How to get into Cambridge University

5 min read
Cress Warnell

It's not easy to get into Cambridge University. But it's not impossible. Every year well over three thousand new students begin their degree course in one of Cambridge's prestigious colleges.

Competition for those places is fierce. For every student taking up a place at Cambridge there are five others disappointed not to have received an offer. All are high achievers academically - so what sets the successful apart from the rest? That's what anyone wanting to learn how to get into Cambridge University wants to know.

If you're thinking of applying to Cambridge University, you want the best possible chance of being offered a place. You get a head start if you understand the application process and are aware of all the different requirements. You're even better placed if you've made the effort to acquire skills and experiences that will help you stand out from the other applicants.

To help you, we've created this short guide on how to get into Cambridge University. In it we've pulled together loads of facts, along with plenty of advice from students, graduates and tutors. We want this to give you the best possible chance of securing that dream place in a Cambridge college. If you're reading this, hoping to one day become a student at that most famous of universities, we wish you the best of luck!

Why you would want to get into Cambridge University

One of the oldest educational establishments in the United Kingdom, the University of Cambridge is consistently ranked as one of the very top universities in the world. In all the most trusted rankings, it vies with other prestigious institutions, such as the University of Oxford and Harvard University, for the top place.

Cambridge is famous for its research, its tutoring style of teaching and its historic colleges. Its degrees are highly respected worldwide across all subject areas, whether they're in the fields of medicine, engineering or the history of art. Graduates from the university are well known for their problem-solving and decision-making skills, their curiosity for new knowledge and their commitment to the highest standards of learning.

Gaining acceptance as a student at Cambridge can be the start of a journey into a long and rewarding career.

Steps you need to take to get into Cambridge University

Here are the steps you typically need to take to secure a place on an undergraduate degree course at Cambridge. Some of these steps may vary, depending on the course you're applying for.

  • Achieve high grades at A-level or in an International Baccalaureate, or equivalent.
  • Obtain English language qualifications, if you're not from the UK or a majority English speaking country.
  • Complete a UCAS application, including a personal statement.
  • Complete a My Cambridge application.
  • Submit a portfolio or any work required as a part of the application.
  • Prepare a written college assessment.
  • Attend a college interview.
  • Wait to receive an offer of a place.
  • Accept the offer.

These are the actions typically needed for an undergraduate degree. There will be some variation if you're applying to transfer from another university, or applying for a postgraduate or second degree.

It's not easy to get into Cambridge University, but the rewards of being there make all the hard work worthwhile.

Achieve high grades in your exams

You need to have top grades in your exams to study at the University of Cambridge. For most UK students, this means securing grade A in your A-levels, with at least one A*. You'll need to get equally high scores if you're studying the International Baccalaureate or other equivalent qualification.

GCSE results are not considered as part of the Cambridge entry requirements. However, high grades in these are a strong indicator of your work ethic and could influence whether you receive an offer.

Your UCAS application and personal statement

Your school or college should be able to help you prepare this application. It's particularly important to prepare a strong personal statement, as the admissions team will pay particular attention to it. Cambridge is looking for students who have more than an excellent academic track record. They also need to demonstrate extracurricular interests.

Your personal statement needs to:

  • Demonstrate your deep enthusiasm for the subject you want to study.
  • Show what excites you outside of school, such as hobbies or sports.
  • Have a strong, consistent theme that links all the main points together.

It's important to spend time planning and writing your personal statement. Every word should be relevant, keeping it concise and logical.

Choosing a Cambridge college

Cambridge is a collegiate university, as is Oxford. This means you have the option to choose a college as part of your application. It's not mandatory, but if you don't, you will be assigned to a college. Every student at Cambridge is part of both the university and a college.

There are 31 colleges at Cambridge University, 29 of which are open to undergraduates. Each college has its own accommodation, dining halls and other facilities, along with its own history and traditions. Your college will be an important social hub during your degree studies. You can research the colleges to help you decide what might be the best choice for you.

The My Cambridge application

This is a personalised document that you must complete as part of your application to the university. It contains questions that are relevant to your situation and the course you are applying for.

Information that you might be required to provide on the My Cambridge form includes:

  • Scores and dates of English language tests you've taken.
  • Scores and dates of SATs and GCSEs, if you took them.
  • Details of how your studies will be funded, if you're an international student.

As part of the application you must also provide a passport-style photo of yourself.

Taking a college admissions assessment

Once your application has been considered, you may be offered an interview in the appropriate college. Some courses, and some colleges, require you to take a college admissions assessment. For example, if you want to study Geography and you're being interviewed at Hughes Hall, St Edmund's or Wolfson, you'll be required to take the assessment.

The assessment is designed to test your skills that are appropriate to the degree you've applied for. This could be writing and language skills, problem-solving in mathematics, or analytical skills. It's also a test of your current level of knowledge in the subject you wish to study, and of topics related to that subject.

The assessment is intentionally difficult. If your application is considered to be particularly strong, you may not be given enough time to complete the work they ask for. This is designed to challenge you, and to test your skill in managing your time.

Attending a college interview

Not every student who's given an interview will be offered a place at Cambridge University. But everyone offered a place is interviewed.

Your interview is with a particular college. It's possible that you'll be offered a second interview with a different college.

Many interviews are now conducted online, particularly if you're not based in the UK.

The purpose of your interview is to examine whether you're able to think critically and independently, how curious you are about the world around you and new ideas, and whether you feel deeply about the subject you're choosing to study. In short - are you ready to study at a very high level in one of the world's most demanding academic environments?

Some interviews are general, others on a specific subject. All are carried out by a panel of two or three interviewers.

In summary: how to get into Cambridge University

If you want to continue your education by studying for a degree in one of the world's most prestigious centres of learning, here's what you need to do:

  • Get the best possible grades in your school exams (typically A-levels).
  • Have a strong portfolio of extracurricular activities, ideally in line with the subject you wish to study.
  • Develop strong writing and speaking skills in English.
  • Have a mindset that asks lots of questions and is open to new ideas.
  • Become familiar with the university application process.
  • Have clear, strong reasons why you want to study a particular subject.

You'll find a lot more information about how to get into Cambridge from the university and college websites.

How Summer Schools can help you get into Cambridge University

It's not easy to win a place at Cambridge University but that doesn't stop thousands of students applying. The colleges want to accept new students every year, and they're looking for people with sharp, enquiring minds and with the confidence to know what they want to study, and why. Your chances of a successful application are improved if you've taken active steps to develop yourself and your knowledge, before applying.

This is where Summer Schools can make a big difference. By taking a summer schools course at Cambridge, or another world-class university, you're demonstrating your commitment to personal growth. The course gives you a taste of university life and teaching, it stretches you academically, and it broadens your appreciation of culture and the society in which we live.

Taking a summer course is more than having a great time as you make new friends, discover new places and learn about a subject that interests you. It's also about investing in yourself and your future. Take a look at the courses we have to offer - you'll find plenty that excite and inspire you.

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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