Application

 Cambridge

 Clare

 Natural Sciences (Biological)

 2002

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Independent – selective

 yes (10 A*)

A-levels

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

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

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

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAA

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

I had always wanted to go to Cambridge, but it was only as I neared A-levels that I considered it seriously. Oxbridge have the best teaching quality and facilities around, in a beautiful setting – what more do you want?

The NatSci course was perfect for me – they don’t do it at Oxford. I visited both and they are equally stunning places, but the course decided it for me.

I know a few people who go here and one person was particularly helpful in showing me round; she really loved Clare college and this showed. In fact, I didn’t realise how popular Clare was for NatSci until after I had applied!

Preparation

yes

I ended up having several practice interviews with various teachers, only one of whom was science, but this didn’t matter because the main thing is to practise expressing your ideas and opinions aloud and in an unfamiliar situation. That way you won’t be overprepared, just confident enough to do your best.

Interview

no

no

yes

Yes, a one hour test before the interview – those with interviews in the morning took it afterwards. I simply reread my revision notes for AS biology (I chose the biology paper, they ask you which one you want to do there and then).

Both interviews were in the afternoon, after the test (so some of my nerves had gone!). 1st interview: there was a chair outside the room so I took the hint and sat down. The time of my interview came and went and I nearly got up to knock (don’t do that!) when he came out with the previous interviewee and asked me to wait a few more minutes. Then he came out, gave me a bone-crushing handshake and an enormous smile and ushered me in. I sat on a comfy green sofa, he sat on a swivel armchair and the interrogation began. He started off by telling me that this was my general interview and so we would talk a bit about my outside interests aswell, and that my second interview was subject-specific and would be shorter. This was news to me as I had not heard any details about my interviews. His first question was a blessing – “what aspects of biology do you enjoy most and why do you want to study here?” but one at which I unfortunately blanked. I remember mentioning biochemistry, which I do love, but nothing else. Disaster averted, I concentrated like mad for the rest of the interview. If you feel yourself slipping under a wave of “oooh, I’m in Cambridge…”, give yourself a mental slap and remind yourself why you’re there. It was technical, but never daunting. He asked me to describe protein synthesis and half way through I blanked again and realised I was describing DNA replication instead. I made several other stupid mistakes during the interview, but he didn’t mind, they appreciate that you are nervous. I came out of the interview buzzing, it had gone so well. I was able to reassure the next (very nervous) person that he was really friendly. In total, it lasted 40 minutes (should have been 30) and I only had 20 minutes before my next interview. By this time it was dark and I couldn’t find the room! I was late but then so was the interviewer. He greeted me and we worked through a problem involving DNA separation and the time taken for them to rejoin. I didn’t reach the actual answer (he said no one so far that day had managed it) but I think I got quite close. Another discussion then followed over the shape of a graph for incidence of cancer in the population, and why the lines for male and female were different. Then a rather bemusing question of “if you were powered by batteries for a whole day, how many would you need and how much would they weigh (at 100g a cell)?” Quite. I had zilch nerves for this one and it only lasted 15 minutes or so.

The questions mentioned above, also questions relating to bioluminescence (mentioned in personal statement).
How many amino acids are there?
How many triplets are there?
How many, exactly?
Discussion on Darwin’s theory as to why a population relying on sexual reproduction is most successful when there are equal numbers of males and females although reproductively you only need one male for lots of females. Debate on the meaning of birth to encompass chickens etc. One measly question on outside interests. For second interview, see above.

Smart black canvas trousers; dark blue top with light blue zip-up top on top; brown shoes – comfy, smartish. To be honest, I was never aware of what I was wearing and neither were the interviewers.

Impressions

Clare is beautiful and I especially love the bridge, which is breathtaking at night. Although I have yet to see the college on a non-rainy day, I still adore it.

Accommodation is excellent (so I’ve been told…)

I only spoke to the interviewers and that was under pressurised conditions, but they were both easy to get on with and passionate about their subject.

We had a few “looking after” us in the common room in between interviews. They were very friendly.

Final stage

I wanted a lie in and wasn’t expecting the letter for at least another week, so when my dad told me I had post I just turned over and went back to sleep. Then my mum came in with the letter and I grumpily looked at it. My heart stopped when I saw it was from Cambridge – I ripped it open and saw that there were two pages and I knew I was in. I saw the high offer (3As) and yelled “I’ve got an offer” before turning over and trying to go back to sleep and at least salvage a bit of a lie-in. Which of course I couldn’t.

Looking back

Of course I would. I want to go there more than ever, I can’t wait.

Find out about your interviewers and their subjects from the uni website. It helps you to place what kind of questions they will ask you and you can more often than not get a picture of them too, which always helps.