We asked Cambridge Admissions Tutors what is the one thing they wish applicants knew before they arrived at the interview. Here’s what they answered:
There are no trick questions! The interviewers aren’t trying to catch you out. You’ll most likely be asked something that you don’t know, and that’s fine. We’re more interested in seeing how you think and how you approach a problem, rather than checking if you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. It’s about academic potential, not polish.
It’s important to remember that we consider every part of your application together. You can think your interview went terribly, and still get an offer. We consider every application individually, and there’s no magic dart.
Interviews for Cambridge do not function like a “final hurdle” in the same way that job interviews do. The information that we glean from interviewing candidates is simply one piece of the puzzle: we use it in tandem with other elements of a student’s application, and many Cambridge undergraduates come to us with relatively modest scores at interview.
To be honest, I had to google some Oxbridge myths to find out what might still be out there, as all the old ones – the interviewers will throw random and unanswerable questions at you or ask you to do bizarre things, to see how you cope with stress – were only ever urban legends, and are so ridiculous and superannuated I would be astonished if anyone still believed them. But I suppose it’s worth repeating that interviewers are not interested in catching you out. They will not judge you for your appearance, background or accent – interviewers are trained to check for unconscious bias, and how to distinguish real shine from veneer. If anyone thinks there are still plausible myths in circulation, I’d be interested.
Your interviewers, whatever subject you are applying for, and whatever college you are applying to, are rooting for you. They want you to give your best possible interview and want to help you achieve that even if they seem tough and severe and demanding (though they might just as easily be friendly, generous and supportive). That’s how they aim to draw the best out of you. Remember that, relax, be yourself, and you’ll show them what you’re really made of.
There’s no worse outcome from an interviewer’s point of view than letting slip an outstanding candidate who simply couldn’t connect on the day. So remember: the people opposite you are passionate about their subject and they want you to be as well. They are, no more or less than you: kind, sympathetic, curious, reflective, and keen to do their job well. They’re looking for someone they can work with as a colleague for years, who has the potential to grow and flourish, and who will make the most of the opportunity Oxbridge offers. We really, really want you to do well. Honestly.
The most important point about interviews is to remember that interviewers want to get the best from you so they can see your potential and so are happy to rephrase questions if you’re not sure. Remember to always try to ‘think aloud’ so the interviewers can see your thought process – it’s not always so much about getting to the answer as to how you get there. Interviewers will know you’re probably a bit nervous so don’t panic if you think you’ve made a mistake – just stay calm, take a deep breath and keep going.
That you can know whether or not you have ‘got in’ (or not) at the end of any interview. Interviewing is part of a process of assessment that involves comparison with other candidates, ultimately across the whole university not just at any one College. The interviewers themselves do not know how a candidate has performed until they talk to their colleagues, often many days later, and make these comparisons. Interviewers are the applicants’ friends: they want them to do as well as they can and will help them to do so.