Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study

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Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study
Studying at Cambridge:
  A guide for parents and supporters

                  2020 entry
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study


If you’re supporting someone who’s thinking about applying to university for
2020 entry, it’s likely that you have your own questions about higher education
and the University of Cambridge in particular. In the pages that follow you’ll find
information about the University, student support, student finance, our application
process and more.

We hope that you’ll find this booklet useful, and that it will answer your questions
and help you to advise and encourage your prospective applicant. If you have any
further queries we’ll be happy to help – just get in touch.

Cambridge Admissions Office
   01223 333308
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study                          1


 2             6              8                       10

 Why           Supporting     Student                 What we’re
 Cambridge?    our students   finance                 looking for

 12            20             21                      Back cover

 Applying to   How you        Glossary                Further information
 Cambridge     can help       of terms                and advice

                                   Please note
                                   This guide covers application and admission
                                   procedures for Home applicants. Further details
                                   are available on the Undergraduate Study website
                                   (, including
                                   information for overseas/international students
                                   (from outside the EU, including from the Channel
                                   Islands and Isle of Man). At the time of going to print,
                                   the fee status of EU nationals commencing their
                                   studies in 2021 onwards has yet to be set by the UK
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study
2          Why Cambridge?

Why Cambridge?
Cambridge is one of the best universities in the world, offering undergraduate degree courses in the arts and humanities,
social sciences, sciences and engineering. We’re a ‘collegiate’ university, made up of faculties/departments in different
academic subjects, and Colleges (see p14-5), meaning our students have access to a wide range of support, facilities and

No. 1                                                Top 10                                                90%
No. 1 in the Complete and Guardian                   Top 10 for academic experience,                       90% of our 2017 graduates were in
University Guides 2020, and in the                   accommodation and industry                            employment or further study six
Times University Guide 2019.                         connections (THE Student Experience                   months after graduating.
                                                     Survey 2018).

     Top 10
3 years                                              98% Top 10                                                Top 10
                                                                                                           Top 10
Cambridge guarantees most students                   98% of UK undergraduates continue                     Top 10 in the world for graduate
College-owned accommodation for at                   or complete their degree at the                       employability (QS Graduate
least three years (see p4).                          University, compared to 90 per cent                   Employability Rankings 2019).

¹ 98.2 per cent at Cambridge compared with 90.1 per cent nationally, Higher Education Statistics Agency; all UK domiciled full-time first degree entrants
(March 2019).
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study       3

Academic excellence
We provide challenging, flexible and individual tuition,
and are consistently rated at the top of national and
international league tables. Our teaching staff includes
many national and world subject leaders, so students have
the exciting opportunity to be taught by leading experts in
their field.

The collegiate structure
As well as being a member of a large university, students
are also part of a smaller College community. While all
courses are set and examined by faculties/departments,
the collegiate system offers a huge amount of pastoral and
academic support for each student, providing a place for
them to live, study and socialise.

College life is nice; it gives you a good
environment to meet a whole cross-
section of people from around the
world with their own unique interests
and passions. I’ve made a lot of very
good friends here and found it to be a
friendly, inclusive place.
Kiran, Corby

                                                                                     Contined overleaf
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study
4          Why Cambridge?

Flexible learning                                                                 Accommodation guarantee
Many of our degree courses (also referred to at Cambridge                         The Cambridge Colleges¹ guarantee accommodation to
as Triposes) encompass several subjects – more than 65                            single undergraduates without children for three years
subjects are offered within our undergraduate courses –                           (many also provide for fourth-year students), and students
and some options (usually called papers) are available in a                       are only charged rent when they’re in residence – most
number of courses where subjects overlap. Generally, our                          accommodation contracts are for 26-39 weeks, rather than a
courses are broad in the first year and become increasingly                       full year (
focused in later years.

These aspects can offer students a high level of flexibility,
allowing them to explore subjects widely, developing their
interests and discovering their strengths. See online for
more about our courses (

More personal tuition
In addition to lectures, practicals and seminars, students
receive regular small-group tuition (most often for between
one and three students). These more personal sessions,
known as ‘supervisions’, allow students to explore course
material in much greater depth, investigate new approaches
and get individual feedback and support. Supervisions
usually take place once or twice a week (depending on the
course) and will generally last for about an hour.

Outstanding support
To help our students to succeed we provide expert teachers
                                                                                  The teaching was something that
and lecturers, excellent library and computing facilities,                        attracted me – the one-to-one
superb labs and lots of support. Our extensive welfare                            supervisions are a perfect way to
networks ensure that students’ individual needs can be
                                                                                  ask all those questions you’re dying
recognised and met (see also p6-7). This commitment to
the overall wellbeing of our students is reflected in our                         to have answered. The Faculty and
undergraduate student retention (see p2).                                         library staff are supportive and
                                                                                  resourceful in helping students in
                                                                                  any way possible, and the Faculty
                                                                                  library is such a wonderful and open
                                                                                  Laura, Cumbria

¹ With the exception of St Edmund’s College.

² Non-UK EU nationals should regularly check online for updates regarding fee status and financial arrangements for 2021 entry onwards (

³ Elements of the Cambridge Bursary Scheme (such as eligibility criteria and bursary value) are currently being reviewed – please check online for
updates, including arrangements for, including arrangements for non-UK EU nationals (

⁴ Less than four per cent of our 2017 graduates (the national figure is five per cent) are still seeking employment or further study six months after
graduation (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey 2016/17).
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study                        5

Low cost of living
Cambridge is a relatively inexpensive place to study. Study
costs are kept low because we’re fortunate to have excellent
computing and library facilities (see p6), and transport costs
in the city are minimal as it’s possible to get around on foot
or by bicycle.

