When Are Cambridge University Interviews?

November 24, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

Cambridge University interviews those applying for an undergraduate degree in December before the year they begin their studies.

Almost every applicant to the university is offered the opportunity for an interview. Most of the interviews take place online.

Traditionally, the undergraduate interview is an essential part of selecting who will be offered a place in a Cambridge college. 

The university is clear that the decision on who to admit is based entirely on academic criteria. This means that the qualities the interviewers are looking for are also academic.

To help you better understand everything about Cambridge University interviews - the when, where and why they happen - we’ve put together this short guide.

Interviews and the Cambridge application process

The first formal steps to becoming an undergraduate student at Cambridge begin in May the year before. A summary of the various steps is:

May - The UCAS application process opens.

August/September - Registration for subject-specific admissions tests open.

September/October - Submit your UCAS application.

October - Take any relevant subject-specific admissions test and complete your My Cambridge Application.

November - Receive an invitation to interview at a Cambridge college.

December - Attend your college interview.

January - Receive the decision about whether you have been offered a place at Cambridge.

August - Receive  your exam results and have your offer of a place confirmed. If you weren’t offered a place in January, you may be able to enter the August Reconsideration Pool, where final places are allocated.

Why Cambridge University interviews most who apply

Places to study at Cambridge are some of the most sought after in the world. It’s one of the very top educational institutions, alongside the universities of Oxford, Stanford and Harvard.

Only students with an outstanding academic record should even consider applying to be an undergraduate. But of those that do, only around one in six are offered a place.

The interview plays an essential role in helping the university determine who should be offered a place. While everyone applying is a top academic performer, the university is looking for something a little extra.

This extra is still considered to be academic criteria, so it’s not about personality or appearance.

The interviewers are looking for ability, potential and commitment. By interviewing you, those responsible for admissions can better assess how well suited you are to the course you have chosen.

Where Cambridge University interviews take place

The interviews are usually held in December each year. Invitations to interview are usually sent out in mid to late November.

Your interviewers will be part of the admissions team for a specific Cambridge college. There are 29 undergraduate colleges at the university, and they take responsibility for assessing and admitting students.

It’s important to note that Cambridge is a collegiate university, one of very few in the UK. This means every student is part of a college community. The college provides accommodation along with academic and pastoral support. It’s your home for the time you’re at the university.

When you apply to Cambridge you must choose one of its colleges. Alternatively, you can make an open application, which allows the university to choose a college for you.

Your interview is arranged and managed by the college. 

A growing number of the interviews are conducted online. This is usually the case if you’re based outside the UK. If you live in the UK, some colleges, such as King’s College andTrinity College, are likely to offer you an interview in person. Most others carry out interviews online.

Preparing for your Cambridge interview

While it’s important to be yourself at your university interview, you should also be as prepared as you can be.

Your interviewers will have prepared for you by reading your personal statement and application form. They will have questions based on your choice of course, your academic performance and, possibly, on your extracurricular activities.

A great way to prepare for your interview is to remind yourself of your application details along with anything else you may have sent in. Read about topics that relate to the course you want to study, particularly up-to-date information or opinions.

If possible, arrange for someone to give you a practice interview. Ideally someone who’s been through the process themselves, but if not, someone who’s willing to ask challenging questions. 

You’ll need to prepare a little differently for an online rather than an in-person interview. For online, give yourself time to get into an academic mindset. Give yourself mental travelling time.

You’ll probably be offered the chance to ask a question of your own. It’s best to avoid asking a question that’s easily answered if you’d looked at the university or college information online. 

What happens at a Cambridge University interview

You may find you’re invited to have more than one interview. One may be subject-specific, with two or three interviewers. The other could be a general academic interview, discussing your personal statement and why you want to study at Cambridge.

It’s likely that you’ll be nervous. Give yourself plenty of time before answering questions. Be clear, concise and honest. You may find that you’re able to enjoy an in-depth discussion of a subject that fascinates you.

Some questions can be challenging but the interviewers are not trying to catch you out. They want to see whether you have those academic qualities they’re looking for, around potential, ability to study at a high level and being open to new ideas.

What happens after the interview

Don’t be discouraged if you feel the interview went badly. Many students who feel this way are still offered a place to study at Cambridge. 

The interviews usually take place in early to mid December. By mid to late January you should have heard whether you have been offered a place. 

If the college of your choice can’t offer you a place, your application goes into the Winter Pool, which means another college may pick you up. This usually happens without further interviews, but it’s just possible you’ll be asked to attend another one.

In the event that you’re not offered a place at Cambridge, you may have one final chance. In August, once the exam results are known, you may be eligible to enter the August Reconsideration Pool.

Colleges fill their final undergraduate places from this pool.

However, hopefully that won’t be necessary as you’ll already have secured an offer from one of the university colleges.

Prepare for Cambridge with Summer Schools

Attending a Summer Schools course at Cambridge, or another top university, is a great way to prepare for life as an undergraduate student. The course immerses you in university-style education, with teaching led by tutors working at the university.

This exciting educational environment goes further than teaching you about the subject you’ve chosen. You also learn by living in student accommodation with others from the course, by spending time with people from different parts of the country and the world, and by visiting sites of cultural interest.

You get to make new friends and to broaden your thinking and horizons. It’s a great way to become familiar with the challenges of high-level study at a university such as Cambridge.

We offer many different courses in leading universities around the world. Take some time to explore what’s available through our website and prepare yourself for exciting opportunities at university. 

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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