How to Get Into Cambridge University

‘How do I get into Cambridge’ is a question I run into again and again! Luckily, I know exactly how to answer it.

The average acceptance rate for Oxford and Cambridge combined was around 18% in 2020 (data from Cambridge). Here at The Profs, 55% of our students get in! Meaning, our students are 3x more likely to get into Cambridge or Oxford.

The admissions process at Cambridge isn’t simply competitive, it’s different to most other universities. For example, Cambridge considers historic grades, requires the submission of a unique application form (MyCapp), often expects the completion of admissions tests, and interviews 75% of their applicants. NONE of these steps can be discounted. All must be thoroughly prepared for.

Most Cambridge applicants have top grades so an excellent academic track record does not guarantee your admission, nor will it help you to stand out. We’ll dive into some tips on how to demonstrate the X factor in this article.

Plenty of our team have studied at Cambridge or previously worked in Oxbridge admissions. So, if anyone has the know-how to make your application as perfect as possible, it’s us. In our experience, we’ve seen that very few students know how to write an undergraduate university application that targets Cambridge’s unique admissions criteria. Thankfully, we offer the right support and preparation to aid you in submitting an application that stands out and maximises your chances of an offer.

Read on for insider information from our team of Cambridge admissions experts.

Contents:

  1. Is Cambridge a good university
  2. What is the Cambridge acceptance rate?
  3. What are the most competitive courses at Cambridge?
  4. Is Cambridge a Russell Group university?
  5. What are Cambridge’s entry requirements?
  6. Cambridge’s courses and entry requirements
  7. What do I do if I don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements?
  8. Insider information on Cambridge
  9. 8 tips for getting into Cambridge
  10. Get 1-to-1 guidance from an expert admissions tutor
  11. FAQ

Is Cambridge a good university?

Being offered a prestigious place at Cambridge University is many students’ dream. Cambridge is one of the best universities in the UK and internationally, currently ranking 2nd in the UK and 3rd in the world. With its outstanding academic reputation, it’s no wonder that places at Cambridge are extremely competitive.

What is the Cambridge acceptance rate?

In 2020, the University of Cambridge’s acceptance rate was 19.6% (according to data from Cambridge). That year, the university received 20,426 applications and offered places to 3,997 students. In short, Cambridge is extremely competitive and has slim acceptance rates.

In 2023, Cambridge’s average acceptance rate was 18%.

We have a whole article on Cambridge’s acceptance rates, including more specific details such as by college or subject. Take a look.

What are the most competitive courses at Cambridge?

Cambridge’s acceptance rate is inevitably lower for its most competitive courses. These courses include Medicine, Computer Science, Architecture, Economics, Engineering, and Law. The acceptance rate for Computer Science, for example, is just 10%. The Profs’ expert tutors can offer one-to-one support for each of these subjects, as well as guide you through the Oxbridge application process.

Is Cambridge a Russell Group university?

Cambridge University is one of the 24 Russell Group universities. This means that it is a research-intensive institution, known for both its quality and quantity of research. In fact, in the recent UK-wide assessment of research quality (REF), 93% of Cambridge’s research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ – one of the best results in the country. The Complete University Guide also ranks Cambridge as the 2nd best Russell Group university behind Oxford alone.

What are Cambridge’s entry requirements?

The entry requirements for Cambridge courses vary depending on the course you’re applying to study and the country you’re applying from. The table below shows the A level grades required for entry, along with some of the most common international qualifications and their entry requirements. If your qualifications are not in this table, or you need more information on the English language requirements for entry, check Cambridge’s guide for international students. You can also get in touch with the Profs for one-to-one support from one of our international admissions experts.

QualificationEntry requirements
A LevelsTypically ranges from A*A*A-A*AA, depending on the course.
International Baccalaureate (IB)Typically range from 40-42, with 776 in higher level subjects.
European Baccalaureate (EB)85% overall, with scores of 9 or more in relevant subjects.
Gaokao (China)Offers are made on an individual basis and vary from province to province and year to year. As a guideline, successful applicants will usually have scores in the top 0.1% of those taking the Gaokao in their province.
Abitur (Germany)Overall score of between 1.0 and 1.2, with 14 or 15 in individual subjects.
Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE)Core subjects: Grades 5 in all subjects and grades of 5* in one or two relevant subjects.
Elective subjects: 5*5*5-5*55 depending on the course.
AP (Advanced Placement) and SAT (USA)Five or more AP scores at grade 5, and high passing marks on your school qualification (e.g. the relevant US High School Diploma), and a high score on the SAT (I) Reasoning Test or ACT.
Other international qualificationsCheck the full list of the international qualifications accepted by Cambridge.

Please note that Cambridge’s entry requirements differ depending on your chosen course, so make sure you check on the relevant course page before applying. If you’re a UK student and need support in meeting the entry requirements, then our A level tutors can help you boost your grades.