Substantial financial support
The University and Colleges are committed to the principle
that no suitably qualified Home fee status student should
be deterred from applying to Cambridge by their financial
circumstances, and that no publicly funded Home student
should have to leave because of financial difficulties.²
Therefore, an extensive programme of financial support
– including non-repayable Cambridge Bursaries³ – is              Everyone is welcomed
offered to help our undergraduates meet the costs of their       We welcome students from every background and the
Cambridge education, regardless of background. See p8-9          diversity of our student body is valued and celebrated by
for more information.                                            all. We encourage our students to get involved socially
                                                                 and they certainly do – the hundreds of student-run clubs
                                                                 and societies are testimony to that. Whatever a student’s
                                                                 interests are, there’ll be plenty of others here that share
                                                                 them (see also p7).

                                                                 Excellent career prospects
                                                                 Cambridge graduates from all disciplines go into a very
                                                                 wide range of occupations. They’re highly employable and
                                                                 greatly sought after due to the in-depth subject knowledge
                                                                 and key transferable skills they develop and hone here
                                                                 ( This is evident in our having one
                                                                 of the highest rates of graduates entering graduate-level
                                                                 employment or further study in the UK.⁴

The Careers Service is excellent. The
main way I’ve benefitted is through
an internship scheme run by them. It
was a brilliant experience: I developed
lots of valuable skills, made useful
contributions to a charity’s work and
learned an awful lot.
Bryony, Wolverhampton
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study
6        Supporting our students

Supporting our students
Our welfare system helps students make the transition             Facilities and resources
from school/college to the University, and is one of the key      The University has considerable resources and facilities
reasons why almost all of our students stay and successfully      available to support and enrich academic study, and help
complete their course at Cambridge (see also p2).                 keep study costs down.

College welfare                                                   • The collegiate University has more than 100 libraries
The greatest strength of the College system is the personal         providing free access to millions of books, journals
teaching, support and guidance offered to students.                 and documents, as well as extensive electronic resources
                                                                    (significantly reducing the need to buy books).
Within their College, undergraduates have a Director of           • All students have access to up-to-date computing
Studies (DoS) looking after their academic welfare and              facilities in the departments and their College, and the
monitoring their progress, and access to a pastoral tutor           University Information Services (UIS) offers a programme
who can advise on any personal or financial matters.                of free IT courses.
Colleges also employ a variety of other staff – such as a         • The University has nine specialist museums and
nurse, counsellors, and chaplains – and there are welfare           collections open to students and the public.
officers on the College students’ union committees.
                                                                  • The Language Centre assists students wanting to
University support                                                  develop their existing language skills or learn a new
Lecturers and departmental/faculty staff are on hand                language from scratch, regardless of degree subject.
to provide advice on course-related matters and the               See the Undergraduate Study website for more details
University’s Careers Service facilitates careers events, alumni   (
(former student) networks and wider training opportunities,
helping both current students and alumni make informed            Care leavers
career choices.                                                   The University and Colleges are committed to supporting
                                                                  care-leaver students, and to encouraging and supporting
The University’s Counselling Service offers free and              prospective applicants who are (or who have previously
confidential professional counselling to students wishing         spent time) in care. On top of the support that’s available to
to talk through any personal circumstances or emotional           all undergraduates, care-leaver and estranged students are
concerns. The University Students’ Union (CUSU) represents        also entitled to year-round College-owned accommodation
students at a University level and provides a range               (if they wish to stay in Cambridge during the vacations).
of student-run welfare services, as well as employing             Some care leavers may be eligible for a higher rate of
professional Student Advisers to give impartial support to        Cambridge Bursary, and Colleges are keen to support care
students.                                                         leavers should any financial or pastoral issues arise.

Further information                                               In order to ensure students receive the support available                            to them as a care leaver, they should indicate in their
                                                                  UCAS application that they’ve spent time in care. Within
                                                                  our Realise programme, we offer a number of events and
                                                                  activities that aim to raise the aspirations of young people
                                                                  who are or have previously spent time in care. If you’re
                                                                  supporting a young person currently or previously in care
                                                                  and would like more information about Realise events
                                                                  or studying at the University, please visit our website or
                                                                  contact the Cambridge Admissions Office’s Widening
                                                                  Participation Team (telephone: 01223 766872; email: realise@
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study                     7

