How to get into Cambridge University

How to get into Cambridge University for undergrad degree

For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees


It’s climbing a mountain getting into Cambridge University, but veterans say you shouldn’t sweat it. Prepare, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you forget to enjoy the experience. For, it’s going to be worth it, one way or the other.

Established in 1209, Cambridge is the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university and second-oldest in the English-speaking world. As of 2017, 116 Nobel laureates and 15 British prime ministers have been identified with the university, as students, alumni, or faculty. Cambridge was in the top five in 2017 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS, and Times Higher Education (THE) World University rankings. It was in the top ten in the THE Education Experience Survey 2017 in academic experience, accommodation, and industry connections.

Here we take a look at ways to get admitted to Cambridge undergraduate (UG) courses. For articles related to the Cambridge MBA degree, scroll to the end of this article.

Cambridge facts

Endowment $8.6 billion (2014)
Budget $2.26 billion (2015-2016)
Academic staff 7,913
Administrative staff 3,615
Students 19,955
Campus 710 acres

Source: Wikipedia


The University of Cambridge offers UG degree courses in the arts and humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering. As many as 30 UG courses, covering over 65 subject areas, from Asian and Middle Eastern Studies to Veterinary Medicine, are taught in the 29 UG colleges under the university.

Courses are categorized as Group 1 (Economics, Law, English, etc.; yearly fee is about £20,000), Group 2 (Mathematics, £22,000), Group 3 (Architecture, etc., £26,000), Group 4 (Engineering, Natural Sciences, £30,000), Group 5a (Veterinary Medicine, £53,000), and Group 5b (Medicine, £70,000).

How to get into Cambridge University


Admissions criteria

Generally, Cambridge looks for applicants with the most academic ability and potential, can flourish in the Cambridge environment, and are best suited to the course they want to do. The ideal candidate has self-discipline and motivation, and is open to new ideas beyond what he/she has already learned.

Each candidate is considered individually and holistically on the basis of academic record, school/college reference, personal statement, any written work submitted, contextual data, and performance in written assessment and at interviews. However, no part of an application carries more weight than others, though recent academic performance is an important consideration for the university admissions office.

Application process

Applications to Cambridge should be made through the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). The first step is to choose your course. Select the subject that you have a passion for. Check the entrance requirements for the course.

The second step is to choose a college. While doing so, also consider the city in the UK where you want to live, besides the availability of the course in the college of your choice.

The UCAS application has a deadline (October 15 in 2018, earlier for some international applicants; check the university website). Other application deadlines are applicable for those who want to be interviewed overseas.

After you have submitted the UCAS application, you will be asked to submit by email a Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ), which would seek some information that was not requested for in the UCAS application. In a majority of cases, the deadline for the SAQ is October 22, 2018. Those attending school outside the EU will have to fill in the Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA), the deadline for which may be earlier than October 15. You may also be required to submit an academic transcript.

Choice of subject

As mentioned, you need to choose the subject you love, not just one that you think has high prospects or is the most prestigious. If you are less than passionate about your selected subject, the admission officials are going to see through you.

Don’t answer the question why you’re interested in Cambridge with a lame “because it is a prestigious university.” Talk about the courses in your subject that you find interesting, after researching how attending them at Cambridge would make a difference.

Choice of college

It is important to choose a college before writing your application. Read about the colleges under the university and study the statistics on the number of applicants and the number of those admitted. Try to remember the names of famous fellows and alumni, as this will show your interest in the university. A little knowledge of history about your chosen college would also help.

Opt for an open application if you don’t have a preference for a college or are confused which college to select. However, ensure that the interviewers don’t assume that you didn’t select a college because of a lack of research on your part.

Academic achievements

All said, the foremost thing is good grades for getting into a Cambridge UG course. You need to be in the two one or two percent of your year group. Your grades in your chosen subject should be excellent.

Your school or college grades reflect your work ethic and would tell the university whether you would be able to fully utilize the academic resources on offer. But that doesn’t mean that you will get through if you are a textbook-worm. You require wider reading beyond your syllabus, so that you can show that you’re really invested in your favorite subject.

