For me, getting into Cambridge seemed to be a stroke of luck, but it also required a lot of hard work. I came from a state school in the North West of England which had no experience of sending students to Oxbridge, and wasn’t sure what to do with me when I announced I intended to apply to Cambridge! As a result, my application process required a lot of initiative and my own research and preparation. Here are three things which I believe helped me to get into Cambridge, which I’d recommend to anyone considering applying.
Mid-way through Year 12, I saw an advertisement for an essay competition open to Sixth Form students, organised and judged by a Cambridge college (the college I am now a member of!). During the Easter holidays, I did a lot of my own research and wrote an essay for one of the competition prompts. Entering alone demonstrates initiative and self-motivation, which are some of the skills university admissions tutors are looking for, and looks great on a personal statement. But I was also awarded a prize for my essay and was invited to the Cambridge Open Day in the summer to collect it. This is the reason I ended up applying to Cambridge - I fell in love with the city and the college, and knew I could see myself living and studying there.
Lots of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge run essay competitions - keep an eye on the college websites and social media. If the set questions don’t align with your personal interests, or the deadlines aren’t feasible, look out for competitions organised by other universities. It doesn’t have to be Oxbridge - the most important thing is that you’re demonstrating your genuine passion for your subject by researching and writing an essay in your own time. Admissions tutors at all universities will love this!
During the summer between Year 12 and Year 13, I attended a four-day summer school at a Russell Group university for Sixth Form students interested in studying Politics at university. At this point, I was considering applying for joint honours courses in History and Politics, and had been teaching myself AS Level Politics as the course wasn’t offered by my school. While I certainly enjoyed the summer school, the experience made me realise that I didn’t really want to study Politics at university! Personally, I was far more interested in political history, as opposed to theoretical studies of politics, and so I decided instead to apply to History courses which would allow me to pursue this interest. Almost two years later, I’m still confident I made the right choice for me!
If you can access them, summer schools or virtual insight events are a great way to experience what studying a particular subject at university might be like. Particularly if you’re considering applying for a subject you haven’t previously studied at school, these schemes can be invaluable. Once again, it doesn’t have to be Oxford or Cambridge - lots of universities run summer schools or insight schemes which you may find helpful for choosing a subject and experiencing university life.
I was thrilled to receive an invitation to interview at Cambridge in December 2018, but I had no idea what to expect! I spent hours trawling the internet for any indication of what the questions might be like - thankfully this isn’t necessary anymore, check out the InsideUni interview experiences page 🔗 for testimonies from 2000 Oxford and Cambridge students! But once again using my initiative, I decided to re-read my personal statement, as well as reading a little more around the topics I’d mentioned on it, and made sure I was prepared to expand on what I’d written. I came to the conclusion that the interviewers may well ask me some unexpected questions about the broad study of history or an unseen text, which I certainly couldn’t prepare for, but I could prepare for any questions on my personal statement or submitted essays, so that’s what I did! I would say this is especially useful preparation for humanities subjects, although a similar mindset can apply for sciences, alongside revision of relevant subjects in preparation for problem questions.
You’ll never be able to prepare for every question the interviewers may throw at you, so my advice would be to focus on the things you can control, such as knowing your personal statement really well, and consolidating your knowledge of relevant A Level topics.
This is largely based on my personal experience, but I hope my advice is useful to anyone considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge! Above all, make sure the university and subject is right for you; demonstrate your enthusiasm and initiative on your personal statement possible; and ensure you’re presenting the best version of yourself at the interview. Best of luck!