Disabled students                                                  Meeting people
The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) provides information          One of the many benefits of a collegiate university is the
and support to applicants and more than 1,600 current              ease of meeting people.
undergraduates with a disability or health condition,
including those with:                                              Because our student body is so diverse – coming from a
                                                                   wide range of different backgrounds, and from across the
• specific learning difficulties (SpLDs, eg dyslexia, dyspraxia)   country and world – all new undergraduates will find plenty
• mobility impairments                                             of others with shared experiences. However, our students
                                                                   also embrace opportunities to develop friendships with
• sensory impairments
                                                                   others who have similar interests to their own (academically
• mental health conditions (eg depression, anxiety 		              and/or recreationally) but who may be from entirely
  disorder)                                                        different backgrounds.
• long-term health conditions (eg cancer, chronic fatigue
  syndrome, HIV, diabetes, epilepsy)                               Students get to meet others from different Colleges on their
                                                                   course who share their academic interests; through clubs,
• Asperger syndrome and autism
                                                                   societies and sports they get to know people with similar
Prospective students and their supporters are welcome to           recreational interests; and in their College they get to know
contact the DRC (see the back cover) for advice on building        students on different courses and in different years.
accessibility and facilities/resources, to arrange visits and
discuss their support needs.                                       We encourage undergraduates to get involved socially – an
                                                                   appropriate work/life balance is essential for their wellbeing
Students intending to apply are advised to get in touch with       and it’s important that they take advantage of the social/
the DRC and a College admissions office as early as possible       recreational opportunities available here, as well as the
to discuss their application and specific requirements             academic ones.
(see p18 and p20). We also strongly recommend that they
disclose their disability/disabilities and provide relevant        During freshers’ week, College students’ unions offer
information in their UCAS application so that appropriate          activities for new undergraduates, while CUSU runs the
adjustments to the interview process can be made, if               Societies Fair so students can find out about the various
needed.                                                            groups and clubs available (
Settling in                                                        Adjusting academically
Arriving in Cambridge                                              All of our applicants are academically very able and we
Once offer-holders meet the conditions of their offer, their       have every confidence that those we admit will thrive in the
College will start to contact them about arrangements              learning environment Cambridge offers.
for their arrival in Cambridge. New undergraduates may
also find it helpful to have a look at CUSU’s freshers’            However, it’s important for the student you’re supporting
website ( Colleges and faculties/         to understand that there’ll be an initial adjustment period
departments usually offer an induction or orientation              while they get to grips with the demands of their new
programme in the first few days of students’ arrival as well       timetable and workload, and that how long this takes
to cover key information (eg finding their way around,             naturally varies from student to student. At Cambridge
facilities/resources etc).                                         there are plenty of people to advise undergraduates and we
                                                                   encourage students to access this support if they have any
                                                                   queries or uncertainties.

                                                                   In general, Cambridge is a safe city and the vast majority
                                                                   of students never experience any problems during their
                                                                   time here. However, students are expected to use the same
                                                                   common sense with regard to security and personal safety
                                                                   that they’d use anywhere else.
Studying at Cambridge: A guide for parents and supporters - Undergraduate Study
8        Student finance

Student finance                                                   Living costs
                                                                  An individual’s living costs as a student – food,
                                                                  accommodation, course costs/study materials, personal
There are two higher education costs to consider – tuition        expenses – will obviously vary depending on their lifestyle
fees and living (or ‘maintenance’) costs. The University has      and course, but the University is a relatively inexpensive
an extensive programme of financial support – including           place to study. We estimate that in 2019-20 undergraduates
non-repayable Cambridge Bursaries¹ – to help our students         should allow approximately £9,420⁴ for living costs in
meet the costs of their Cambridge education, regardless of        Cambridge for the year (students should allow for increases
background.                                                       in future years). Living costs for international students
                                                                  may be higher. Further details are available from the
The information that follows relates to Home fee status
                                                                  Undergraduate Study website.
undergraduates starting a course in October 2019 (unless
otherwise stated). Figures for 2020-21 will be published          Living costs support: government
on the Undergraduate Study website (                As well as the Tuition Fee Loan, students from the UK
studentfinance) as soon as they’re available. Further             studying for their first undergraduate degree are currently
information about financial arrangements is also available        eligible for a means-tested government Maintenance
from the GOV.UK website (              Loan for living costs. Eligibility for other funding
Parents of international students can find information            depends on individual financial circumstances. However,
about costs and financial support at               higher education funding is being reviewed by the UK
uginternationalfees.                                              government; you should refer to the appropriate finance
                                                                  award agency website for the most up-to-date information
Tuition fees
                                                                  and guidance.
Tuition fee rates for students qualifying for Home fee status²
are set by the UK government. The 2019-20 tuition fee for         Students from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the EU
Home students at Cambridge is £9,250. At the time of going        should also refer to the relevant student finance authority
to print, the tuition fee for Home students starting their        for information regarding support for living costs.
first undergraduate degree³ in 2020 has not been set. It is
subject to a major government review and may be different         Certain groups of UK students (such as student parents
from the tuition fee for 2019. The tuition fee for 2020-21 will   and disabled students) may be eligible for additional
be published on the Undergraduate Study website as soon           government financial support. Please see the GOV.UK or
as it’s available; see:              relevant student finance award agency website for details.

You should check the website for the most up-to-date              Living costs support: University
information on tuition fees before the prospective student        We don’t want financial considerations to stop Home
you are supporting makes an application and prior to              students applying to Cambridge and are committed to
them accepting an offer from the University should their          providing the financial support needed while here. The
application be successful.                                        Cambridge Bursary Scheme is a long running initiative,
                                                                  which gives non-repayable bursaries for living costs to
Tuition fee support                                               eligible students. Elements of the scheme (such as eligibility
Currently, Home fee status students studying for their first      criteria and bursary value) are currently being reviewed –
undergraduate degree can take out a government Tuition            please check the website regularly for updates:
Fee Loan for their tuition fees and defer payment of the
loan until after they’ve left university and are earning a
minimum salary, at which point they’ll start to repay the         Living costs support: College
loan in instalments. Please refer to the appropriate student      There may be College-level awards that students can
finance award agency for details of tuition fee support (see      apply for, such as book and equipment grants to help with
opposite).                                                        specific study-related costs; scholarships and prizes for
                                                                  academic, musical and sporting achievement; and hardship
                                                                  funds to support students facing unexpected financial

                                                                  Information on any such funds is available from each
                                                                  College (                                9

     Living Costs 2018-19
     What am I paying for?                                                How much does it cost?
     Accommodation				 £2,220-£6,180 per year⁵
     (including any kitchen charges)
                                     £3,330-£6,180 en suite, per year⁵
     College meals                                                        £4-£7 per meal
     Additional course costs                                              Dependent on course (see faculty/department websites)
     Transport in Cambridge                                               Cheap or free!

