Application

 Cambridge

 Selwyn

 Natural Sciences (Biological)

 2008

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 United Kingdom

 FE College

Went to an independent school for two years before sixth form

 yes (8 A*,2 A)

A-levels

(B at AS)

(A at AS)

(NA at AS)

(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)

Taking AS maths and Science in Society alongside A levels this year

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in Chemistry, B in Mathematics, A in Physics

A in summer modules of biology and chemistry A2

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Loved the look of the course, loved the idea of the college system, loved the town, loved the reputation…. loved everything!

I’d heard that Cambridge has a much better reputation for science, and Oxford doesn’t do Natural Sciences… and Cambridge just seemed nicer. I never even viseted Oxford.

Flexibility, and it generally suits my indecisive streak.

Because it was not too big, not too small, not too central, not too remote, not too imposing, not too ugly… just right! and very friendly too and had a nice atmosphere.

Preparation

yes

We had a few group meetings, there were quite a lot of us applying, just to talk through the process and try and answer our questions about interviews. They arranged a mock interview which was helpful for my nerves but not really in content at all. No really intense preparation, but enough I think.
Me and some other people who were applying for Cambridge NatSci arranged to get together once a week and talk about science in the news or whatever we were interested in.

If at all possible get together with people who are wanting to do your subject (at Cambridge or Oxford ideally) and get used to talking out loud about stuff, I know I never would have had the opportunity otherwise! If you can’t then talk to your parents, or whoever will listen…

Interview

no

Chose a college with no tests or exams…

no

… and no written work either 🙂

no

nope, see above

Had one general interview with the head of sciences admissions for the college, Dr Keeler, he was really nice. He asked me about my extended project (written about it in my statement), asked me about my work experiences, about school – why had I moved schools, did my old school have a sixth form? Was quite informal, he asked me what I thought about a couple of relevant things… he finished with asking me if I had any questions, which I did (is it ok to do chemistry in the first year without maths?) and wished me luck for my next interview.

I had one subject interview which was with the director of studies for biological natural sciences at the college and another fellow of the college who was a lecturer in biology of cells. This interview was much more formal and to the point.

– How many nucleotides in the human genome?
– Describe the structure of DNA in as much detail as possible.
– What are bases?
– What do A, T, C and G stand for?
– How is the double helix nature of the molecule important?
– Describe DNA replication
– What is the name of the enzyme that splits the DNA strands apart?
– What is the name of the enzyme that bonds the nucleotides of DNA together into a polymer in DNA replication?
– What is the name of the type of bond that this enzyme makes between nucleotides?
– The above enzyme can form about 60 phosphodiester bonds per second, and would take about a month for this enzyme to work its way along the chromosome and replicate the entire human genome in this way, but it only takes an hour or two in reality, how can this be?
– How does the enzyme which splits the DNA molecule apart ‘know’ where to do this if it is at a point somewhere in the middle of the molecule?
– What kind errors can happen when copying DNA?
– Describe substitution
– Describe addition/deletion
– What are the possible consequences of frame shift?
– What does a ‘stop’ or ‘start’ codon actually code for? (i.e. an amino acid?)
– What is a chromosome?
– Describe mitosis in as much detail as possible
– Same for meiosis
– If a dog has 78 chromosomes, how many in its gametes? (it sounds stupid, but it was ridiculously hard to do maths in my head on the spot under pressure, and it took me about 20 seconds to get to 39! But he was nice, he just laughed about it)
– Derive a formula or a rule for finding out the possible number of different chromosome combinations that you could apply to any organism (so for an organism of n chromosomes…)

Had just bought a nice black pencil skirt from Topshop when my mum found an old Maxmara long, black, posh-looking wrap-around skirt of hers in the attic from years ago, which looked gorgeous, so I wore that one instead. Along with a purple shirt and a grey/blueish cardi, grey tights and my old school shoes – black heels, about 2 1/2 inches, with a little red bow on the toes! Wish I hadn’t worn the heels as I never wear them any more and they made my feet kill.
Clothes really aren’t important for interviews, I think, but if you feel comfortable and happy with what you’re wearing you’ll act more confident and happy.
All the boys I saw were wearing suits with ties, and girls were generally wearing black skirt/trousers with shirt and black (school-like) shoes.

