Application

 Cambridge

 Churchill

 Natural Sciences (Physical)

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes

Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted NA; gained A)

( predicted NA; gained B)

( predicted A; gained NA)

( predicted NA; gained A)

( predicted NA; gained A)

( predicted NA; gained A)

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAB, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry at AH – in any order.

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Reputation and strength of course.

The course sounded better at Cambridge.

Good reputation for natural sciences.
Looked good for activities and social life.

Preparation

yes

Yes – went over types of questions they would ask, and tips for how to present myself at interview.

The Forms: Think about what you write. Plan carefully and don’t fill in the form until you’re sure that’s what you should be putting!

The interview(s): My advice would be to know your subject thoroughly – don’t assume they won’t ask any subject-based questions. But on the other hand, don’t overlearn the subject – they’re looking for initiative and if you can recognise reasons for things rather than what you can parrot back at them.

Interview

no

yes

Physics – practical report and unit assessment. The college asked for those with physical interests to submit two pieces of written work, and these showcased my work at its best.

yes

I sat the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) the same afternoon as the interviews. There was a sample test at the Cambridge University website, along with a guide to answering the different types of questions asked. I read through the guide then tried the sample test. This was enough to prepare me for the real thing, as much the same type of questions were asked.

Both interviews took place in tutors’ rooms. They were fairly informal and I was put at my ease. Generally it was more like a discussion of different things than a straightforward question and answer session. The two interviews I had were both subject interviews – each lasting approximately 30 minutes.

I was not asked any of the usual questions like why I was applying to Cambridge or what I thought I could bring to the university. Rather, every question I was asked was about the subject – organic chemistry for the first and inorganic chemistry for the second. The questions asked were fairly challenging, but the tutors seemed to be guiding me towards the right answer. I was slightly worried when I drew a reaction of ethene and was met with: “That’s interesting. I haven’t seen that one before.”!

I wore jeans and a smart-casual shirt. I thought it best to look like I had made an effort in dressing, but not too much of an effort. I thought that the interviewers would be normal people, who didn’t go around wearing suits and ties all the time. I felt comfortably like this, and was more relaxed for the interviews.

Impressions

The college was relatively modern compared to many of the other colleges in Cambridge. The downside is that it is relatively far out from the city centre – a good twenty to twenty-five minute walk. The people seemed friendly – unpretentious and not trying to look down their nose at you.

I didn’t see the accommodation, though I hear it is pretty much standard – nothing special.

The tutors did their best to put me at ease and when I seemed to be struggling with a question, would take me through in stages with different questions to lead me to the right answer. Interviews are certainly intimidating, but remember that the tutors have a hard job themselves trying to narrow down the candidates. They definitely weren’t trying to catch me out, which was the main thing for me – being able to concentrate on giving the best answer I could without worrying about if I was being tricked.

I only really saw a couple of students, but they seemed nice friendly people.

Final stage

I thought the decisions weren’t sent out until after New Year, so I was really surprised to get a letter on January 31st. When I opened it, I’m not sure what I was expecting – I wasn’t too surprised I had an offer, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been turned down either. It was a bit of an anticlimax – waiting 3 weeks for a letter, then suddenly finding out.

Looking back

Definitely. If I hadn’t applied I would wonder my whole life – What if? What would have happened if I had applied?
At least this way even if I don’t accept the offer, I’ll know the what if.

Don’t take the whole application process too seriously. You’ve always got other offers to fall back on if you don’t make it. That’s the way I’ve viewed it from the start, and I’ve been a lot less stressed about it than my friends who applied.