     Students should allow for increases in subsequent years.

    Student finance award agencies                                                    Please note
    Government financial support arrangements for                                     Students are strongly advised to apply for financial
    undergraduates studying in the UK differ depending                                support as early as possible. Applications for
    on where they’re from. Applicants should contact                                  government support will open early in 2020.
    the relevant organisation for information and                                     Students don’t need a confirmed place at a
    guidance. Details about government financial                                      university to apply for this. To ensure their funding is
    support are correct at the time of printing but are                               in place for the start of their course in October 2020,
    subject to change and/or government approval.                                     students should usually apply by April/May (dates
                                                                                      may vary). See the relevant student finance award
    Students from England and outside the UK                                          agency website for guidance on when and how to
    Student Finance England			                                                        apply.

    Students from Northern Ireland
    Student Finance NI

    Students from Scotland
    Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)

    Students from Wales
    Student Finance Wales

¹ Elements of the Cambridge Bursary Scheme (such as eligibility criteria and bursary value) are currently being reviewed – please check online for
updates, including arrangements for non-UK EU nationals ( bursary).

² Islands students (from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man) are usually classified as international/overseas students and so charged tuition fees at the
international/overseas rate. As international/overseas students, Islands students have to pay College fees in addition to tuition fees (

³ Students undertaking a year abroad, where part of the course, pay a different fee during their year abroad (
Students wishing to study for a second undergraduate degree should refer to the website for information regarding fees.

⁴ Figures rounded up to the nearest £10.

⁵ Figures based on the most common College accommodation contract (30 weeks) in 2018-19 – see individual College websites for details and costs.
Figures rounded up to the nearest £10.
10        What we’re looking for

What we’re looking for
Admission to Cambridge is highly competitive and those
assessing applications have to make very difficult decisions
when deciding who to make offers to. Applicants are               Will taking more A Levels improve an
assessed on their academic ability, their suitability for the     applicant’s chances of admission?
chosen course and their potential to benefit from and             Most applicants to Cambridge are studying three or
flourish in the Cambridge learning environment.                   sometimes four subjects at A Level. This is sufficient
                                                                  to show the breadth of an applicant’s interests
All undergraduate admissions decisions are the                    and their ability to manage a range of differing
responsibility of the Cambridge Colleges. The Colleges are        academic tasks. We’d prefer applicants to develop
committed to offering admission to students of the highest        a broader and deeper knowledge of the subjects
academic ability and potential, irrespective of background,       most relevant/closest to their chosen course than
and each applicant is assessed individually, without              to accumulate additional A Levels. Students who’ve
partiality or bias (              taken A Level Mathematics early should refer to the
                                                                  A Level guidance on our website (
There’s no blueprint for an ideal Cambridge student and we        entrancerequirements).
want to give applicants as many opportunities as possible
to demonstrate their strengths and potential. Therefore,
each application is considered individually and using all
information available, such as:

• academic record
• school/college reference
• personal statement
• any written work submitted (where requested)
• performance in any written assessment
• contextual data, such as school performance data
  (where available)
• performance at interview (if interviewed)
Every application is assessed holistically. Admissions
Tutors consider all of the information available together
before making any decisions – no part of an application is
considered in isolation.

Rigorous moderation procedures are in place, which enable
Colleges to compare the quality of their own applicants
with those across the University before finalising decisions
about offers. This helps to ensure that an applicant’s
chances of admission don’t depend on College choice (or
College allocation, in the case of open applications; see p15).                11

Extenuating circumstances
If an applicant has experienced health or personal
problems, disability or difficulties with schooling, their     How many A*s at GCSE do applicants need?
school/college referee (or GP or social worker) should         There are no GCSE (or equivalent) requirements
complete our Extenuating Circumstances Form.                   for entry to Cambridge and we don’t require a
                                                               minimum number of A/A*s (7/9s) at GCSE.
The information given on the form provides context within
which Admissions Tutors can consider the applicant’s           GCSE results are looked at as a performance
academic record, and which can be useful when assessing        indicator, but within the context of the performance
their performance at interview (if interviewed).               of the school/college where they were achieved.
                                                               See the Undergraduate Study website for further
Circumstances that this form should be used to advise us of    guidance about entry requirements
include:                                                       (

• a serious, acute or chronic medical condition
  (especially since the age of 14)
• significant caring responsibilities, or recent bereavement
  or serious illness within close family
• serious disruption to educational provision at school/
• other circumstances where disruption has occurred
If an applicant is unsure whether an Extenuating
Circumstances Form should be completed they, or their
referee, should contact a College admissions office as
early as possible to discuss their case and get further
advice. We encourage applicants to let us know about any
circumstances we may need to take into consideration
when assessing their application.