Cambridge’s courses and entry requirements

Please note that the entry requirements for Cambridge differ depending on your chosen course, so make sure you check on the relevant course page before applying. Better yet, we’ve synthesised all of Cambridge’s most competitive and/or popular courses and laid them out clearly in an undergraduate and postgraduate table. Check them out!

We also have previous guides on how to get into Cambridge for Law or Medicine.

What do I do if I don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements?

If you don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up on your application. A) Our expert A level tutors can help you boost your grades.
B) It might not be too late to improve your student profile. C) There are many alternative ways to stand out and make up for where you lack. In need of advice? We’ve got you covered. Check out our in-depth article on how to get into Cambridge if you don’t meet their entry requirements!

Insider information on Cambridge

Like Oxford, Cambridge is also interested in extracurricular excellence and students who are looking to make an impact on the world. Ask yourself: What is your ‘X-factor’? What is the thing that makes you really unique? You may have competed nationally, scored very highly in a competition, or perhaps built a large following on your YouTube vlog. Excellence does not have to be academic.

For any mathematical courses, Cambridge will also want to see the highest grades. If you have any evidence of overachieving in quantitative subjects, for example achieving Gold at UK Maths Challenge or a high A* in your A level, then flaunt these in your application.

8 tips for getting into Cambridge

1. Do you actually know your specific subject requirements?

Although a general offer from Cambridge would require A*A*A-A*AA at A level, many courses or colleges include specific subject requirements that you need to meet.

Even if your chosen course does not have any/many specific A level subject requirements, you should check Cambridge’s general subject preferences here. Cambridge is not keen on vocational subjects and they do consider your combination of subjects. Also, your specific course page will often detail what subjects most of the recent successful applicants took.

Some courses also require certain subjects to be taken at A level. For example, in order to study Medicine (one of Cambridge’s most competitive courses), you must have A levels in Chemistry and at least one of: Biology, Physics or Mathematics. In the last three admissions rounds, 95% of applicants for Cambridge Medicine studied three or more Science or Mathematics A levels. Generally, Cambridge wants to see that you have studied the subject you’re applying for if it’s a common subject e.g. they would expect an English Literature applicant to have studied English Literature for A level but they would not expect Law applicants to have studied Law for A level.

For some courses at Cambridge, A Level Further Mathematics is very strongly encouraged. If it is unavailable or you recognise its desirability too late, Cambridge specifies that you should take on as much additional pure maths and decision maths as possible. Cambridge offers examples, such as studying Further Mathematics AS Level or using online resources covering advanced material. Cambridge will also consider good performance in Maths competitions and/or completion of the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme.

Even where a subject isn’t required, there are often preferred subjects or subject combinations which Cambridge will favour over others. For instance, studying Mathematics gives you an advantage when applying for a huge range of courses, all the way from Psychology to Business. If you’re unsure of which course to apply for, what you need or where to start, get in touch with the Profs’ experienced Oxbridge admissions team who can advise you.

Top tip: Cambridge offers some unique courses, like Land Economy, HSPS, and Natural Sciences. If you’re interested in taking one of these degrees, you can really stand out. Research one of these unique courses in depth and convey that you have a genuine passion for it in your personal statement that is well evidenced with relevant readings.

2. Is your academic record as polished as possible?

Along with Oxford, LSE and Imperial, Cambridge University is one of the most competitive universities in the UK.

Grades are expected and considered before anything else. In short, Cambridge does expect you to have their required grades, and even then, having them might not be enough. So, the value of meeting (or better yet, exceeding) Cambridge’s academic entry requirements cannot be underestimated. Cambridge offers intensive, rigorous, and demanding courses, so they want to be sure that the students who gain admission can keep up.

The entry requirements for its most competitive courses, including Medicine, Computer Science and Architecture, are A*A*A-A*AA. Unlike many other universities, Cambridge also looks at your previous academic track record when deciding who to offer places to. Ensuring that you achieve the best grades possible throughout your studies, all the way from GCSE to A level studies and any additional qualifications or competitions, is therefore a top priority if you’re looking to apply to Cambridge.

Our A level tutors have a proven track record of helping students achieve As and A*s in critical subjects, so if you’re in need of a boost, reach out to the Profs for support.

Are your circumstances making any of this difficult? Cambridge aims to diversify its student body and be an accessible institution to all students with promise, including those who might lack certain privileges and opportunities. Hence, Cambridge offers:

  • Widening participation programmes: If you’re eligible for a bridging programme, you could strengthen your grades and/or application by taking part. For example, you could take a course at Cambridge’s Sutton Trust Summer School. See more options here.
  • Support: You can declare your circumstances in your UCAS and MyCapp application and Cambridge may offer you the tools or support to help you achieve your predicted grades or conditions to an offer.
  • Scholarships: Cambridge offers scholarships, bursaries, awards and grants to help with funding. Ensure that you check what you can apply for.

