How to get into the University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is the perfect university if you want to study in England. The UK has many excellent, top-ranked, research universities – as a brief glance through the membership of the Russell Group of universities will demonstrate – but the University of Cambridge is unique in terms of its traditions, history, and pre-eminence in every area of study.

Founded in 1209, when a group of professors decided to leave Oxford, since unrest between the town and gown had made life dangerous, they moved to the Fens and set up what is now the fourth oldest university in the world. Cambridge itself is a typical English town and one in five of its residents are students, and live in one of the University of Cambridge’s 29 self-governing colleges.

The colleges organise supervisions – small tuition groups of one to four students who meet up to four times a week- accommodation, welfare, meals, a social and leisure life, a multi-discipline library and form a micro-community where you will immediately make friends and feel at home.

The University of Cambridge, in turn, sets out the course syllabi, oversees exams, graduation ceremonies and lectures, and research projects. You can make an” open application” to the University of Cambridge, which means that the university will allocate you to a college, or you can apply to a specific college

How to get into the University of Cambridge - Courses at the University of Cambridge

Colleges appoint their own staff and administer admissions, but beware, not every college offers all the Cambridge courses. Churchill, for example, has a bias for science and environmental damage, and other colleges simply do not accept students who wish to study history of art, architecture or theology, because they do not have the fellows on staff to teach these subjects. The collegiate system is not common in England, and apart from the University of Cambridge, it is only found at Oxford and Durham, so if this appeals to you, then you should apply to one of these three excellent universities – but remember that you cannot apply to both Cambridge and Oxford in the same admissions cycle.

How to get into the University of Cambridge - how to get a place

Step 1: choose a course

There is a common belief that Oxford specialises in the Arts and the University of Cambridge in the Sciences, and while it is true that the University of Cambridge has an outstanding reputation for teaching mathematics, and alumni have been awarded six Fields medals in this area, this is only part of the picture. The most popular courses are:

  • Human, Social and Political Science
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Economics
  • Architecture
  • Philosophy

The University of Cambridge and  the UK’s Silicon Valley 

The University of Cambridge is situated next to England’s version of Silicon Valley, which is called “Silicon Fen”, the largest technological cluster in the whole of Europe. In the period 1960-2010, 1,500 high-tech companies were attracted to the area, creating 40,000 new jobs and strengthening the link between the University of Cambridge and the AdTech, software, fintech, electronics and biotechnology companies who have located there.

 In 2019,the  University of Cambridge – the wealthiest university in Europe – had an income of £2.192 billion, 25 per cent of which came from external grants and contracts, demonstrating that the university is something of a feeder-recruiter for the companies which support it. Nevertheless, a brief look at Cambridge’s alumni shows far greater variety than its reputation for science and medicine might imply.

University of Cambridge alumni 

Sacha Baron Cohen

Thandie Newton

Lytton Strachey

Antony Gormley

Cecil Beaton

J G Ballard

Eric Hobsbawm

John Maynard Keynes

Lord Byron

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Jane Goodall

Isaac Newton

Charles Darwin

Thomas Malthus

Francis Crick

It is obvious from this very tip of the University of Cambridge iceberg, that Cambridge excels in every area and is definitely not only for students who want to focus on STEM subjects. When you have chosen your course, it is time to move on to the next pre-application stage: finding out whether you will have to sit an entrance examination.

Step 2: find out if you have to sit an entrance assessment test

The following courses require admissions assessment examinations:

CHEMICAL ENGINEERING

  • Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)- 60 minutes
  • Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)- 60 minutes
  • Multiple-choice covering Maths and Physics questions – 60 minutes
  • Chemical Engineering via Natural Sciences (H813) requires the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)
  •  Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics) -60 minutes
  •  Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics) -60 minutes

COMPUTER SCIENCE

  • Test of Mathematics for University Admissions (TMUA)
  •  Mathematical Thinking (multiple choice questions) -75 minutes
  • Mathematical Reasoning (multiple choice questions) -75 minutes

ECONOMICS

  • Economics Admissions Assessment (ECAA)
  • Multiple choice questions in mathematics- 60 minutes
  • Economics AEssay – 60 minutes

ENGINEERING

  • Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)
  • Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)
  • Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)

ENGLISH

  • English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
  •  Essay comparing two passages – 90 minutes

LAND ECONOMY

  • TSA (Critical Thinking and Problem Solving- 90 minutes

MEDICINE

  • BMAT

NATURAL SCIENCES

  • Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)
  •  Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)- 60 minutes
  • Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)- 60 minutes

VETERINARY MEDICINE

  • Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)
  •  Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)- 60 minutes
  • Multiple choice questions in mathematics plus one science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics) -60 minutes

Check examination dates by contacting Elab, either by email or telephone.

