying for any subject to a standard-age College or making an open application must submit their application by 15 October all applicants for Architecture, History of Art, Law, Medicine, the Graduate Course in Medicine, Music, Philosophy and Veterinary Medicine must submit their application by 15 October

When writing references for applicants studying towards an Access to HE Diploma or other qualifications, please give as much information as possible about assessment procedures and the grading system for the course, as well as details about the applicant’s performance so far. We are aware that this can be difficult, as some students may have only just started their courses. If applicable, please make it clear that the student is on a one-year course and give as much information as you can about their academic achievement. Admissions Tutors may also find it useful for you to write a second reference at a later date.

WhiCh COllEgES aRE ‘bEST’ fOR WhiCh SUbjECTS? There are no Colleges that are ‘better’ for certain subjects – students on the same course, regardless of their College, are taught together by the academic faculties/departments, attending the same lectures, seminars and practicals. The key functions that the University and Colleges are responsible for are outlined on p4. See p9 for guidance on choosing a College.

hOW DO CaMbRiDgE anD OxfORD DiffER? Please note that it is not possible for students to apply to both the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the same year. The two are frequently cited together by journalists, politicians and the world at large. Whilst there are many similarities between the application processes, there are a number of notable differences between the two institutions. A summary of these similarities and differences can be found in the teachers’ area of our Undergraduate Study website (


Working with schools and colleges The University and Colleges of Cambridge offer an extensive range of outreach and widening participation initiatives – from subject enrichment to events aimed at attracting applications from groups currently under-represented at Cambridge.

College Area links scheme

subject enrichment

The Area Links Scheme connects every local authority area in England to a specific Cambridge College. There are also links between Cambridge Colleges and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Faculties and departments at the University offer a range of events and activities which provide resources to enrich the educational experiences of students of all ages, across a number of subject areas. Details of all of these projects can be accessed from the online Outreach Directory at:

The Scheme was established in order to provide specific/defined contact points through which teachers can communicate with the University, and the University can communicate with them, and thus help build effective relationships with schools and colleges across the UK. Each College runs its own programme of activities for the schools/colleges in their link regions. For example, Admissions Tutors and Schools Liaison Officers may visit schools/colleges, run masterclasses and/or organise visits to Cambridge in order to raise aspirations.

Cambridge Admissions office (CAo) The CAO staff organise/attend various events throughout the UK each year to encourage students to consider the University of Cambridge, including: n n n n n

There is no expectation or obligation for students to apply to the relevant link College and participation in Area Links Scheme initiatives does not influence whether Colleges invite applicants for interview or offer them places. Visit the website for more information (

n n n

school visits and HE fairs Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences Cambridge Open Days (3 and 4 July 2014) residential events Challenge Days Subject Masterclasses The Subject Matters events events for specific groups, including mature students, FE students, BAME students and care leavers

More information about these activities can be found online at:

Cambridge University students’ Union (CUsU) CUSU is involved in widening participation activities through the student-run Target Campaign. Each year, Cambridge undergraduates visit state schools across the country to give information to students who are considering applying, and provide an opportunity to hear about the University from a current student’s perspective. In addition, CUSU organises a popular Shadowing Scheme, produces the Alternative Prospectus website (www.applytocambridge. com) and runs various other initiatives. For more information about all these activities please contact the CUSU Access Officer (see opposite).

Events for teachers, tutors and HE advisers You are welcome to attend most of our open days and events with your students. However, the CAO and several Colleges also organise a number of events specifically for teachers, tutors and HE advisers throughout the year. See the website ( for further information.


Further information and advice We are committed to ensuring that all relevant information and guidance about applying to and studying at Cambridge is readily available to all, free of charge.

Additional guidance In addition to the Undergraduate Prospectus, this guide and the Enewsletter for Teachers, Tutors and HE Advisers (see the inside front cover), we offer further guidance online about specific topics – such as student finance, Cambridge interviews and post-16 subject choices – and for particular groups – including parents and supporters, mature and affiliated students, care leavers, and students with an impairment/disability, health condition or specific learning difficulty. You can find all of this, as well as other information about applying to and studying at Cambridge, on our Undergraduate Study website at: undergraduate/. If you have any other queries or require specific advice, please get in touch using the contact details right. See p24 for College contact details.

CaMbRiDgE aDMiSSiOnS OffiCE (CaO) t 01223 333308 F 01223 746868 E

The CAO can help with general enquiries about the application process and studying at Cambridge. n undergraduate/

CaMbRiDgE UnivERSiTy STUDEnTS’ UniOn (CUSU) CUSU Access Officer t 01223 333313 F 01223 333179 E

CUSU offers advice and guidance, as well as organises events and initiatives for prospective applicants. n prospective/

DiSabiliTy RESOURCE CEnTRE (DRC) t 01223 332301 F 01223 766863 E

The DRC provides advice, information and support to applicants and current students with a disability, chronic health condition or specific learning difficulty. n


Collecting exam results at Senate House

College contact details See College websites for more information and contact an Admissions Tutor for further advice about College admissions policies and other matters. Most Colleges welcome teachers’ visits during open days or by appointment at other times. In addition, many Colleges have Schoolteacher Fellowships or vacation study-visit programmes for teachers. n College Christ’s Churchill Clare Corpus Christi Downing Emmanuel Fitzwilliam Girton Gonville and Caius Homerton Hughes Hall1 Jesus King’s Lucy Cavendish1 2 Magdalene Murray Edwards2 Newnham2 Pembroke Peterhouse Queens’ Robinson St Catharine’s St Edmund’s1 St John’s Selwyn Sidney Sussex Trinity Trinity Hall Wolfson1

1 2

Mature College Female College

Email telephone (01223) 763983 336202 333246 338056 334826 334290 332030 338972 332413 747252 761805 339455 331255 330280 332135 762229 335783 338154 338223 335540 339143 338319 336086 338703 335896 338872 338422 332535 335918


aPPliCaTiOn TiMETablE 2014-15 March – september 2014 Undergraduate Prospectus available online and from the Cambridge Admissions Office. UCAS Conventions and HE fairs, Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, open days and residential events (see p22).

september 2014 UCAS applications, which must be completed by all applicants applying to Cambridge, may be submitted from early September.

october 2014 1

Deadline for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine applicants to register for the BMAT (see p17). 15 UCAS closing date for most applications to Cambridge. 22 Deadline for most applicants to complete and submit their online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ, see p10).

november 2014 5

Applicants for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine sit the BMAT.

December 2014 The majority of interviews (see p18-9) are held in the first three weeks of December (some may be earlier).

January 2015 In early January, decisions are sent to applicants and the winter pool (see p11) takes place (selected applicants may be called for a further interview). Most applicants who were interviewed in December should have heard whether they have been accepted conditionally or unconditionally, or have been unsuccessful before the end of January.

March 2015 1

Closing date for second application round for some mature and affiliated applicants (see p21).

May – June 2015 A Level, IB and other examinations taken.

August 2015 Examination results published and confirmation of conditional offers that have been met. All conditional offers must be met by the deadline set by UCAS.

october 2015 University term begins.

Details are correct at the time of printing (March 2014) but should be checked against the Undergraduate Study website for the most up-to-date information. © University of Cambridge, 2014.

Cambridge admissions OďŹƒce Fitzwilliam House 32 Trumpington Street Cambridge CB2 1QY 01223 333308

Advice for teachers, tutors and HE advisers 2015  

Applying to Cambridge - Advice for teachers, tutors and HE advisers - 2015 Entry

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