Application

 Cambridge

 Sidney Sussex

 Natural Sciences (Biological)

 2001 (deferred entry)

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (10 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(A 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)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in History, A in Mathematics

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

I applied because I adored the course – it was everything that I’d been looking for. That being so, I wasn’t about to let a select few narrow-minded ‘friends’ put me off applying. Plus, I adore tradition and the idea of belonging to a college – so I had to at least try for an Oxbridge/Durham college!

The course at Cambridge seemed almost tailored for me it so matched what I wanted to do – it was perfect! Oxford didn’t offer anything similar. The NatSci course was much more flexible and, as I didn’t want to commit myself to just one discipline. Plus, I fell in love with Camb when I went to visit – the place is just so beautiful! I guess Oxford is too, but then I didn’t visit it so I can’t comment.

The people seemed great. I’d been emailing/in contact for a while, and all the admin tutors had been far more helpful than at any other college. The gardens were oh-so lovely, and the actual place was pretty central (and opposite Sainsburys!) an important plus, so I’ve been told! I just felt at home; there was no reason to apply anywhere else.

Preparation

no

The school itself didn’t give me much help, but in all fairness, they haven’t had anybody apply to an Oxbridge college for over 10 years, so they couldn’t really be expected to be very familiar with the process. One or two individual teachers were a huge help though, and gave me a lot of informal advice.

Oooh, yes! Make sure you write something in the Personal Statement box! It says you don’t have to, but its hardly going to harm your application if you write more is it? Besides, your Personal Statement for UCAS simply blabs on about your passion for your actual subject, etc, etc. There’s not much in that which would convince an admissions tutor that you actually deserve a place on the CAMBRIDGE course above any other course in the UK. Oh, and make sure you remember to write your name on the back of the photo you’re supposed to stick on (I forgot…hmm!).

Interview

no

no

no

Well, I had 2 interviews – the general one and the academic one. They started at 2pm, which was a nice time I guess. I suppose the idea was that, having to travel about 4 hours by car, I would arrive in Cambridge at about 1pm-ish, and then be able to get home again on that same day. Well, me (being oh-so paranoid about 10-hour long traffic jams) actually arrived VERY early, and had to spend most of the morning touring coffee shops with my dad!

Anyway, at about 1:45, I signed in at reception (noting the lovely “Remember to smile!” sign someone had so helpfully displayed!) and was given a map and one of those huge spiels about directions (kind of ‘up the stairs, across the corridor, round the corner, turn left, up this next set of stairs, up 20 floors’ type of thing!) So I set of, find my first room and sit on the chair outside. After about 20 minutes, my interviewer came out and took me through several rooms into this room with lovely huge bookcases, a big fire and loads of comfy sofas. He was really friendly and tried to put me at ease. After finishing that one, I commence RUNNING LIKE HELL to get to the next interview. However, they were running late, so I had to wait a while. Then, by 3:30, it was all over.

In the general interview, I was asked about why I wanted to go to Cambridge; how my History A-level has helped my study of science; how my science A-levels have helped my study of History; and the nature of ‘science’. To be honest though, it was much more of a discussion than an interview. He didn’t ‘fire’ questions at me – he kinda weddled them into my ‘jabbering on’s. We had a big discussion about the approach to genetics and then a talk about a couple of the modern genetics books I’d been reading (and had mentioned on my UCAS form). Then we had a big talk about a research project I did in the summer. At one point, being a tad worried about the fact that I seemed to have been talking for AGES, I asked if he would like me to expand on the problems we’d encountered on the part of research I’d been involved with (on ‘Smart Membranes’); he was really nice though, he just went ‘oh yes!’, mentioning that he really was listening even though he seemed to be writing. Then we talked a bit about the cloned embryo in America (which had conveniently been on the news a few days before my interviews!), and some general bits and pieces (including what I was doing during my gap year, and how I was finding my A-levels this year, etc). Then he stood up, shook my hand and wished me good luck for my next interview. All in all, very enjoyable. Then, my next interview – the academic one. First of all, we concentrated on Chemistry. My situation was a little different to normal in that I’d only been doing Chemistry for a few months, rather than a whole year. However, the interviewers were aware of this and took it into account. I was asked about what I’d done so far, so I explained the main topics. Then I said that I hadn’t actually done any organic chemistry in my AS-level word, but that I’d studied some individually. So he said ‘okay, lets try some organic chemistry’! He asked me about the physical properties of water and pentane – their boiling points in particular. He asked several questions, one of which I am certain I got wrong – however, that didn’t seem to matter *that* much. Like before, it was more of a discussion. After some more questions on alkanes, my attention was turned to Biology. Since Biology is kinda my ‘thing’, I relaxed (a little) thinking ‘Great – bring on the biochemistry/genetics then….’. Then, DISASTER! He pulls out a SHELL!!! Noooo! In my mind I am sinking down the side of the sofa! Wasn’t as bad as it could have been though. We just talked about where the shell might have been found, how the organism might have moved itself about in the water. However, it was all a bit tragic. When I left the room, I was utterly convinced I’d be rejected. I mean, it wasn’t like I got all the questions wrong, but I just generally felt that I’d done badly. I was sooo hyped up into a big discussion on ‘protein synthesis’ or ‘the evolution of the brain’, or something like that – I really felt I hadn’t been given the opportunity to demonstrate anything I knew. In fact, I was so worried that I actually asked if we could discuss…oh I can’t remember now, but some area I was interested in. However, the guys were really nice; they said they weren’t interested in what I knew, but in the way I thought.