Impressions

Visited most of them, apart from the ones which are a million miles out of town (Homerton, Girton), and stayed in Churchill overnight on a college trip. Definitely felt more at home at Selwyn than in one of the ginormous and imposing colleges like King’s or Trinity, but thought the new colleges like Robinson and Churchill weren’t very pretty… The old part of Selwyn is beautiful, and there’s a lovely chapel and the dining room is straight out of Harry Potter.
I was shown round by a student a few weeks before interviews and she was lovely and obviously loved it there. The porters were really friendly on interview day as well.

I saw a couple of third year students’ rooms – they were really nice and big, and one of them had a gorgeous view over the old court. In the second year you can live in a college-owned house on the edge of the college, which I was told is really nice, and apparently you can still come back to college to eat!
I didn’t see first-year accommodation, but I was told that pretty much all of the rooms are sort of semi-ensuite, where you share a bathroom with just one other room. And obviously you get your own room 🙂 ! The first years all live together in a big court just over the road from the main college, which I think is a good arrangement so you’ll get to meet everyone.

Didn’t eat, felt too nervous on the day!

Very patient, considering I made heaps of silly mistakes and was very nervous and felt like I was blabbering a bit at times and not saying enough at others… they were friendly and were generally good at wheedling the information out that they wanted, I think they called it prompting.

See above, very nice…

Final stage

I was utterly convinced I’d been rejected, I was appalled with the way I’d performed at interview and was generally feeling a bit gloomy. Spent the holidays forgetting about it and convincing myself that Durham was a really nice university after all.

The letter came on the 3rd, and I was out riding at the time. I saw the postman come to the house but didn’t think the letter would have come already, so ignored it. My mum, step-dad and step-sister caught up with me in the car about ten minutes later and my mum jumped out and started ripping the envelope open for me, but I grabbed it just in time (I think the horse was very confused) and pulled it out, still knowing it was going to be a rejection, but then I saw “we are pleased”… it didn’t go in for a while though, and had to read it out loud to let my family decipher it. Couldn’t understand that they actually wanted me for a good few minutes… then it sunk in and I was over the moon. Zoomed home to call friends and family…

Looking back

Yup. Found the whole thing a bit traumatic at times, but definitely do not let that put you off, apparently people who feel they have awful interviews often do better than they think… yes I would definitely apply again, it gives you an aim to work towards.

– Read the New Scientist and have a ‘favourite article’ ready to bring up if you get the opportunity
– read a couple of books (they didn’t ask me about them but I put them in my statement anyway, and it can’t have hurt) but make sure you know them back to front because they might ask you questions on them
– skim the paper for anything vaguely scientific
– revise AS stuff
– really thoroughly know everything possible about any subject or area that you put down as an area of interest, things from outside the A level syllabus as well as the stuff in it
– don’t leave it to the last minute (tempting, I know…)
– talk to people about your subject, just to get used to it, it’s not as easy to do it well as it sounds…
– do any mock interviews that you can
– do a work experience if you can
– if you have an area that you don’t like and hope isn’t going to come up then revise it!! It’s bound to come up – it happened to me
– don’t try to do any work or revision on interview day, it’ll just scramble your brain. Just collect your thoughts and relax

… it sounds like a lot of work, but if you put the effort in and do all you can then you won’t have anything to regret afterwards! And if you have the ambition to go to Cambridge then just think of it as a means to an end, and get used to asking yourself interview-style questions in your head for practice…

And just forget about Cambridge afterwards, have a good holiday and make sure you’d be happy at your second choice. (and don’t throw out everything you own with the word ‘Cambridge’ on it in a big huff after your interview like I did, kinda wishing I hadn’t lol… oh and do a bit of revision in the holidays afterwards because you might get in after all, and then you’re going to need it to get those A’s, darn it, another mistake I made…

Good luck!! 🙂