3. Selection success: Choose the right college

Generally, university research is crucial, and so is showing that you know your stuff. This is especially the case when applying to a college at Cambridge.

You can choose a specific college to apply to or, if you don’t have a preference, you can make an open application. However, an open application does not mean that your application is sent to all colleges. Cambridge will assign you one and your application will be processed through them. Therefore, an open application will not offer you a greater chance of being admitted. In fact, showing clear knowledge of a college as well as a keen interest in joining their community might give you a better chance as this will show you have genuine enthusiasm rather than handing in a generalised application. Cambridge could also assign you the most competitive college for your course, so it might be worth making this decision yourself. It’s worth thinking about how the colleges vary – some are recognised as the most prestigious for particular disciplines and have tighter acceptance rates. Similarly, some have larger student bodies and therefore can accept more students. Officially, Cambridge states that choosing a college that attracts fewer applications will not increase your chance of being made an offer, but it is definitely something to be aware of.

Other relevant factors you should consider when choosing your college include the age limit of who they accept, their location, type of accommodation, fellows in the college, and facilities available. You can find out about all of Cambridge’s colleges here. Cambridge suggests you take virtual tours and contact your shortlisted colleges’ admissions offices to help you make a decision.

It’s a good idea to invest a lot of time into researching a college that suits you as a person, as well as your learning style, and academic interests. Maybe the college hosts competitions or societies that are relevant to your experiences and passions. Or maybe you could contribute to the college’s existing research or participation in a project. If you construct a convincing argument as to why you’re the perfect candidate for that particular college, you’ll increase your chances.

4. You’ve mentioned a solid 5-year plan, right?

Show you have considered your future, and how this specific degree from Cambridge will contribute to reaching it. Your goal can be a role within academia or a particular industry of profession. Cambridge wants to know if you’re taking this degree to fill your time, or because you have drive and a goal. What institution or company do you want to work for, and what do you want to specialise in? If you’re not sure, educate yourself.

Also remember, your career aspirations don’t need to be set in stone. You have every right to change your mind later down the line. Whatever your goal is, use it to communicate your reasons for wanting to study your course in your personal statement. Showing ambition and drive will prove to Cambridge that you are genuinely motivated and committed to your subject area and, most importantly, your professional or academic future.

5. Don’t trip on your admissions test

A key stage of the Oxbridge application process is the admissions test. Which admissions test you’re required to take when applying to Cambridge depends on the course you’re applying for. They are typically taken prior to the interview but this can vary. Sometimes you will need to register for the test yourself and take it at an assessment centre, and sometimes no registration is necessary and your chosen college will provide the details to you. So, make sure you check when your admissions test will be and whether you’ll need to register for it ahead of the Oxbridge application deadline of the 15th October. Information on Cambridge’s admissions tests can be found here.

The tests can be written, verbal, or practical. Once you know which test you’ll be taking, it’s really important to prepare and practise as thoroughly as possible. Cambridge admissions tests are used to assess your academic ability, written work, and how well-suited you are to your chosen course. The result you achieve in your test will directly influence the outcome of your application.

You should be aware of the average scores for your required admissions test e.g. the average scores of those invited for an interview as well as those who receive an offer. These differ from year to year, so check your specific test within the current date so that you know what to work towards. Aim above the average scores of interviewees and offer holders to make your application as competitive as possible. Also, check that there have been no changes to your test format. For example, the PAT has been completely changed so past papers for the PAT might not be relevant. Also, be aware of different sections and skills within your admission test. For example, the TSA is split between a Q/A section and an essay section so you should be prepared for both and avoid leaning too heavily into your weaker or stronger side.

Our extensive network of admissions test experts can tutor you in both the academic content and technique of these tests, so get in touch with the Profs to begin preparing.

Submitted work:

Your course and/or your college might ask you to submit one or multiple written works prior to your interview. If this isn’t mentioned by your course on the table, double check with the college admissions office to be sure as this can vary depending on your chosen college or individual circumstances.

Usually, the written work will be recent examples of your writing around a subject relevant to your course, however, it’s always important to check this with your course department and college as this can differ.

Take the time to choose the best possible example you have. Consult an admissions consultant here at The Profs or one of your relevant teachers for advice on what is best suited to hand in. Even consider writing something new, especially suited to Cambridge’s request. Although, if you do write something new, remember to get it marked. Be sure to revise your work as much as possible to ensure that it could not be any better!

6. Lay the ‘groundwork’ for Acceptance

Work experience:

For undergraduate courses at Cambridge, work experience is never a requirement. However, Cambridge is a very competitive university, especially for undergraduate entry, and it’s best to do all you can to stand out to maximise your chances. To help prove your commitment to the long-term goals outlined in your application, you should look to gain relevant work experience in your field. Having experience working in your desired field will provide you with invaluable real-life knowledge about the industry. Expressing what skills you have learned from this experience and how they will help you with your course will also make you a more attractive candidate.