Black cords, black shoes, pink top. I understand what people say about the suits – about how it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. However, the most important thing to me was that I was comfortable in what I was wearing, and that the interviewers would pick up on that – I didn’t want to be fidgeting about in an uncomfortable suit. Besides, the admissions tutors said to wear whatever I felt comfortable in.

Impressions

Lovely. I enjoyed it on the Open Day back in May, but felt the same in December (although it has to be said that the place looks FAR more beautiful in May, than in the depths of winter! Lol!). It was small-ish, but nice. A lot less overwhelming than places like Trinity.

Hmmm, not really applicable. I’m hoping it’s good! We took a look in some guys room during the Open Day visit and it seemed pretty nice. Brilliant view in any case, as long as you’re the right side of the college.

Good. It seemed fine. I didn’t have time to finish my whole meal – but then I do eat at the pace of a snail.

They seemed great. In fact, they were one of the major reasons I applied to Sidney Sussex.All of the guys I met were seriously down-to-earth. They don’t try and give you a hard time at interview – but they have to find some way of distinguishing between a bunch of people who are all predicted AAAAAAAA… In any case, they were very helpful. Slightly intimidating – but that just makes oh the more…erm…memorable (!).

Fine. Hit it off with quite a few on the Open Day, and managed to keep it touch with them. Of the students actually there – hmmm, friendly, frank, bit ‘off the wall’, seemingly unaware of the fact that they were at the best uni in the country.

Final stage

I was upstairs when the letter came. My mum came up and handed it to me, kinda ‘Oh look, there’s a letter here for you’ (trying to be casual and ignoring the blatant CAMBRIDGE stamp on the top!). I open the envelope – and then spend about 5 mins contemplating whether to actually unfold the letter. When I eventually did and saw the AAA part I was all ‘yay!!’. But of course, it was just TOO hard to resist doing the’ sad face thing’ when I went in to tell my parents, making them think I hadn’t got in. Fun fun…

Looking back

Definitely. Even if I wouldn’t have been offered a place, I would have given it a shot. For me, to have ignored that course and the chance of studying at Cambridge without even TRYING for a place (however small the chances) would just have been dumb. Just have a go. Whatever the outcome, tragic interview stories always make for good conversation!

I have loads – too much for this little box, so I’ll limit it to the important bits. Ahem. The main thing I’d say is, don’t be afraid to work real hard and push yourself at every opportunity. Not just academically, but in all of it. If you really really want to get in that much, you will. Don’t even think about being put off by friends/teachers/family. You know you best – and as long as YOU think you’re good enough to go, then that’s all that matters. Be prepared for everyone to tell you horror stories about the whole application experience – but you’d do best to take all of it with a huge pile of salt… At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your relationship with your subjects develops LOADS. Mine has. The whole process really pushes you to examine just how much you love your subject; when you do that and come out the other side, getting into Camb is just a plus point alongside discovering the degree you want to study for the next 3 (at least) years of your life. Wooh. So just enjoy it, totally exploit the opportunity to drink lots of cappacinos on your interview day and (if your a Biologist and don’t want to be threatened with nightmares about the seashore forever more!) swot up on shells 🙂