The student should apply in the usual way (see p12-3) and
the Extenuating Circumstances Form should normally be
completed and submitted by the school/college referee
for receipt by the 22 October 2019 application deadline.       If a student attends a state/private school will
In those rare cases where the applicant’s school/college       this disadvantage their application?
is unaware of the circumstances, a doctor or social worker     No. Admission is based solely on intellectual ability
may complete and validate the form on the student’s            and potential – we don’t discriminate for or against
behalf.                                                        applicants because of the type of school they
                                                               attend (
More information is available on the Undergraduate Study
website at:
12         Applying to Cambridge

Applying to Cambridge
Applications to universities in the UK are made online                         In addition, students are required to provide some
through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service                       information not covered by the UCAS application. The six
(UCAS). Your student’s school/college should be able to                        steps below outline the application process (with further
provide advice on making a UCAS application and there’s                        detail given on the following pages).
some information for parents and supporters on the UCAS
website (                                                We also encourage prospective applicants to visit the
                                                                               University at some point so they can see for themselves
To apply to Cambridge, the process is much the same                            what it might be like to study here. There are around
as that for other universities. However, at Cambridge the                      150 open days and events in Cambridge each year to
process starts earlier to allow time for all the application                   choose from – details can be found at:
information to be gathered and considered. Most                                outreachevents.
undergraduate courses can be applied to up until 15
January, but at Cambridge, our deadline for all courses is 15                  If you come across any unfamiliar terms on the following
October.¹ Students who are interested in applying should                       pages, take a look at our application glossary on p21.
start their research as early as possible so they have plenty
of time to prepare their application.

                                                                                    2. College

                                                                               Consider where they’d like to live when they’re here –
    1. Course                                                                  applicants indicate in their UCAS application if they have a
                                                                               preference College or are making an ‘open’ application. See
                                                                               p15 and
Students should start researching our courses so they can
decide what might be right for them. See p14 and www.

                                                                                    3. Apply

                                                                               UCAS application² submitted online by 15 October.
                                                                               Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) submitted
                                                                               by students shortly afterwards. See p16 and

¹ Other application deadlines apply for those wishing to be considered for interview in particular overseas countries (,
and for some applicants aged 21 or over (mature applicants,

² As well as a UCAS application, an additional application must be submitted by students living or attending school/college outside the EU at the time of
application, applying for the Graduate Course in Medicine, and/or applying for an Organ Scholarship.               13

   4. Written assessment                                                5. Interview

Most applicants are required to take a written assessment,           Usually conducted in December. See p18 and
either before they are interviewed or at interview should  
they be invited to attend. See p17 and

                                                                                6. Decision

                                                                             Applicants will be advised of our decision before
   Will extra-curricular activities help an applicant’s                      the end of January 2020. See p19.
   chances of admission?
   All admissions decisions are based on academic criteria
   – ability and potential. Excellence in extra-curricular
   activities that aren’t relevant to the course won’t be

   A student’s participation (or not) in specific extra-curricular
   activities won’t affect their chances of being made an offer
   of a place at Cambridge. However, other universities may
   differ. Students should check what all of their university
   options look for in candidates and take this into account
   when composing their personal statement.

                                                                                                              Contined overleaf
14        Applying to Cambridge

1. Choosing a course
Post-16 subject choices                                         • Have they considered less obvious choices?
The subject choices for sixth-form studies made in Year 11        Encourage the student you are supporting to be open-
(or equivalent) can have a significant impact on a student’s      minded and avoid limiting themselves to the more
higher education options.                                         obvious or familiar sounding courses. For example,
                                                                  students interested in history, literature and language
Many Cambridge courses require qualifications in certain          may enjoy courses that incorporate all these areas, such
subjects and the Colleges expect such subjects to be              as Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Archaeology; Asian
passed, normally with an A* or A grade at A Level/grade 7         and Middle Eastern Studies; Classics; Linguistics; and
or 6 at Higher Level of the IB (or equivalent). Students who      Modern and Medieval Languages, as well as English and
have decided on a university course should look at the
course requirements before finalising their A Level/IB Higher   • What would they like to do when they graduate?
Level subject choices to check their suitability for entry        While a small number of professions do require certain
(                             qualifications, most employers don’t specify degree
                                                                  subjects, so students shouldn’t make assumptions about
Students who are unsure about the course they’d like              their career prospects. If the student you’re supporting
to study should note that there are certain subjects that         has a particular occupation in mind, encourage them
are essential for several courses at Cambridge. Therefore,        to research if there are any requirements they’d need to
choosing one or more of these can help keep their                 fulfil (eg accreditation and/or professional qualifications),
options open. Further advice about subjects and subject           and what people currently in that profession studied at
combinations that provide a more effective preparation            university and their subsequent career path – they may
for study at Cambridge can be found in our Subject                be surprised at the range they discover.
Matters leaflet, available on our website (       • Have they done their research? To understand fully
ugpublications).                                                  what a course entails, it is vital that students research
                                                                  course outlines at all of their chosen universities. Courses
Degree course choices                                             with the same title at different universities can vary
Choosing the right degree course is the most important            greatly, with different entrance requirements, content,
decision students will make in the application process and        structures, options, and teaching and assessment
they should think very carefully about their options.             methods.

Our Admissions Tutors are looking for the students who          Please note that students can’t apply to both the University
they believe have the greatest academic ability and             of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the same year.
potential, are best suited to the course applied for, and       If the applicant you are supporting is struggling to decide
who’ll most benefit from the teaching and learning              which university will be best for them, have a look at our
environment offered at Cambridge. Therefore, when               online guide to the similarities and differences between the
considering their degree course choice(s), there are some       two which may help them firm up their choice
questions you can encourage your student to think about         (
to make sure they are choosing the right course for them.
                                                                Further information
• What are their interests and motivations? Students    
  should consider what they most enjoy learning about
  – this may be particular topics within subjects currently
  being studied and/or something from their wider
  interests. It’s crucial that they have a genuine personal
  interest in their subject to be motivated and successful at
  university.                 15

