Application

 Cambridge

 Trinity

 Medicine

 2000

 rejected

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (7 A*,1 B,1 C)

A-levels

(A at AS)

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

(NA at AS; predicted B; gained B at A2)

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

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

Other universities

yes

yes

Studying Medicine at Imperial

Decisions about the application

I had wanted to go to Cambridge for many years, probably as a result of the fact that it was the first university I had heard of, being mentioned so often in the press. When I started A-Levels so many of the people whose works we discussed were Cambridge alumni (Charles Darwin, John Maynard Keynes, Isaac Newton and Alfred Lord Tennyson to name but a few), that I thought ‘Here is a university that is shaping current thinking in so many fields. Why not attempt to be part of that?

I went to both universities on open days, the Oxford one organised by the school and the Cambridge one independently. Though the Oxford day was much better organised and we were also given a mini tour of the city, the beauty of Cambridge won the day, and this was ultimately where I decided to apply.

I chose Trinity partly due to its formidable reputation and its stunning buildings, but also because the book grants offered to students who need it and get acceptable results are very tasty. ;o)

Preparation

yes

My school gave me a lot of help in completing the UCAS application form and the additional Cambridge blue paper. I must have got drafts, redrafts and re-redrafts checked by about four different teachers. I was also given a mock interview, but unfortunately this turned out to be useless. All the questions asked related to either my motivations in doing a medical degree or to current news stories with a medical slant, but the real interview was totally academic. The school was not to know, however, and at least the mock gave an opportunity to speak formally about medicine.

Filling in the CAF: The Cambridge form is overly long and convoluted, and they already know a lot of the details they ask for through the UCAS form. However, it’s probably wise to spend a bit of time on the supplementary personal statement they ask for. I geared mine specifically to the strengths of the university’s medical degree structure and to the town of Cambridge, which I suspect they want you to address. Then again, however, I didn’t get in, so I’m not too great a guide. Whatever you put though, good luck! ;o)

Otherwise: Know your A-Level syllabuses inside out, and if you don’t do any of Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Maths, try and flick through a textbook on the subject beforehand.

Interview

yes

A month prior to the interview we had to complete an MVAT test, which assessed whether or not we understood and could apply basic science and maths facts. However, don’t be fooled by the specimen paper that they put up on the Internet, as this is so easy it would be insulting to most GCSE students. I therefore made the mistake of not bothering to revise my GCSE Biology and so suffered badly on the first paper. Methinks it’s a ploy by the Dons.

no

no

My interview commenced forty minutes late, and I had spent the time frantically going over responses to the expected questions of why I had decided to do medicine, why I had applied to Cambridge and Trinity, and what I hoped to achieve if I was admitted. However, as it later proved, this was fruitless.

I was greeted by a small but friendly looking guy, who smiled and welcomed me, but then asked me to sit immediately opposite his partner in crime, tall but sinister. I tried to hide my nerves and look confident, but this façade was shattered within the first minute. Thank you for coming. Now we know all about you from the Personal Statement, so all we want to do here is test your academic ability, OK? says tall but sinister. I nod, hesitantly.
All right, let us suppose you have some gas in a cylinder, and this is compressed a distance x by a piston of cross-sectional area A. Find an expression for the work done on the gas.
Small but friendly passes me his pencil, and I hold it but write nothing. All my energy dissipates, and I sit there like a constipated chimpanzee. In hindsight the question doesn’t seem particularly difficult, but when the first thing you write is pressure = force x area, you know you’re in trouble. Anyway, I manage to struggle through it, but then get another blow.
Can you prove the inverse square law? Yes, I reply, and talk about the intensity of e-m waves from a point source decreasing in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the source. Attempting to prove this, however, I’m met with stern disapproval as I make the fatal mistake of saying that the area of a sphere is A=2(pi)r. Argh! Another disappointment!

Hmmm, says tall but sinister. Hmmm echoes his colleague in a slightly higher tone. Um hmmm replies the former. Just as I start to think the dons are about to burst into song, out pops a thankfully easy question. It was all about concentrations of substances after progressive dilutions, and required only basic chemistry and GCSE maths. Phew!

The next few minutes were a bit of a blur, but I remember being asked a horrid question on DNA replication and the action of DNA polymerase, and then a simple question on epidemiology and public health. And all of a sudden it was over. I knew I’d performed terribly during the first half of the interview and was contemplating pleading for a second chance in a flood of emotion, but in the end left with a whimper. It was only when I was back on the train home that the droopy eyes and gaunt face showed themselves.

A suit. Simply because I was told it was expected, and it can help to put you in the frame of mind for an interview. That said, however, both short but nice and tall but sinister more cardigans, and I think they don’t really care what you wear as long as you don’t forget your brains.

Impressions

I arrived at Trinity early in order to have a look around and to compose myself. The place looked even more beautiful than I remembered, and from the library there’s a fantastic view of the river. Alas I’ll probably never get to see it again. ;o(

I was not given the opportunity to stay overnight at Trinity, as apparently London’s too close to Cambridge to warrant them providing a room. However, as my interview was postponed I had to wait in the kitchen, so I can give a good description of the cooking facilities. The kitchen was relatively small, shared amongst four people, and consisted of:
A sink with two taps one cold and dripping, the other cold.
Nice large cupboards, all of which had fallen off their hinges.
A cooker which had cooked itself
A window cracked in three places and with the words Rude boyz scrawled on the frame.
No, no, I’m only joking. I did sit in a kitchen for forty minutes, but I didn’t really have a good look round. I’m sure it was very nice.

Good

This is the quality of food at King’s. I was fasting when I visited Trinity for the interview, and so didn’t eat anything there.

I only met the two tutors who interviewed me, and I’ve probably done them a big injustice. Tall but sinister’s probably a really nice man who no doubt knows his stuff and would make a great tutor. Sorry! ;o)

Most of the students that I met seemed very studious. In fact, a few felt apprehensive of talking about anything other than their subject. However, but they were all very nice and helpful. ;o)

Final stage

After my terrible interview performance, I had already prepared myself for rejection. However, Christmas came and Christmas went, and still no reply. The New Year came and the holidays finished and maybe, just maybe, I thought, I might have scraped through. Back at school, however, I learnt that the bad news had already been passed on. I was devastated.

Looking back

Yes I would, because I’d still love to have had the chance to go to Cambridge. It’s a unique experience and would no doubt be a fascinating place to study. That said, however, I’m very very happy where I am now.