Application

 Cambridge

 Robinson

 Computer Science

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Independent – selective

 yes (3 A*,5 A,2 B)

A-levels

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Mathematics, A in Mathematics (Further), A in Physics

yes

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Cambridge was highly recommended for CompSci.

I never considered Oxford. When I was looking for universities rated highly for my subject, both by word of mouth and newspaper league tables, Cambridge consistently came up.

Modern facilities; good location near the Computer Science buildings and off the tourist trail; also, the people I met there were friendly and didn’t take themselves too seriously.

Preparation

yes

They assigned two teachers to give me a mock interview, but I didn’t really like them so I used my York interview as practice for my Cambridge one.

Write down [on your application form]why you like the particular course at Oxford/Cambridge, and what extra work to do with the subject you’ve done in your own time. Don’t worry too much if you haven’t always been a model student. My GCSE grades were hardly phenomenal (the result of a work ethic that only kicked in at the end of the Lower Sixth), but Oxford and Cambridge are generally quite sympathetic as long as you’re doing well at the moment and you can think for yourself.

Don’t tell your interviewers you’re applying to Cambridge because you think the degree will get you a good job (even if you are). Stress that you like the coverage of computational theory in the course (even if you don’t). In fact, just make sure that you like the Cambridge course before you apply for it.

A sensible thing is to get a good night’s sleep before your interview day. Also, make sure you’re generally fluent in maths and logical thinking: almost everything in the A-level Maths syllabus apart from Mechanics is useful. You could be asked anything vaguely related to maths, logic or computers, so it’s good to be prepared. If during the interview you don’t know the answer to a problem, try to make an intelligent suggestion. Panicking out loud and/or looking blank won’t impress.

Interview

no

no

yes

I took the Cambridge Thinking Skills Assessment, which was a 50-question, 90-minute monkey-with-a-pencil (i.e. multiple-choice) job. I looked at a specimen paper on the Internet, which turned out to be quite similar to the real thing. However, I only tried a few questions before they got boring, so I didn’t really prepare.

My first interview was a non-academic chat with a Maths fellow at the college. My hands were freezing when I entered the room, so I don’t think the introductory handshake made a very good first impression. He went mechanically through my Section 10, asking me to explain virtually every sentence I had put down, and then he asked me what programming I had done, and what I liked about the course at Cambridge.

The second interview was with the two Robinson Computer Science fellows, and started with a five-minute discussion about my work experience. Then I got into an argument with them about the hardware on the BBC Micro computers from the early 1980s, which I lost quite convincingly (friendly warning: don’t argue with boffins about technology that was invented before you were born). We then went through some maths/computer science questions, and they gave me the chance to ask some of my own questions at the end.

How many comparisons must a bubblesort algorithm make when sorting a list of N items? How can a computer calculate the square root of 2? Simplify [sqrt(3)/2 + 0.5i]^6 without using a binomial expansion. Sketch y = sin(x)^2 and explain its relation to the curve y = -0.5*cos(2x).

Grey sweater, brown trousers and white trainers. And a green and purple coat, which I took off when I was indoors. It was the most hideous combination of clothes, but it was comfortable. I probably should’ve brought gloves though, because my hands were cold for most of the day.

Impressions

Robinson was unglamorous and unpretentious. I didn’t look at any other colleges, but I knew it was the right one for me. I was rather disappointed I didn’t get to meet many students though, because both times I was there (a summer Open Day and my interview), almost everyone was on vacation.

I stayed in one of the college rooms the night before my interview. It wasn’t huge, but it was warm and functional. The bed was a bit wobbly though, and I only slept for about three hours, but that might’ve been to do with all the Dr Pepper I drank on the train to Cambridge. The bathrooms and toilets at the college were modern, which was a big plus, and there was a decent pool table (not that I play often, but it was nice).

Excellent

The food was fine, and very reasonably priced (free in my case).

The Maths guy who was interviewing me was a bit too serious for my liking, but the Computer Science fellows were good, and they clearly knew what they were talking about. I didn’t get to meet any other tutors.

They were nice, although I didn’t get to speak to many of them. I was mainly shown around by a girl I already knew because she used to go to my school.

Final stage

It was New Year’s Eve, and I was under the impression that the university didn’t start sending out letters until January, so I was surprised when my mum woke me up and told me there was good news from Cambridge. I phoned the teacher who was in charge of Oxbridge applications at my school to let him know, then I went back to sleep.

Looking back

Yes. I thought an offer from Cambridge would be worth the trouble of applying. However, if they had turned me down, I wouldn’t have bothered applying again.

If you think you want a place at Oxbridge because you’d enjoy and learn from the experience, then go for it. However, there are so many good universities in Britain and elsewhere, so don’t be too gutted if you aren’t given a place.