How to apply to Cambridge University

How to apply to Cambridge University

This article was written by the Great British Mag editorial team on 2 November 2020

The University of Cambridge is one of the highest-ranked universities in the world and if you are thinking of applying, we have researched everything you need to know.

What should I do before I begin my application to Cambridge?

First you need to decide what course you want to study. Each course has its own admission requirements, so look at these online before applying. 

Depending on which course you want to study, you might have to take an admissions test. This is not part of your UCAS application and must be completed separately. You should also check if any coursework from previous schooling (such as an essay) needs to be submitted.

As Cambridge is made up of 29 colleges, and not all of them offer the same courses, you will need to consider which one to apply for. If your course is offered at multiple colleges and you don’t have a preference then you can submit an open application, which means you will be assigned to a college that has fewer applicants for the course you want to study.

Do I need a visa to study at Cambridge?

Whether you are from the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland or from elsewhere in the world you will need to apply for the Student Visa,  if your course will last more than six months your course. If your chosen course will last less than six months you will need to apply for a Short-Term Study Visa.

How do international students apply to Cambridge?

International undergraduate applicants apply via UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), just like UK applicants. You will also need to provide information about your education, qualifications and expected grades as well as upload a personal statement and an academic reference.

After you submit your UCAS application, you will be emailed the Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). This application asks questions that are not on the UCAS application. On this application you will also need to complete a Cambridge-specific personal statement that is separate from the statement you will submit with your UCAS application. 

Applicants who live outside of the European Union must also complete a Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA), found on the university’s website.

The deadlines for the UCAS, SAQ and COPA forms vary, so double-check which dates apply to you. (See the deadline timeline further below.)

What level of English proficiency do I need?

Cambridge’s English language proficiency requirements are higher than most other universities in the UK. Applicants who do not speak English as their first language must submit evidence of English language proficiency.

Cambridge accepts the IELTS Academic, TOEFL and Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English as proof of English proficiency but does not accept the IELTS General, the IELTS UKVI General or the IELTS Life Skills.

Cambridge generally requires applicants to have a minimum overall score of between 8.5 to 7.5 in an approved English proficiency test.  The results of any language test you have previously taken are valid two years from the date of the test. If you want to submit prior results with your Cambridge application, the results must still be valid on the day your chosen course begins.

What grades do I need to get into Cambridge?

There is no way to guarantee you will get accepted into Cambridge, no matter how excellent your grades are. The university’s website, however, does list what qualifications are expected for an international applicant. These are organised by country, so be sure to look at the website before you apply.

High grades and test scores are important, but they might not be all you need to get into Cambridge. If you can relate your extracurricular activities to the course you’re applying for in your personal statement, that’s great. Other factors might influence your strength as an applicant as well. For example, top athletes might get recruited.

What makes a good personal statement?

Cambridge’s website stresses that their admission decisions are based solely on your academic ability and potential. This means it is important that your personal statement shows how and why you’re passionate about the course you’re applying for. Explain how you’ve engaged with the course material, especially outside the classroom. Talk about what inspires you? And what you hope to do after your studies.

Do not make up information for your personal statement – if you get an interview at Cambridge, you will most likely be asked about information in the statement. Don’t just list achievements and experiences, either. You need to explain their impact on you.

Be sure to write multiple drafts of your personal statement before you submit it. Have a teacher read it and help you with revisions and follow this tips on how to write a good personal statement

Who should write my academic reference?

A teacher or tutor who can comment on your academic ability must write a letter that gets submitted with your application. Whoever writes your letter of reference does not need to be a head teacher at your school. The most important thing is that whoever writes the letter can confidently write about why and how they believe you will succeed academically at Cambridge in your desired course and vouch for you as a person.

Think carefully about who you want to ask to write your letter of reference and remember it cannot be a friend or a family member.

Ask a teacher who knows you well and can vouch for you academically but also can say why you would make a valuable contribution to Cambridge. And be sure to give the person you asked plenty of notice because the last thing you want is for them to rush the letter or not be able to write it in time.

Cambridge’s website has advice for teachers who write letters of reference and explains how to submit the letters via UCAS.

