Application

 Cambridge

 Robinson

 Natural Sciences (Physical)

 2002

 pooled, offer made (Girton)

Applicant

 Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes

Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

( predicted A; gained A)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A (AH) in Chemistry, A (AH) in Mathematics, A (AH) in Physics

yes

I chose Cambridge as my first place, with an unconditional offer as my backup.

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

A large part of it was just to see if I *was* good enough to get in. My school didn’t encourage me to, until after I’d decided to apply.

Cambridge’s Natural Science degree – I had the idea that I wanted to study Physics, but I didn’t know for sure.

I picked it fairly randomly. It sounded like it would be less intimidating than the older colleges because it was built so recently. I went there on an open day and the people and the college seemed friendly enough to apply to.

Preparation

yes

Very little. I had one mock interview with a guidance teacher, but she just asked me a couple of questions about why I wanted to get into Cambridge, and then told me that I must wear school uniform and, above all, I must wear a skirt. I ignored both pieces of advice and wore black trousers, which seemed to be appropriate

The Forms: I don’t think the Oxbridge forms are the deciding factor on whether you’re made an offer or not. The interview is far more important.

The interview(s): Read over your course notes before you get to Cambridge, if you feel you need to, but don’t take them with you. The people reading frantically up until the last minute seemed far more stressed than the people sitting around, talking to the other applicants.

Interview

no

no

yes

I had one exam in Robinson, on Chemistry, Maths and Physics. I took books with me to “revise” the night before, but I didn’t actually read any of them.

Robinson: I had one general interview, which was on a nice, comfy sofa. The scond interview was with the college directors of studies for Physics and Chemistry.

Girton: Three interviews – one for Physics, one for Maths, and one for Chemistry that doubled as a general admissions interview

Robinson: The interviewer in my general interview asked why I’d picked Robinson, why I’d chosen Cambridge, about the hobbies I’d mentioned on my UCAS form, and “Can you give me an example of how you have managed your time well in the past?” I was also asked what I thought of Robinson’s policy of having staircases of students from a mix of years. In the science interview, I was asked some organic chemistry questions, and about electrical circuits. Girton: In Maths I was given an expression to differentiate, and then asked how I did it (i.e. using the chain rule, twice). I had to plot the graphs of 1/x, then sin(x), then the product of the two. In Chemistry I was led through a long question on an organic reaction mechanism. In Physics I was asked to plot the graphs of acceleration, velocity and displacement of a ball rolling down a hill that was initially vertical, but curving until it was horizontal. The other question was on the factors that might affect how ice on the top of a frozen pond might melt.

Black trousers and a smart, long-sleeve top because I was far more comfortable in that than if I was wearing school uniform or some sort of suit. That seemed to be in the middle of the range of clothing people were wearing – some people were in jeans, some were in suits.

Impressions

Robinson: not as ugly as the Alternative Prospectus made out.

Girton: it seemed friendlier, somehow, and is very pretty.

Robinson: MASSIVE room, with en suite bathroom and a balcony.

Girton: My room was smaller and a bit scabbier, but the corridors seemed to be a more friendly layout than the dark staircases in Robinson.

Good

I was too scared to eat anything but Cornflakes on both occasions, so I can’t really comment.

The General Interview at Robinson was very relaxed – the tutor did very well at putting me at my ease. The science interview seemed more severe. At Girton, the tutors seemed concerned with just getting along with the interview, and were neither friendly nor overly critical, apart from the Physics tutor, who was reassuring and friendly, even when I messed up bits of the questions.

I didn’t speak to any of the students apart from ones who took me to the interview rooms. They didn’t interact much with us, but there weren’t many there on either day – it was inside the Christmas holidays.

Final stage

The “You have been pooled” letter was unexpected, and I almost missed the phonecall to tell me I had another interview at Girton.

Looking back

Definitely. Partly because I have changed my mind on the subject I want to study from Physics to Chemistry, and without the Natural Sciences course I wouldn’t have discovered that. Mostly, though, it’s because I’ve just finished first year and really, really enjoyed it.

Don’t be afraid to apply because your school has no history of sending people to Oxbridge, or you’re worried you’re not the right “type”. Cambridge isn’t like that at all.