We asked Cambridge Admissions Tutors which subjects require pre-application work experience, and how important that is. Here’s what they told us:
We do look for evidence of vocational commitment – by which we mean, an understanding of the realities of the profession to which the degree is likely to lead – in Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. Applicants for those subjects do need to think about how to secure some work experience, shadowing or relevant volunteering (though we do realize that opportunities can be constrained by individual circumstances). In other subjects, work experience really isn’t essential: it can count as “super-curricular” activity for the purpose of your personal statement, and it’s certainly a useful way to find out whether you really want to be an Engineer or Lawyer later on in life, but there are many other forms of “super-curricular” engagement that will carry as much credit with our assessors.
With the exception of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, applicants do not need work experience. Maybe you did a couple of week’s unpaid work for a law firm, and it inspired you to study the subject, or you indulge your passion for literature with a bit of volunteering at the local library. But Oxford and Cambridge are academic rather than vocational institutions, so it’s your academics that matter. Even for those courses with more of a vocational trajectory, such as medicine or architecture, it’s hard to think of how work experience would make much difference. Apart from anything else, those kinds of work experience are often available only to people with the right contacts; other kinds of work are done by people who want or need to earn money, which more privileged students don’t worry about so much. So I wouldn’t worry about this either.