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We've put together some top tips to preparing your UCAS and Cambridge application. This is by no means a definitive list of what to do, but a few suggestions from students who have already been through the process. At the end of the day, there's no right or wrong way to prepare, and no preparation that will guarantee you a place.
Top tip: 1 - Be yourself. It's your application, your interview, your interests
Be yourself. There's no 'Cambridge type' that you should try to be. The University is made up of a huge mix of people; admissions tutors want to meet you. Make your personal statement personal, not something that feels unnatural to write. When you talk about your interests, talk about your real interests. You don't need to feign an interest in something because you think it makes you sound more academic: it will be obvious if you're not genuinely interested and you'll look (and feel) pretentious. At interview, you don't need to be what you think the interviewer wants you to be. There's no need to be anything other than yourself.
Top tip: 2 - Don't always believe everything you hear...
Your parents, teachers, friends and next-door neighbour will probably be volunteering suggestions about your university, subject and College choices. Don't necessarily believe everything they say. Whilst they're likely to give you good advice, and it's often worth taking on board their input, any decision has got to be yours. Going to university is about independence, and this is the first step. These are your choices. Read the official information (the University website and prospectus) and make sure that what you've been told correlates.
Top tip: 3 - Read around your subject.
If you plan ahead early enough, use some time in the summer to read around your subject. If you're applying for a subject you already study, think about where your interests lie. If you like a particular text in English, for example, try other works by the same author or written at the same period. Essentially, think outside the curriculum.
Your subject teacher should be willing to give you suggestions (teachers will be touched by your enthusiasm and your desire for their opinion). Not only will this help you to decide whether you do want to study the subject further, but it will also give you something genuine to talk about in your personal statement or at interview, as well as developing study skills and knowledge that will pay off in your school exams.
Top tip: 4 - Read over any submitted work before an interview.
Take a copy of any work that you've submitted and your personal statement when you go for interview. On the way down or an hour or so before, read over what you've written. You might not get asked about any of it, but it helps to know what you've said, so that you don't feel caught out if it does come up in conversation. If you've mentioned an interest in your personal statement (even if only in passing), it's probably a good idea to be able to talk about it. You don't need to stun with your in-depth knowledge of particle physics, but it will help to show that you've pursued your interest a little further than the Wikipedia page.
Top tip: 5 - Practise talking out loud about your subject.
It's not by any means essential, but it might help you feel more confident and relaxed going into your interview. There are different ways of doing this. You can try to arrange a mock interview with a teacher at school. You can volunteer answers in classes. You can try to explain to your mum what you studied today and why it's important or interesting (or, if you're lucky, both). At the same time, prepare answers to the obvious questions, such as why you want to study your subject. They often get used as an ice-breaker, but they can also be quite hard to answer, and you'll feel more confident if you have an idea beforehand. Most importantly, try to enjoy yourself. Sit back, relax and take it all in your stride. Everyone will be nervous and everyone will be in the same boat as you. It's easy to be intimidated by other candidates, but there's no need. Often, the ones who seem the most polished are the ones who won't get in.