How to get into the University of Cambridge

You may think it is a little premature to worry about entrance requirements before you have filled in your UCAS application form, but interviews are usually held in early December, a mere six weeks or so after the UCAS deadline for applications to study at Oxford and Cambridge.

 The Cambridge application process has several parts and deadlines, so you need to get organised from the very beginning and get a clear picture of what happens when, and what you will need to do. It is a good idea to draw up a timeline and mark in the relevant events and dates.

Here is a list of in-interview assessments and what they consist of, in terms of time and content.

Archaeology

Essay and text responses-60 minutes

Architecture

Classics

History and Modern Languages

History of Art

Law

Cambridge Law Test – 60 minutes

Linguistics

Modern and Medieval Languages (MML)

Philosophy

Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion

Some Colleges may require an at-interview assessment for the following courses:

  • Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic
  • Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
  • Education
  • Geography
  • History
  • History and Politics
  • Human, Social, and Political Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematics
  • Psychological and Behavioural Sciences

As you can see, it is up to individual colleges, who are in charge of their own admissions, whether or not they will ask you to do an in-interview assessment. And this brings us to the next topic: how to choose a college.

How to get into the University of Cambridge -choosing a college

If you would like to read about each of the colleges, their positive and negative features, then the following link will be useful:

Among the  most popular colleges are Trinity, Jesus and St John’s, which are centrally located, boast exquisite architecture and are awash in resources- which means that they can offer generous scholarships.

If food is your thing, then Robinson College is universally acclaimed as having the best selection of beautifully cooked dishes, while students at Peterhouse and Caius are less than impressed with the quality of their meals and the emphasis on potatoes.

King’s College is always voted Cambridge’s most beautiful college.

The Tomkins Table ranks Cambridge Colleges according to academic excellence and can be found at varsity.co.uk/features/25901

How to get into the University of Cambridge: college accommodation costs

In a recent survey, St Catharine’s College was found to be the cheapest at £179 a week, whereas Clare Hall was £230+ and Christ’s College was under £200. The price range is therefore not enormous, and it would perhaps be more useful to find out whether you can stay in college outside term times, with contracts varying from 27 to 39 weeks; how far the college is from the town centre; and whether you will be housed in a modern or mediaeval building.

Costs generally include water, electricity, heating, cleaning, internet access and basic self-catering facilities, like a shared kitchen. When it comes to food, students can buy a meal for £4-7 at college, and “Formal Halls”, three-course dinners, normally set you back £9-15 . Each college has its own requirements for the number of times a year you are expected to attend Formal Halls, and some colleges also charge a Kitchen Fixed Charge, from £195-£575 a year for the running costs of the college kitchen, whereas others factor it into the rent.

If you have specific requirements or want help choosing the right college at University of Cambridge, contact one of our specialist consultants and we will talk you through all your options and give you the additional information you need to find the ideal home from home while you are studying in England.

How to get into the University of Cambridge: filling in the UCAS form

All English universities, including Oxbridge, use the centralised admissions system  known as UCAS. Deadlines for Cambridge are earlier than for the majority of other university applications, with a cut-off at 6pm on 15 October. The UCAS code for Cambridge is CAM CO5.

Registering for pre-interview assessment

If you have to sit a pre-interview assessment, you must also make sure you register by 15 October. Do not assume that you are registered simply because you have submitted the UCAS form. This is not the case. Your school or college normally registers individuals for the tests, and you will need to provide: your UCAS ID, your name as it appears on the UCAS form, gender, date of birth, which university college you are applying to /whether you are making an open application.

Filling in the SAQ

Once you have filled in the UCAS form, you will receive an email from the University of Cambridge, giving you a link to the SAQ, the university’s Supplementary Application Questionnaire, which has to be returned by 22 October .

Remember, you do not have to fill in the SAQ in one sitting, you can save the form and return to it multiple times. Before you start filling in the supplement, make sure that you have found:

  • your SAQ password
  • your UCAS personal ID
  • a photograph
  • a copy of your high school transcript
  • a list of the units you are taking and any results/scores/grades.

The questionnaire is divided into sections and not all of the questions will be relevant to you. Some questions are, however, compulsory, and you will see that they are marked with an * in the section heading.

If you encounter any technical problems downloading the SAQ, Cambridge’s website suggests that you use the Firefox browser.

