Hello Cambridge hopefuls! You have come to the right place to gather all the information you need before applying to Cambridge. I hope this guide helps you enter your dream school!
A piece of advice before we dive in: Do all your admissions research early. You need to know which courses require extra assessments, and the deadlines for all applications. Take it from me, who was desperately trying to manage studying for Prelims whilst writing my personal essay for UK schools.
I’ve been in your shoes once, and know how you may prefer to reserve June for studying and deal with applications later, but do give university admissions a thought during the school holidays!
Another thing to note is that some schools have an internal selection criteria for those who wish to apply to Oxbridge. You may need to be in the top 50-70% of your cohort for school-wide examinations so do check with your respective schools.
Applying to Cambridge requires support from your school in the form of teacher testimonials and submission of school transcripts, as well as your predicted grades, which you will not have access to.
How to apply to Cambridge from Singapore
Phase 1: Application
Cambridge has a collegiate system and comprises 29 colleges. Each college has their own professors, dormitory, facilities and identity. The way to conceptualise this is to think of the 29 colleges as their own schools, which collectively form Cambridge.
When applying to Cambridge, you can choose to do an open application or apply directly to a college. It is important to research the various colleges before deciding.
Consider delving into the acceptance rates for each college, whether or not you would prefer a larger or smaller cohort of students and the campus itself.
The more “popular” colleges would be those you need to attend to be eligible for the ‘Jardine Scholarship’, namely:
This makes them the more “competitive” colleges to get into.
The platform to apply to Cambridge is UCAS, the same as the other UK universities. Submitting your application to one school is 22 pounds, but you can submit it to 2-5 universities for 26.50 pounds.
The personal essay you use to apply to all the UK universities is the same. However, Cambridge does have a small section on their own applicant’s site which allows you to elaborate (if you wish to do so) on why you want Cambridge. This would be referred to as the ‘Supplementary Application Questionnaire’ (SAQ).
When I submitted this, I had to pay a fee of 60 GBP.
Most Cambridge courses require you to take an extra test before applying. For example, Law requires you to take the Law National Aptitude Test, LNAT. Cambridge previously had their own test, the Cambridge Law Test, but that has been changed starting from the admissions year 2022-2023. If you are applying to Engineering, you will be required to take the ENGAA. These tests do come at an extra cost which has to be borne by yourself.
What you will hear from people around you is that UK universities are academic-centric and want to see how well you do academically, or how ‘smart’ you are. This is true; Cambridge doesn’t take into account extracurricular activities like your community work. The only exception to this is if the activity is significantly related to the course of your choice.
Phase 2: The Personal Statement
Although you can apply for different courses in the UK, keep in mind that the personal statement you use for all of them would be the same one. Hence, when applying to the UK, most people would choose to only apply for one course.
Writing the personal statement requires some time. The deadline for Cambridge is typically 15 October. (Trinity College had a later deadline than the other colleges in my year, but this may not always be the case. Even if they do have a later deadline, it is still always better to apply earlier than later.)
This link provides more information.
The personal statement will be the only glimpse Cambridge will have of your own voice before shortlisting you for an interview. As such, it will be good for you to use it to explain why you want to study the course of your choice, and delve into the skills you possess and things you have done to justify how you are a suitable candidate.
Some of your schools’ Education and Career Guidance (ECG) departments will give you the opportunity to let them review your personal statement.
I found this quite helpful!
They have been helping students with admissions for years and would have a lot of experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t.
A piece of advice I received when writing my personal statement was to plan the essay beforehand. You also may not want to say that you have a deep interest in a specific area of say, the law, when you don’t actually know much about it.
Moreover, do try to write it in a way not solely to ‘flex’ how amazing you are but also what you have been doing to show an interest in the subject and to use that to start a conversation during your interview.
Speaking of which…
Phase 3: The interview
Most applicants to Cambridge will get a chance to interview. On their websites, Cambridge puts this percentage at around 75% of Home candidates.
Regardless, receiving the invitation to an interview is one of the most thrilling feelings ever. Being invited to the interview means that they have seen potential in your application and that you stand a fair chance to be admitted. All that is left to do now is impress them.
Cambridge has 2 interview teams. The first is an international team and the second is the college themselves. Before COVID, this would mean that some candidates would be interviewed in their home country and some would be invited to interview at Cambridge. However, during COVID, s.
The international interview team may consist of a panel which does not come from the college of your choice. Officially, there is no difference which team you are interviewed by.
However, it is worthy to know that most applicants fly out to Cambridge for their interviews and for good reason. You will meet the professors and also get a chance to visit the Cambridge campus!
You will be given anywhere from 1-3 interviews, depending on the College and course you applied for. Each interview will last for 20 to 45 minutes, and are largely academic in nature.
They are used to examine your thought process, analytical skills and whether you will be a good fit for the school. You should use it as an opportunity to show off how ‘smart’ you are!
Now, I will discuss a bit more about the Law interview, which I have experienced myself. My college only offered one interview. Typically, for Law interviews, there are two main types.
