Applying

Applying to Cambridge can be pretty daunting - most Cambridge students never thought they were going to get in. But if you’re on track for the entry requirements and think you would enjoy Cambridge, definitely give it a shot - it’s only one of your five UCAS choices (or four for medics) and you’ll never know unless you try!

Please note that as current Peterhouse students, we are not really qualified to give you advice about applying and cannot guarantee this page will be up to date.

For up to date, accurate information, the official university and Peterhouse websites are the place to go:

http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying

https://www.pet.cam.ac.uk/applying-peterhouse

That said, here's some information from our personal experiences, just in case it helps!

Picking a college

While we hope you apply to Peterhouse, the truth is that the colleges are all pretty similar and everyone loves where they end up! There’s no need to apply to a college you think will be undersubscribed. Not only is this difficult to predict (it fluctuates every year), but Cambridge has a system of moderation for the application process, called the ‘Winter Pool’. If an applicant is good enough to be at the university, but a college doesn’t have enough room to offer them a place, they can be placed in the pool where another college can take them. Hence your chances of getting into the university overall are pretty much the same, regardless of which college you apply to (but check the entry requirements as these can vary slightly between colleges, and don’t apply to an all female college if you’re male!). If you really don’t have a college preference you could always submit an open application. But this won’t increase your chances of getting in- you will be allocated to a college and then treated exactly the same as someone who applied directly there.

The Cambridge university website is very good on how to (and how not to) pick a college. http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/colleges/choosing-a-college

Personal statements

The best advice I got was to treat your personal statement as a ‘love letter to your subject!’ This is easier said than done- even if you are genuinely ‘fascinated by X-topic’ it sounds rather cliche when written down! A good way round this is to demonstrate your interest through articles you’ve read, documentaries you’ve watched, places you’ve visited, debates you’ve had etc. Then pad it out a bit by adding your personal reflections on these experiences and voila, you’re almost there!

Obviously anything that shows you’ll be good at your subject (alongside your grades) is useful; it is worth entering some competitions -the essay competition for year 12s organised by Peterhouse is one good example (https://www.pet.cam.ac.uk/essay-prizes).

Cambridge University usually doesn’t care much about your extracurricular activities. However do mention them if you are also applying to unis that consider them important - and link them to academic skills such as time management, organisation, teamwork etc. if you can (but don’t force it!).

Lots of people (me included) stress far too much about making it perfect - completely original with an impressive introduction and memorable ending. While this would be nice, as long as the content is genuine and you come across enthusiastic about your subject you’ve done a good job - it doesn’t have to be the most beautiful piece of writing in the world!

There is an another personal statement in the SAQ - an additional form you have to fill in if you apply to Cambridge. This is optional- but is a good place to mention why you’re interested in the Cambridge course and teaching style specifically.

Admissions tests

These are assessments taken by all applicants to a subject, regardless of College. They are marked, but not given a grade, and there is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’.. Not all subjects have them and some are sat at interview while some are sat before - see the university website for details (http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/admission-assessments). Unfortunately a lot of them didn’t exist (or were in a different format) when we took them, so we can’t offer much specific help. They’re designed so that you can’t really prepare/revise for them - but definitely have a look at all the free official material online. The best advice is probably just not to panic (hard as that is) - they’re not expecting you to get everything right or come up with something incredibly profound, just show the same knowledge and skills that you have used to do well in assessments so far. :)

Interviews

Aaaah! This is definitely the scariest part of the application process. ~85% of applicants to Cambridge are invited to interview, usually in early December. The most common format is 2 approximately 30 minute interviews (although this can vary), that are academic in nature. The interviewers will probably start off with something you’ve studied already (you specify the topics you are doing in your SAQ) and then take it further - seeing how you can apply what you know to something new (depending on your subject this might be a source, text, maths problem, graph etc.) They may also ask about your wider reading, or use something you put in your personal statement/ submitted written work as a starting point for discussion.

In many ways a Cambridge interview mimics a supervision (the small group teaching which is characteristic of Oxbridge); the people interviewing you may well be the people who will teach you in supervisions. They’ll want to see you’re enthusiastic about their subject and they’ll want to see how you think - so try to think out loud. It doesn’t matter if you get stuck or get things wrong (everyone will); as long as you can listen to their guidance and change tack when needed, then you’re showing them that you’re someone they can teach. It is not in their interests to trick you so you underperform- so they won’t ask any of the ‘weird Cambridge interview questions’ you sometimes find online! If such questions were asked it would have been at the end of a long conversation between the applicant and interviewer, which would provide the context you need to answer. Most people find their interview was actually rather enjoyable and interesting, even if they found it hard. This is a good sign that they will enjoy the Cambridge supervision system.

In terms of preparation, it is important to revise relevant things that you’ve been studying at school/college (the topics you put on your SAQ). It’s also a good idea to keep up-to-date with current affairs in your area of interest, especially for subjects such as sciences and law. If you’ve mentioned books on your personal statement, make sure you have read them and are prepared to discuss them. Have a think about basic questions such as ‘Why Cambridge?’ (although you will not be asked to justify your college choice). It is a good idea to practice expressing yourself clearly when talking about academic things with other people (something lots of people have little experience with before their interview). Try talking about your subject with family and friends. If there’s a few people at your school interested in doing same subject consider setting up a subject ‘Society’- where you each take turns at presenting something that you’ve read to the rest of the group. This could also be something to put on your personal statement!

The official Cambridge website has some excellent information on interviews (http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/interviews) and Emmanual Collegehave recorded some mock interviews (https://www.emma.cam.ac.uk/admissions/video/interviews) so you can get an idea of what they’re like.

Finally, remember that Cambridge spend a lot of time on every single application. This means they can genuinely take a holistic approach - putting together information about your grades, personal statement, reference, admissions tests, interviews, other achievements in the context of your school, background and any extenuating circumstances. So don’t give up if some parts of your application aren’t so strong - no one does really well at everything!

[Updated 30/08/2016]