Note, too, that there is an Additional Information Section in the SAQ, so if you want to draw attention to any circumstances you believe impacted on your academic record (illness etc), this is the place to do it.

The SAQ fills in gaps which may still exist in your history, achievements and personal information. You will be asked about your English language proficiency, for financial information and specific facts about your academic record. Cambridge has a holistic approach to applications and wants to get a clear view of who you are and what you can do.

How to get into the University of Cambridge – College-specific requirements

Some colleges may ask you for examples of your written work, normally one or two school essays, before interview. If this happens, the college will contact you and set a deadline, and provide you with a cover sheet which you need to attach to the writing, stating that this is your own work and providing contact details for the teacher who supervised the essay, along with a description of the circumstances in which it was written. The examples must be in English, or translated and verified copies of the original.

How to get into the University of Cambridge - the interview

The University of Cambridge interviews the majority of its applicants, so you must be prepared to be invited for a virtual interview.

As noted above, many applicants will have to sit an in-interview assessment, which will take up an hour of the allotted slot. Do not be surprised if you have to do two interviews, since the college you have applied to may not have a space, but are keen not to lose you to the course, and therefore asks another college to conduct an interview, too.

Not everyone enjoys interviews and many hours are wasted by students who believe that mock interviews, usually with friends, teachers or family, make an enormous difference to how they will fare when faced with the real thing at the University of Cambridge. A better approach is to concentrate on the subject you have applied to study.

Make sure you are up to date on new trends and discoveries, any controversies in the field, recent publications and emerging topics. After all, you will be talking to people who want to see whether you can make a contribution to the course, the class and the university, and whose focus will be on how you think and your critical abilities.

Among the most common introductory questions are:

  • Is this subject important for humanity – and if so, why?
  • How do you think studying X will contribute to society?
  • What do you dislike about this subject?
  • What will you gain from studying at Cambridge?

Since these topics are quite common, it is probably wise to at least think through possible answers. Try to avoid clichés – which is not easy – and talk specifics rather than generalisations, so that your answer is personal to you. For example, rather than talk about “saving the world” and “enjoying volunteering”, you could describe a new recycling scheme you have introduced locally, or talk about fundraising drives you organised for a specific organisation you volunteer with, and how the money was raised and spent.

NB: International applicants who are applying for October interviews with the international interviews team MUST submit their SAQ by 27 September.

What is the University of Cambridge acceptance rate?

The University of Cambridge has an acceptance rate of approximately 22 per cent. This varies from course to course.

The University of Cambridge: a few interesting facts

Cambridge University has 116 libraries.

 The QS global rankings for 2024 placed Cambridge University in 2nd place.

Stormzy, the world-famous rapper, has set up two scholarships for black students at the University of Cambridge

Bill and Melinda Gates have offered a raft of postgraduate scholarships for University of Cambridge students.

Oliver Cromwell, the reformer and head of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, attended Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge. East Anglia was the heartland of the English Puritan movement in the 17th century.

The Cambridge Union is the oldest debating society in the world.

The University of Cambridge has eight museums and a stunning botanical gardens

How to get into Cambridge University: taking the next step

As you have probably gathered, it is never too early to start preparing your application for the University of Cambridge, since there are many stages to the process. You will have to fill in a UCAS form, ensure that you register in time for any pre-interview assessments, possibly submit essays, fill in a supplementary questionnaire, forewarn potential referees and compose an excellent Personal Statement. All this takes time.

Elab has a brilliant track record in this field and 85 per cent of our candidates to Oxbridge have been invited to interview. We run an Oxbridge workshop and can also organise one to one support, if that is what you prefer. We have years of experience and a great deal of knowledge on how to get into English universities, including the jewels in the crown – Cambridge and Oxford.

Let us work together during this adventure. We will help you decide on a course and choose a college, go through all the entry requirements, pre-interview exams and documentation you need and ensure that you meet every deadline and are confident, prepared and ready to shine and start studying at the University of Cambridge.

Call or email us and one of our Oxbridge specialists will answer any questions you may have, re costs, accommodation, tuition fees, course content and the application process itself. We know what it takes to secure a place at Cambridge University and are here, ready to help and waiting for your call.

Step1
  • Introduction
  • Diagnostics
  • Personal Profile Map
Step2
  • Research
  • University Report
  • Final application choices
Step3
  • Application process plan
  • Mentor Program
  • Exam and Interview prep
Step4
  • Document completion
  • Application portal setup
  • Submission
Step5
  • Acceptance
  • Pre-departure procedures
  • Finances
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