2. Choosing a College
Cambridge students are members of a College as well as            Open applications
the University. If the student you’re supporting applies to       If a student doesn’t mind to which College they belong,
the University, they must indicate in their UCAS application      they don’t have to choose – they can make an open
if they have a preference College or are making an ‘open’         application instead.
application (see right).
                                                                  After the closing date, a computer program allocates each
A student’s College is their base for the time they’re at         open application to a College which happens to have
Cambridge – where they live, eat, do a lot of socialising,        received fewer applications per place for that course than
receive academic support, and where they often (though            the average number across all Colleges.
not always) have their supervisions.
                                                                  Once allocated, open applications are treated exactly the
Does College choice matter?                                       same as any other – interviewers aren’t told whether an
The Colleges are more alike than different and students           applicant made an open application or stated a preference
settle in quickly whichever they attend, so applicants            College, and candidates won’t be asked about their choice
shouldn’t agonise over which College to choose (see also          at interview.
information about the ‘pool’ system, p19).
                                                                  Before submitting an open application, students should be
It’s the University (not the Colleges) that sets course content   sure that they’ll be content whatever the outcome of the
and students from all Colleges studying the same course           allocation as once an application has been allocated it can’t
attend the same lectures/practicals and sit the same exams        be changed.
together. For equally well-qualified students, making an
open application or indicating a preference College makes         A few extra notes
no difference to their chances of being made an offer.            • Students can also find advice about how not to choose
                                                                    a College (eg based on application statistics, specialisms
How do students choose a College?                                   of College Fellows) on our website.
Some Colleges don’t take students for some courses so             • It’s advisable for applicants with unusual qualifications/
applicants should check availability for their course first         particular considerations to apply to a specific College,
(listed in the course and College information). Otherwise,          having sought advice at an early stage.
we suggest students think of choosing a College in terms          • Students can only submit one application to Cambridge
of choosing where they’d like to live. They may find it useful      in a year, either choosing a preference College or an
to consider:                                                        open application; and once the UCAS application has
                                                                    been submitted this choice can’t be changed.
• their age – four Colleges are exclusively for students aged
  21 or over (mature students)                                    Further information
• their gender – three Colleges consider applications from
  female students only
• size – number of students
• appearance and type of accommodation
• personal instinct/preference – many students can’t                 Which Colleges are ‘best’ for which subjects?
  explain why they were drawn to their College other than            Regardless of their College, students on the same
  it just ‘felt right’                                               course are taught together by and in the University’s
Information about the different Colleges is available online.        academic faculties/departments, attending the
Students may also find it helpful to visit a few, either by          same lectures, seminars and practicals and sitting
attending an open day or arranging a separate visit (there’s         the same exams.
no obligation to apply to one they visit).
16          Applying to Cambridge

3. The application
UCAS application                                                                 Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ)
To apply to the University, students must submit a UCAS                          In order to ensure that we have complete and consistent
application online, listing Cambridge as one of their options                    information about applicants, all students will be asked
in the ‘Choices’ section, as well as a College (UCAS campus)                     via email to complete a Supplementary Application
code or ‘9’ for an open application.                                             Questionnaire (SAQ) online following receipt of their UCAS
To ensure that there’s sufficient time for all applicants to
be assessed equally and fairly, the deadline for applying to                     The SAQ enables us to collect information that’s not part
Cambridge for most students is 15 October.¹                                      of the UCAS application but is useful when assessing
                                                                                 applications: for example topics covered as part of AS/A
As well as a UCAS application, students must submit                              Level (or equivalent) courses (which helps interviewers
another application if they’re:                                                  decide which questions to ask). Applicants will have
                                                                                 the option to complete a Cambridge-specific personal
• living or attending school/college outside the EU at the
                                                                                 statement as part of the SAQ, giving them the opportunity
  time of application
                                                                                 to detail their interest in their chosen Cambridge course.
• applying for the Graduate Course in Medicine
• applying for an Organ Scholarship 			                                          To make a valid application to the University of Cambridge,
  (                                                    students must submit their SAQ by the deadline set. In the
                                                                                 majority of cases this will be 22 October.³ More information
If there are extenuating circumstances which have caused
                                                                                 about the SAQ is available on our website
disruption or disadvantage, the applicant’s school/college
referee (or doctor or social worker) should complete and
submit the Extenuating Circumstances Form (see p11) by 22

Students should note the separate registration deadlines for
courses requiring a pre-interview written assessment (see

¹ Other deadlines apply for applicants wishing to be considered for interview in particular overseas countries (, and for
some mature students (

² Applicants must regularly check both the inbox and spam/junk folder of the email account they give in their UCAS application as they’ll be contacted
by the University and/or UCAS by email at various stages of their application.

³ If a different deadline applies, the applicant’s College will notify them of the date. If there’s any doubt about the deadline by which they must complete
the SAQ, the applicant should contact the College as soon as possible to check.                 17

4. Written assessment
Most applicants are required to take a course-specific           With the exception of the Biomedical Admission Test (BMAT,
written assessment, either pre-interview or at interview.        for Medicine), there’s no entry fee for the pre-interview
                                                                 written assessments, but some assessment centres may
These are designed to supplement the information in              charge candidates an administration fee.
each student’s application and provide a gauge of their
existing abilities – to assess skills (such as comprehension     Applicants must be registered in advance by their
and thinking skills) and, where appropriate, levels of current   assessment centre for the relevant pre-interview
knowledge and understanding relevant to the course               assessment. The assessment registration deadlines can
applied for.                                                     be found online (, and pre-
                                                                 interview assessments (except for the August BMAT) will be
The course information online (            taken on 30 October 2019.
provides details of the associated written assessment,
including format (sections, timing) and content                  At-interview written assessments
specification. Students should note that their written           If a course requires a written assessment at interview, this
assessment performance isn’t considered in isolation, but        is taken when the applicant’s in Cambridge for interview (if
taken into account alongside the other elements of their         interviewed), which is usually during the first three weeks of
application (see p10).                                           December (see p18).

