How to get into Cambridge

A few girls in my school asked for my advice about how to get an offer from Cambridge. Obviously I am no expert, so I just sent them an email on my advice from my experience, but I thought it may be of use to people on this site as well. Some of the advice I have given before in other posts.

Thank you for emailing me. I must admit I still can hardly believe I got into Cambridge. It is something I never, ever imagined would happen. I have emailed other people about this so I have accumulated quite a bit of advice about how to get into Cambridge so I hope you’re ok with a really long email.

 

It is true that it is very competitive getting into Cambridge, but in terms of applicants to place (5:1) it’s not that bad. It’s true that the average standard of applicants at Cambridge are likely to be higher than other places, but it is definately a lot less competitive than Oxford.  If you then consider the people they take out who don’t have good enough AS grades, predictions or BMAT scores, then it gets even better than this. 3 of us applied for Cambridge medicine this year, and all 3 of us got in. (that is, me, who applied to Christ’s, Nicole Lim, who applied to Newnham, and Julita Chapko, who applied to Jesus)

 

I think the main distinctive feature of Cambridge medicine is a big emphasis on science. They require you to have 3 science A levels (this can include maths), and at my interview, when they saw that I have only science A-levels, they said “You’ve applied to the right place”. This means that you have to emphasize science in all aspects of your application, from your personal statement, to your SAQ, to what subjects you keep for A2, to your interview. The best way to do this is to do lots of reading, I would say specifically focused on biology and medicine. I think they gave you a reading list in MDV club, and just choose random books of the list and read them. It’s good to have particular interests, but its also good to read broadly. Also read the student BMJ, and possibly the new scientist. Reading will expand your knowledge beyond the syllabus which is really what they’re looking for.

I’ll try and cover chronologically my tips for the application process.

·         Firstly AS’s. I don’t know whether you do AS or IB, but if you do AS’s, your UMS marks are extremely important. Cambridge makes you fill in a form where you declare your marks in each module, including resits. Obviously you need all A’s in your modules, but Cambridge say that people who have >93% average UMS have a much greater chance of getting in. That means that you have to try really hard in you AS’s (but I’m sure you would anyway).

·         Open day and choosing a college: Go to the Cambridge open day, and try and look at a few of the colleges. Try and come up with a list of criteria before going, e.g. size, accommodation, facilities etc. so that you have an objective way of judging the colleges. Try and visit colleges you think you may want to apply to.  When choosing a college, it’s worth looking at some of the statistics:

o   Applicants per place for medicine: http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/statistics/

o   Not too important, but a few colleges, e.g. King’s. are very high. If you apply to a more competitive college, you’re more likely to get pooled, and although the pooling system tries to make it as fair as possible, I still think a college is less likely to admit someone from the pool, than someone who applied directly to their college of the same standard. Where I applied, Christ’s, has above average applicants per place, and the ratio fluctuates a lot year on year, so don’t worry about this too much

o   Number of medics. This is similar for most places. Gonville and Caius has loads though (about 25)

o   Ranking in the Tompkins table, Amount of money a college has (both can be found on Wikipedia)

o   Read about director of studies and fellows

·         Or you can make an open application, which uses an algorithm to assign you to a college with fewer applicants. This year 2/3rds of applicants at Murray Edwards for medicine were open applicants. If you want to maximise your chances, this is the best way of doing it, but you may well end up in a college you don’t want to go to.

·         Personal statement: As I mentioned emphasize science, however, for Cambridge you can give a Cambridge specific personal statement in the SAQ

·         SAQ: (Supplementary Application Questionnaire), is an online form you have to fill in. It takes ages, and they only give you just over 1 week. There are lots of optional sections, and I recommend you use all of them. I think the more information they have, the better. If you don’t fill in all the sections, it could make you look lazy. For the personal statement, I said why I chose Cambridge, why I chose Christ’s. For the “Do you have anything else you want to tell us” section, I wrote about the areas of medicine I was interested in.

·         BMAT: We have lunchtime classes for the BMAT in SFC2’s, but I recommend you do more preparation. At school we learn the science section, which is really stuff you already know. I found section 1 (aptitude), the hardest. I recommend doing a Kaplan course. They are expensive but really useful. For the UKCAT, the book published by ISC medical is very good. The ISC book is the one we use at school for the BMAT. It is good for sections 2 and 3, but this really did not have enough on section 1. I found the best section1 preparation was the KAPLAN course, and the book they give you there. I found the best book for section 1 was “BMAT and UKCAT uncovered”, a blue book.  By the way, my BMAT score wasn’t particularly good.

 

Now what you’re probably most interested in is preparing for the interview.  Firstly, just so you know, there is no need to prepare for the interview until about 1 or 2 weeks beforehand. I had a subject interview, which was all about Biology, and a general interview, which was a bit like a chat. I spent most of my time trying to cram a bit of information about each discipline of medicine (e.g pharmacology, biochemistry). However, I have to say, I found from my interview that, above all, you have to be really certain about AS and A2 biology, and any medicine mentioned on your Personal statement or SAQ. They expect you to know this, so it looks really bad if you don’t.  Knowledge beyond this is definitely a good thing, which is where the further reading comes in handy. However, they don’t expect you to have already studied medicine, so trying to cram it is a waste of time. It is useful to look over your interviewers specialties. One of my interviewers specialised in pharmacology, he asked me some pharmacology questions at interview, and I would have had no idea if I hadn’t looked up the basics. In SFC2′s Dr. Gamblin runs biochemistry lectures. I recommend you try to go to all of these as they cover things that are not on the syllabus. I also would say try and go to every MDV session

Also, try and enjoy yourself. Try and stay in the college if you can, and just treat the experience as a fun trip to a beautiful town.

 

Good luck,

Louise

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6 thoughts on “How to get into Cambridge

    • I can’t remember exactly. In terms of percentage, I think my AS UMS was:
      Physics: 99%
      Chemistry: 95%
      Biology: 93%
      Maths: 97% (did A2 a year early, so was actually A*)
      I actually got higher UMS marks in my A2 modules than my AS. I think physics and further maths were similar, but I got something like 97% in biology and 96% in chemistry at A2

  1. I was just wondering what resources you used to prepare for your Cambridge interview, specifically when you say you familiarised yourself with each discipline of medicine? Really enjoyed your blog, thanks!

    • I actually used wikipedia quite a bit. I literally typed in “medicine”, then I scrolled down to “Basic sciences” and “specialties”, and I worked through the lists. I don’t know whether that’s the best strategy, but it just so happened that one of my interviewers is a professor of pharmacology, so having a vague idea of the basic principles of pharmacology helped

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