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Frequently asked questions
There's no hidden formula or secret handshake in Cambridge admissions: what matters is your academic record and academic potential. Despite this, nearly everyone tends to worry about aspects of applications and assessments. We've asked a few of your questions to an admissions tutor.
Dr Geoff Parks
Director of Undergraduate Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges
If I apply to a College which receives fewer applicants, do I have a better chance of getting in?
Many applicants think, or are advised, that choosing a College that attracts fewer applications will increase their chance of getting an offer. In fact, careful analysis of our admissions statistics shows that the chance of winning a place at Cambridge is independent of College choice. Through our pool system applicants who have been squeezed out in the competition at their College can be made an offer by another College. Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant from the pool than a weaker applicant who chose them.
What do you look for in the UCAS personal statement?
The personal statement is much more important for applications to universities that do not interview than those that do. Also, the sad reality is that no admissions tutor believes the personal statement is the sole work of the applicant, so it is not possible to significantly advantage an application by producing a good one. We look for information about why you have chosen the course you have, evidence of your wider exploration of that subject beyond the school curriculum, and something about how you balance your academic life with your other interests and commitments.
Why does Cambridge ask for UMS marks?
We started asking for UMS marks in order to ensure that we had consistent information about all our applicants. Our experience is that, by and large, schools and Colleges have welcomed our decision to ask for this information. They would rather we use finer-grained information available from the public examination system to help the selection process rather than placing further weight on interview performance or introducing further admissions tests.
Is taking a gap year viewed well by all Colleges?
The general attitude to gap years is one which is supportive as long as you are planning to do something positive and worthwhile during the year. This doesn't have to be saving the world, doing work to earn some money or get an insight into your subject area are perfectly fine things to do. There is no necessity for your gap year plans to be connected to the subject you want to study at Cambridge.
There are a couple of subjects where there are particular views on the issue. Gap years are generally discouraged for Mathematics unless a student's plans for the gap year will ensure that their mathematical skills are kept well honed (just because your maths knowledge disappears rather quickly). Gap years are widely encouraged for Engineering where there are excellent gap year schemes, particularly the Year In Industry. The Year In Industry scheme provides similar opportunities for Computer Science and Natural Sciences students.
Will my application be helped by extra-curricular activities?
All admissions decisions are based on academic criteria, and excellence in an extra-curricular activity will never compensate for lower academic potential. That said, extra-curricular activities are looked at, as they can be helpful in showing how an applicant balances their academic and personal commitments, demonstrating time management skills. It does not matter how these are developed: we do not value some activities over others. To us, achieving well at school while holding down a part-time job stacking shelves at your local supermarket is no less impressive than achieving well at school while representing your county at hockey.
The chance of winning a place at Cambridge is independent of College choice.