What happens if I get invited to interview?

 If tutors who read your written application think you have potential,  then you will be invited to an interview.

When you apply to Cambridge, you must apply to be interviewed either at Cambridge or at one of the university’s seven overseas interview locations: Singapore, Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), China (Shanghai), Hong Kong, India (Mumbai), Canada (Toronto) and the United States (New York). There is an additional fee of £150 to interview outside of Cambridge, unless you interview in New York, then the fee is £80.

Applicants who live in a place where overseas interviews occur are generally expected to interview at this location. If you live in one of these places and want to interview at Cambridge instead, you must say so on your COPA and list your reasons why.

Some courses require that you interview directly at Cambridge, and these are listed on the university’s website.

How should I prepare for my Cambridge interview?

This might not be what your nervous ears want to hear, but your interview is all about seeing how you think and respond to new ideas spontaneously, and as a result it can be hard to prepare. The interview process at Cambridge generally consists of two different interviews, each lasting between 20 and 45 minutes.

Your first interview will be a subject-specific interview where you will be asked questions relating to the course you applied for. You might be given a text, graph or situation that relates to your course and asked to comment on it. It’s okay if you’re not familiar with the topic at hand – that’s the point! The goal is to see how you can think through a new topic with the knowledge you already have.

The second part of the interview will be a general academic interview. The questions at this interview will focus on why you want to study your course, attend Cambridge and potential career goals.

Prep tips from a Cambridge graduate

  1. Reread your entire UCAS application, especially your personal statement.
2. Be able to defend your positions in your personal statement – you will most likely be asked about them.
3. Review any topics from your course material that you’re most passionate about.

4. Accept that if your interviewer asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s better to say you don’t know than to make up an answer.

5. If you don’t understand a question, word or phrase an interviewer asks, don’t be scared to ask for clarification! This shows you’re really trying to listen to the question.

What are the undergraduate deadlines for applying to Cambridge for 2021 entry?

 Applying to Cambridge is a long process, so be sure to stay on top of deadlines.

  • June 2020: UCAS application opens. Choose the course and college you want to apply for, draft your personal statement and organise your academic reference.
  • 20 September, 2020: UCAS application, COPA and transcripts due for students applying to be interviewed in Malaysia or Singapore.
  • 26 September, 2020: SAQ deadline for students applying to be interviewed in Malaysia or Singapore.
  • 15 October, 2020: UCAS application due for students applying to be interviewed in Cambridge, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India and the US. All applicants must also be registered for necessary entrance tests by this date.
  • 19 October, 2020: COPA due for students applying to be interviewed in Cambridge, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India and the US.
  • 22 October, 2020: SAQ deadline for students applying to be interviewed in Cambridge, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India and the US.
  • 4 November, 2020: Take entrance tests.
  • November – December 2020: Interviews for shortlisted applicants take place.
  • January 2021: Final admission decisions are announced.

How do postgraduate students apply to Cambridge?

Postgraduate students apply directly through Cambridge’s website, not through UCAS. You first must choose which course and colleges you want to apply for (you may select a maximum of two).

The postgraduate application includes your personal information, two references, qualifications, English language proficiency test results, an official transcript, examples of written work and a research proposal, and shortlisted postgraduate applicants will be invited to interview.

There are two deadlines for postgraduate applicants: the course deadline and the funding deadline. Each individual course has its own application deadline, while the funding deadline varies depending on what country you’re from. Your application for your course and your application for funding are submitted as part of the same form, so you must apply by whichever deadline comes first. For example, if your course deadline is in January but your funding deadline is in March, you need to submit your entire application by January.

Can I apply for Cambridge and Oxford in the same year?

No, you cannot apply to Oxford and Cambridge university in the same year. There is speculation that this is due to the fierce rivalry between the two world ranking institution, but the real reason is to do with the high number of applications each institution receives, and their ability to go through the applications and carry out the interviews.

So, unfortunately to will have to put a stake in the ground and choose whether its going to be Oxford or Cambridge.

You might also want to read:

City Guide to Cambridge 

Is it expensive to study in the UK

How to apply for a scholarship