Top Tips for Applications

‘How can I increase my chances of getting an offer from Cambridge?’ is a question which we are often asked by prospective applicants.

You’ll find commercial organisations which claim to be able to improve your personal statement or interview performance, but these do not have access to any information which you cannot access online for free; they simply want to make a profit out of you. Everything you need to know is available from the Cambridge Admissions Office, the University website, or the Colleges – if you can’t find something, there are plenty of admissions staff who are happy to help you by email.

Making an informed choice

Finding the right course should be your first priority, and your choice of university will come next. Remember, it’s not like A levels – courses in the same subject at different universities can vary widely, even if they have the same name. Think through whether you would enjoy Cambridge’s particular style of teaching: a combination of formal lectures and small-group teaching, known as supervisions. Cambridge degrees are still mainly assessed by end-of-year exams – are you good at this kind of test, or do you prefer essays/coursework as a main form of assessment?

• UCAS has a useful video about choosing a course and search tools to help you find courses matching your interests.

• There’s also a video about choosing a Cambridge course on the University website and each of the subject pages has a short video of academics and students talking about what the course involves, what’s special about the Cambridge course, career prospects, and what makes a successful application.

• The HE+ website provides further information about all of the Cambridge courses, as well as resources to help you further explore your subject.

If the Cambridge course seems like the one for you and you’re considering applying to Newnham, take a look at our College prospectus, come and talk to us at an Open Day or explore our page on the Cambridge Virtual tour.

Making a strong application

Cambridge and Newnham assess applicants solely on the basis of academic achievement and potential.

Strong applicants have (in the context of their schooling) an excellent track record in public examinations, have researched their chosen course well, to make sure that it matches their interests, and have explored that subject more widely and deeply – something we call super-curricular activities. Depending on the subject, super-curriculars can involve engagement with online maths or science platforms, reading, online research, the undertaking of research projects or extended projects, attendance at masterclass-type days or residential events, or work experience where relevant (most usually for vets, medics and architects).

Strong applicants will also have checked that their A-level or equivalent subjects meet the requirements of their chosen degree course (note that there can be slight differences between colleges on subject requirements).

Our admissions decisions are based on academic criteria (ability and potential) and we expect to see evidence of students’ wider engagement with areas of academic interest, such as reading and other explorations relevant to the course for which they’ve applied. Extra-curricular activities which are of no relevance to the course will not increase a student’s chances of receiving an offer.

If, however, particular extra-curricular activities have enabled a student to develop transferable skills, such as organisation or time management, then these can be included in their personal statement. Such activities might include significant caring responsibilities or paid employment, which can help us fully contextualise an application, as well as sport, physical activity, music, drama and volunteering.

Please refer to our FAQs for applicants for further advice, or get in touch.

Writing your UCAS personal statement

Personal statements are the best opportunity to tell us about your subject interest(s), and the process of writing a personal statement can often help you to better understand your academic interests and intellectual motivations.

For guidance on what to include, we advise you to follow the UCAS advice on personal statements. See also, the University’s article on how to write a great personal statement.

At Newnham (and Cambridge), all admissions decisions are based solely on academic criteria (ability and potential). Therefore, in your personal statement, we’d like you to:

  • explain your reasons for wanting to study the subject at university
  • demonstrate enthusiasm for and commitment to your chosen course
  • express any particular interests within the field
  • outline how you’ve pursued your subject interest in your own time

This information is often used as a basis for discussion at interview.

Super-curricular activities

Because we use academic criteria (ability and potential) to select our students, showing us evidence of your ‘super-curricular’ activities in your personal statement will help to convince us of your enthusiasm and commitment to the course you’re applying for.

‘Super-curricular’ activities are things that you do outside of your schoolwork, which are still related to the subject you would like to study at university. This could mean reading a book, listening to a podcast, attending a Subject Taster day at your local university…there are lots of options! For suggestions of where to find super-curriculars, visit our Resources for Schools page.

People who can help

There are lots of people who can help you with your university application, and places where you can find information and guidance independently.

Make the most of any support offered by teachers or other members of staff at your school, but there are lots of places to look if you feel that you need some extra advice. The Cambridge College Events webpage is regularly updated with both in-person and online events which cover all aspects of the applications process. The University of Cambridge YouTube channel also has a #GoingtoCambridge channel with a range of helpful videos.

You should always feel free to contact the Admissions Office at any of the Cambridge Colleges. The Admissions Office staff are happy to answer questions (there are no silly questions!) and would much rather you have made an informed decision about whether Cambridge is right for you (personally and academically) before you apply.  If you have an unusual educational background, or specific circumstances such as a serious disability, it’s always best to specifically contact the College to which you plan to apply to get individual advice.