The different types of interviews
For the first type, they give you an evolving situation to work through and ask for your thoughts on how you will deal with them. In the second type, they provide you with a statute and ask you questions about it. This tests your interpretation and application skills. Some people who applied to other colleges had 2 interviews; one of each style.
I only experienced the former. The interviewers gave me a scenario to begin with, asked a question and based on my answer, tweaked the scenario and asked a different question.
The new question mandated an evolved and more nuanced answer. It progressively got more difficult to answer these questions. As they put me in tougher and tougher situations, it eventually caused me to have to tweak my original stance.
An example of such an interview could be like this. (Disclaimer: This was not the question asked in my interview, just an example of what could play out. If you would like to know more about the interviews, you can visit Cambridge’s website here.)
Interviewer: John visited a chocolate shop. John saw a chocolate bar he wanted to buy and placed it into the pocket of his jacket. He continued browsing around in the store, with the intention of going to the cashier to pay for it. As he was making his way to pay for it, John met his friend, Harry, whom he had a long conversation with. Harry invited him to grab lunch together. As a result, John forgot about the chocolate in his pocket and went for lunch. Is John guilty of stealing?
Interviewee: No, because John never had the intention of taking the chocolate away without paying. In fact he even wanted to pay, and only happened to forget he had it with him after he met his friend. It was an honest mistake.
Interview: Alright. Now, after lunch, John realises that the chocolate bar is in his pocket and panics. However, he is 2 hours away from the store and has no intention of going back. Is this now stealing?
And so on.
If you would like to watch a mock Law interview, you can refer to this video:
You can observe some mock interviews for other subjects here.
The advice I received from my seniors was to practise explaining your thought processes out loud. The professors want to know how you think, analyse and obtain conclusions. They aren’t looking for correct answers, but ‘smart’ ones.
They are also looking out for your ‘teachability’.
You also shouldn’t prepare so much that you come across as too rehearsed but you should definitely prepare an answer to “Why Law”. (They don’t usually ask ‘Why Cambridge’ or ‘Why this specific College’, although you could always weave it into your answer if you’d like to.) You should also look through all your submitted documents, especially your personal statement.
Overall, the interview experience was fun, and the professors were lovely to interact with. It also gives you an insight on who your professors may be and what studying at Cambridge entails.
Phase 4: The outcome
After a gruelling wait, it is finally time for the results.
If you decided to apply directly to a college, there can be a few outcomes:
Being pooled means that your application was rejected by the college of your choice.
However, they have determined that you are still good enough to be accepted by others.
This usually happens in January and is known as the ‘Winter Pool’. However, you will not know whether you have been pooled.
In the event that another college has taken up your application, they may invite you for another interview prior to the official results release date. Cambridge has a uniform standard and does not accept anyone that does not meet it.
If you have gotten in, congratulations! Cambridge would likely have given you a conditional offer.
This means that your entry to Cambridge is dependent on your national examination results. For the A levels, this is typically 4 H2 ‘A’s or 3 H2 ‘A’s with a ‘Distinction’ in a H3 subject.
If you have not, fret not, for there are many other opportunities elsewhere for you.
How tough is it to get into Cambridge from Singapore?
Of the few people I know that applied to Cambridge, about half were successful in securing a spot. Having said that, the official admissions rate to Cambridge is 16%. This differs depending on the course and college you apply for. Cambridge is very transparent about their admissions statistics and a lot of information about that can be found online.
It is certainly not an easy feat to be admitted into Cambridge. However, you shouldn’t be put off from applying just because you feel as though you aren’t good enough – once you reach the interview stage, it is fair game!
Applying to Cambridge is certainly a process and requires patience and time. The patience comes in multiple revisions of your personal statement, and the endless waiting. Waiting for an interview offer, then waiting for it to take place, waiting for the law test to happen and finally waiting for the result.
The time comes in the amount of preparation you have to do before going for your tests and interviews.
Yet, I would say that the time and effort you spend on your Cambridge application will be worth it, even if you do not get an admission offer for these reasons:
- Your Cambridge application will be one of the earliest ones you would have done due to the early deadline. This means that you would have already put some thought into your application, which will make the later ones easier.
- Your Cambridge interview will also be one of the first interviews you will do in your journey of university applications. Most people who apply to Cambridge do so with a hope, rather than expectation to get in. So even if you do not get admitted, the interview experience will be great for all the upcoming offers you will get nonetheless.
- The interview itself is a very enjoyable experience, and gives you a chance to interact with Cambridge professors. You also get a taste of what it is like to be a Cambridge undergraduate. The opportunity to have a very engaging conversation with academics who are experts in their fields is rare as well.
- Of course, if you do get admitted, all the hard work will be worth it – no questions asked. 😉
Getting into Cambridge is a dream for many and a reality to some. Start early in understanding how the application process works. There are many online guides and books which others recommend for prospective law students.
Some parting advice would be to be calm during your interview, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You have already met the academic requirements to be offered an interview, which means you have potential and stand a fair chance at being offered admission.
Remember though, that all the success stories you see online are actually the minority of applicants. You don’t have to be demoralised or disheartened should you receive a rejection. The world presents many other opportunities as well!
I hope that you have found this guide helpful for your Cambridge application! All the best!
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