Pre-interview written assessments                                There are no charges associated with taking any written
Our pre-interview assessments are organised by Cambridge         assessments at interview in Cambridge, and students don’t
Assessment Admissions Testing and taken at an authorised         need to register or be registered for them – the Colleges
centre local to applicants. For most students this will be       provide details of arrangements in the letters inviting
their school/college. Applicants should check this with their    applicants to interview.
teacher/exams officer, as students who won’t be able to
take their pre-interview assessment at their school/college      Further information
must find an open authorised centre instead 		           
18        Applying to Cambridge

5. Interviews
The majority of applicants are invited to attend an interview.   What are interviewers looking for?
In previous years, this has been around 75 per cent of           The main focus of interviews is to explore applicants’
applicants overall (though the percentage varies between         academic potential, motivation and suitability for their
courses and interview locations) and involves more than          chosen course, as well as to assess how they’d respond to
20,000 interviews in each admissions round.                      the teaching methods used here.

When the interviews take place                                   Applicants must be prepared to think hard in the interview
Most interviews take place during the first three weeks          but should also be reminded that very often there are
of December and applicants should avoid making                   no right or wrong answers to the questions asked. It’s
unbreakable commitments or travel plans for this period.         the process of reaching their answer – how they think
                                                                 around the topic being discussed and apply their current
Interview arrangements
                                                                 knowledge to unfamiliar problems – that’s generally of
The exact form and length of interviews vary from College
                                                                 most significance, rather than the answer itself.
to College and between subjects, but typically applicants
have two interviews of 20-45 minutes each.                       More details and advice about interviews, including short
                                                                 films about how to prepare and what to expect, can be
If the student you’re supporting is invited for interview,
                                                                 found on our website.
the College will send them full details – explaining when
and where to go, what the format will be and what will           Further information
be expected of them, including arrangements for any      
written assessment (if relevant). If applicable and not
already declared in their application, your student should
contact the College as soon as possible to discuss specific
requirements (eg access arrangements) so that appropriate
adjustments can be made if needed.

Some applicants may be asked to stay overnight, in
which case they’ll not normally be expected to pay for
accommodation or meals. Support is available for some
UK applicants to help with travel costs (see the website for
further details).                 19

6. The application outcome
All undergraduate admissions decisions are the
responsibility of the Cambridge Colleges. Following the
assessment of each application there are two possible

1. The student may be made an offer. This might be
   from the College they applied/were allocated to, or
   from a different College as a result of their application
   being ‘pooled’ (see right). If they’re still studying, an offer
   will normally be conditional and dependent on them
   achieving particular grades in their qualifications (the
   University makes unconditional offers only to those who
   have already met the conditions for entry to their chosen
                                                                     The pool system
2. Their application may be unsuccessful. On average,
   we receive around five applications for each place, so            The pool system is designed to ensure that the
   every year we have to turn down many students with                best applicants are offered places, no matter which
   good grade predictions whom we’d like to have taken.              College they applied/were allocated to.
   Disappointing though this may be, we hope that all
   applicants find the process a useful experience, providing        If a College is over-subscribed for a particular course,
   valuable preparation for their other university choices           strong applicants are put into the ‘winter pool’ for
   and we hope that students won’t be deterred from                  other Colleges to consider. All Colleges can consider
   applying by the prospect of not being successful – we             pooled applicants and Directors of Studies in each
   can only offer places to those who apply.                         subject meet during the admissions period to
                                                                     discuss the overall standard of applications so they
If the student you’re supporting is offered a place at
Cambridge, they’ll be informed by the College and through            can see how their own College’s applicants compare
UCAS. They must then reply, as per UCAS requirements and             – Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant
deadlines.                                                           from the pool than a weaker applicant who applied
                                                                     directly/was allocated to them.
If they accept Cambridge firmly they must meet any
conditions of the offer by 31 August of the admissions cycle         As a result of being placed in the winter pool,
in which they applied.                                               some applicants may be asked to attend another
                                                                     interview at a different College, usually in January.
                                                                     Alternatively, they may be offered a place at another
Clearing and the adjustment period                                   College without further interview; or they may be
The University of Cambridge doesn’t enter Clearing, so no            unsuccessful, in which case they’ll be notified by
course vacancies are available through this application              their original College.
method. However, we anticipate that places may be
available for some students through Adjustment. You                  Normally, around one in four applicants is pooled
can find out more about Adjustment at                 and, of these, around one in five (954 for 2018 entry)
adjustment.                                                          receives an offer of a place from a College other
                                                                     than the one they applied/were allocated to.

                                                                     A second smaller pool of offer holders who narrowly
                                                                     miss the conditions of their original offer takes place
                                                                     in August after examination results are released and
                                                                     places are confirmed. This again helps to ensure that
                                                                     the best applicants secure places.
20        How you can help

How you can help
If the student you’re supporting intends to apply to             Remember the deadlines
Cambridge there are many ways you can help them to do            Once the autumn term begins, 15 October can come
this.                                                            round very quickly. You could help them to prepare for
                                                                 deadlines and respond promptly to correspondence from
Encourage wider academic engagement                              the University and/or UCAS. Students must regularly check
We expect applicants to be taking an active interest in the      both the inbox and spam/junk folder of the email account
subject they’re applying for and look for evidence in their      they give in their UCAS application as they’ll be contacted
application of their motivation to learn about that subject      by the University and/or UCAS by email at various stages of
area in their own time (their super-curricular activities).      their application.