Before you start, prepare a long-term plan. Ask yourself if Cambridge is the best university for you. Then, decide if you can make a commitment early. Your A-levels hold the key to whether you will be admitted or not. You will be expected to work 40 hours a week on some subjects. Can you do this? Remember, your grades are more important than the number of results. For example, you are better placed if you have done well with three A-levels than if you have not done so well in four or more.

Beyond grades

There will be many applicants with shining academic achievements. So what could make you unique? Probably your extracurricular activities that show a few interesting facets of your personality.

For example, if you have been a sports captain, the admissions officials will know that you have leadership skills; if you have been involved with charitable work, they will gather that you are sensitive to the needs of your community; and if you have taken part in cultural activities, they will realize that you will be able to appreciate Cambridge traditions.

Apart from your academic record and your extracurricular activities, other important elements in the application process include your personal statement, written assessment, and interview. However, keep in mind that the university will consider all the elements holistically.

Personal statement

An excellent personal statement holds great value. The introduction should tell the officials why a subject is your favorite. Talk about your academic and non-academic achievements, hobbies, and extracurricular activities. Conclude with what you plan to do after university.

Written assessment

There would be a pre-interview or an “at interview” written assessment, which will be subject-specific. Additionally, some colleges may ask applicants to submit one or two school/college essays, which will be discussed at the interview. The written assessment is designed to assess your comprehension and thinking skills, levels of current knowledge, and understanding relevant to the course for which you are seeking admission to. For applicants over 21 years of age (the university calls them “mature students”), the requirement of written assessment is different.

Again, the written assessment element is viewed along with the other features of your application and not seen in isolation: it is not a pass/fail test.


Going for the interview unprepared is not a good idea. So be ready, particularly academically, as questions on specifics of your chosen subject are what the interviewers are likely to bowl at you.

Take the interview as if it were an exam. Read all the books and Internet links that you have. Effort is the key and it will show when it matters.

Prepare for the interview along with a teacher or friend and invite questions about your personal statement from them. You can develop confidence by conducting mock interviews. If you are a math student, be prepared to work out problems on paper or on a white board.

Be bold enough to bring out your pluses at your interview, as well as in your application. You shouldn’t be afraid to answer questions about features of your personality. Remember, Cambridge has no ideal candidate in mind while interviewing applicants. Don’t try to mold yourself according to a stereotypical “ideal candidate” that you have in mind.

Having a distinctive personality would help you stand out as most of your competitors would have similar top grades as you do. As someone says, you need the X-factor to ace the interview.

Be prepared to answer questions about why you have chosen a particular college and course. If you show passion for your subject, that’s a great way to get in. A certain geekiness helps. It should be evident not only in the interview but also in your personal statement.

Remember that the interviewers are not looking for the “right” answer to their questions. They mainly want to find out your thought process and see whether you have the ability to study the subject of your choice in depth.

Interviews are not a “final hurdle” in the admission process, and performance at the interview alone may not decide the fate of your candidature.

Interviews may last 20 to 45 minutes each. Questions will be both subject-specific and also based on elements in your written application. You need to go through your personal statement and any written work that you have submitted to refresh your memory about what you’ve written. Prepare to talk about your areas of interest and the books you have read.

You may interview with the Director of Studies and the Admissions Tutor. The interview with the Director of Studies will mainly pertain to the subject of your choice, and the one with the Admissions Tutor will be about extracurricular activities and general topics, such as current affairs, environment, politics, and sports.

Around 75 percent of applicants are invited for the interview. Most interviews are conducted in December. Some candidates may have to attend a second interview in January. A few interviews are conducted overseas.

Cambridge suggests that candidates watch its interview videos as part of their preparation. One tip is to know what to expect and to take care to dress impeccably but in comfortable clothes.


The university usually makes its decision known before January-end. Decisions are announced through the UCAS and by the college. If you are unsuccessful, your name may be passed on to a pool of candidates with potential, who have been “squeezed out” by the competition at your preferred college. Another college may then consider your candidature.

Language requirements

Candidates whose first language is not English are assessed for their language ability, too, as proficiency in the language is required for completing any course at the university. A reasonable standard of spoken English is expected at the interview, and the candidate should be able to express ideas in the language.

Also read:
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Cambridge MBA Judge Business School Interview with Admissions Director
Oxford vs Cambridge University
Getting into Cambridge MBA
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