Students should also be encouraged to read broadly and           Interview preparation
critically beyond the range expected for their current           If your applicant is invited to attend an interview, you can
courses – particularly in the areas of their A Level/IB Higher   support their preparation by encouraging them to talk in
Level (or equivalent) subjects that they find most interesting   detail in conversation about the course they’ve applied for
– and should have an awareness and understanding                 and explain what attracted them to their subject, as well as
of subject-related issues (relevant to their current and         discuss their wider interests.
university courses) visible in the wider world.
                                                                 The student’s school/college may be able to arrange a
Guidance on suggested reading and other preparation can          mock interview. These can be useful for giving students
be found in the course information on our website (www.          experience of discussing their ideas and responding to, and the HE+ website (www.myheplus.           questions with an interviewer they’re unfamiliar with, rather
com) provides subject enrichment for Year 12 and 13              than as an opportunity to guess which questions may come
students considering research intensive universities.            up or to prepare responses.

Come and visit                                                   See p18 for more information about the interview process
Though they don’t need to visit Cambridge to apply to            and visit for further advice
the University, the student you’re supporting may find           about how students can prepare for an interview at
it useful to do so. We offer a large number of open days,        Cambridge.
masterclasses and residential events throughout the year to
provide information about and preparation for study at the
University. Details about our events are on our website at:
                                                                    Please note
You might like to explore together which events may be              We’re aware of private companies and individuals
of use to them, and help them to plan their visit and the           that offer, at a charge, information and advice on our
questions they want to ask. If the student you’re supporting        admissions process, assessments and interviews.
has a disability or health condition (see p7) then this is a
good opportunity for them to discuss their requirements             We DO NOT support or encourage any of these
with the University and any College(s) to which they’re             commercial enterprises. None of these companies/
interested in applying.                                             individuals has access to any information that’s
                                                                    not already available free of charge to all schools,
Think ahead                                                         colleges and individual students from College
Because the UCAS application deadline for Cambridge is
                                                                    admissions offices, the Cambridge Admissions Office
earlier than for most other universities, we advise students
                                                                    or CUSU; and we’re unable to verify the accuracy of
to start thinking about their application early and become
familiar with the admissions process so they know what to           the information these companies/individuals may
expect and when. The long summer break is the perfect               provide.
time to think about what to include in their personal
statement ( Why do                  Please contact the admissions office at any College
they want to study that particular subject? What interests          or the Cambridge Admissions Office for more
do they have within that field? How have they been                  information.
pursuing their subject interests?                 21

Glossary of terms
You might come across many new and unfamiliar words and terms when helping the applicant you are supporting apply
for university. We’ve explained some of these below, however if you come across anything else that isn’t clear or you simply
want to find out more about life at Cambridge, have a look at our website or contact the Cambridge Admissions Office

Adjustment – UCAS Adjustment allows students who                  Pools – if a College is impressed by a student’s application
have met all the conditions of their conditional-firm offer,      but does not have a place for them, they may pool their
and exceeded at least one, to be considered by other              application for other Colleges to consider.
universities without jeopardising their place. We may have
places available through Adjustment (               Pre-interview assessment – around half of our courses
adjustment).                                                      require applicants to take a pre-interview assessment, taken
Cambridge Bursary Scheme – this scheme gives non-                 at an authorised assessment centre local to the applicant.
repayable bursaries for living costs to eligible students         Pre-interview assessments will be taken on 30 October
( The Cambridge                    2019. Other courses may ask applicants to take a written
Colleges also offer a range of bursaries, grants and loans to     assessment at interview.
help students manage the cost of their studies.
Clearing – the UCAS Clearing period begins after                  SAQ – Supplementary Application Questionnaire. The SAQ
applicants receive their results and offers an opportunity for    is sent to applicants after we receive their UCAS application.
late applicants or those who have missed their predicted          The SAQ gives applicants the opportunity to provide more
grades to be matched with a university that still has spaces      information about what they are currently studying and also
available. The University doesn’t enter Clearing.                 offers the option to add an additional personal statement,
                                                                  covering any details applicants were unable to include in
Conditional offer – this type of offer is dependent on the        their UCAS application.
applicant achieving certain grades in the qualifications they
are taking.                                                       Super-curricular activities – these are activities relevant
                                                                  to the chosen course that an applicant is involved with
Contextual data – this is used to help us obtain a more           outside their studies. We expect to see evidence of these
in-depth profile of an applicant. Contextual data includes        activities and wider engagement with the applicant’s area
information such as the academic performance of an                of academic interest.
applicant’s school or college. You can read more about
contextual data online:                   Tuition fee loan – all students can apply for a tuition fee
COPA – Cambridge Online Preliminary Application.                  loan to cover the cost of their course (excluding any cost
Applicants from outside the EU also need to complete the          that sits outside of the main tuition fee).
COPA, alongside their UCAS application and SAQ.
                                                                  UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Deferred entry – some students applying in 2019                   Students should make their application online using the
might choose to defer entry and join us in October 2021.          UCAS website (
Applicants should state their intention to defer entry in their   Unconditional offer – we only make unconditional offers
UCAS application and should be prepared to talk about
                                                                  to those who have already met the conditions of entry to
their proposed year out at interview (if interviewed).
                                                                  their chosen course, so if an applicant has already received
Maintenance loan – the government provides                        their results and they have achieved the grades we require,
maintenance loans to eligible students to help them cover         we may make them an unconditional offer.
their living costs. This loan is given based on household
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