However, consider: does your work experience prove that you worked hard and developed relevant and valuable skills? Or does it only show that you benefitted from a lucky connection? Cambridge is only interested in an experience that has made you a better-suited student for your chosen course! Similarly, if you can’t find a good opportunity you can stick to publicly accessible things, such as sitting in on court cases if you’re applying to Law or attending exhibitions if you’re applying for Art History. Remember, context is important. Remain as relevant to your degree as possible. For example, if your degree values critical thinking skills you should be referencing work experience that marries up with this.

Extracurriculars:

Show that you have the X factor. Have you been an appreciated leader for anything, or recognised nationally as a high performer for something? Whatever it is that you have achieved, can you link it to academia, and more importantly, to skills that your course requires? For example, a black belt in Judo might be hard to associate with the Law degree you’d like to take, whereas, being head of your school’s debate team is certainly relevant. On this same note, being part of the UK Maths Olympiad team massively heightens your chances of studying Maths at Cambridge, particularly at Trinity College. With hobbies like music, it is probably only worth mentioning if you have impressive grades and/or play multiple instruments and can link this talent to skills required by your chosen degree. It’s also great if you’ve completed a specific MOOC: Cambridge offers a range of short, online courses that are available to everyone for free. You can also teach yourself relevant skills, for example, if you’re applying for Computer Science, you could learn a new programming language in your free time to gain valuable extra skills to add to your application.

The main importance is the relationship between your hobby and your desired subject, as these extracurriculars only become beneficial if they relate to your ability to excel as a student in your chosen department.

For postgraduate applicants, it’s perfect if you can mention being an integral part of a society relevant to your subject during your undergraduate degree.

Supercurriculars: How to ACTUALLY go beyond the school syllabus:

Cambridge calls wider reading a supercurricular. If done and referenced correctly, this can be what makes you a competitive candidate. It can even stand in for work experience.

Cambridge favours students who are able to think critically and independently. It can be impressive if you find a way to conduct proper research related to your subject and demonstrate the critical ability to explore it outside the confines of your school environment. The importance is showing Cambridge that you can flourish as an academic without handholding and a regimented school structure. If you really want to impress Cambridge, you could study the first few weeks of a first or second-year module for your chosen course and talk about this in your application. This will prove that you are already able to think and study at university level – which is what Cambridge is looking for.

If you’re a postgraduate applicant, it is recommended that you have a very strong undergraduate dissertation with a connection to your chosen degree. The more independent thought it demonstrates, the better. If you are applying for a research Masters, as opposed to a taught Masters, it’s important that you show the capability of research methods.

7. Invest in your PS and MyCapp

Personal statement:

For Cambridge’s many competitive subjects, lots of applicants will achieve the grades required for entry. Your personal statement will therefore be a critical deciding factor when the university comes to making offers. It’s important to invest plenty of time into this part of your application and use it as a chance to express what makes you unique. Include information about your ambitions, skills and experience, and crucially, use these to explain why you would be an excellent candidate for your chosen course.

Cambridge values academic personal statements that clearly demonstrate you going ‘over and above’. You should include any relevant work experience you’ve undertaken, further reading that’s enhanced your understanding and extracurricular activities that demonstrate your commitment to your subject area. The Profs’ personal statement tutors can provide further guidance on how to write a stand-out personal statement for your Cambridge application.

Check out our previous video on how to write the perfect personal statement.

MyCapp:

The MyCapp can significantly impact your application outcome so it’s very important and certainly not a throwaway step in the admissions process. Use this chance to speak directly to your department at Cambridge and explain why you’re suited to Cambridge specifically. You want to do the work to stand out here if your entry requirements are lacking.
Further details on what MyCapp is and how to complete it can be found in our previous blog here.

Referee:

You should always set up a meeting with your referee early in the application process because their statement about you is just as integral as your personal statement.

A good referee is important. Obviously, you want them to speak highly of you, but ideally, they will highlight your skills and qualities that are relevant to your chosen degree. For this reason, as well as for the general impression of your application, it is best to choose a referee who teaches your chosen subject or within your discipline. It is also a good idea to choose a referee who knows you well enough to write you something of quality.

Insider tip: Download the application questions into a Google Doc before writing. Mull over them. Write up a few drafts. Be thorough and turn in the best version of your answers possible.

Deadlines: Always check your deadline! For undergraduates, the Cambridge deadline is earlier than the standard UCAS deadline (January) but falls in October. For postgraduates, there’s no standard overarching deadline so you need to make sure that you check your individual course page and you’ll need to apply directly to the university. Also postgraduates should check the application cycles as they might have an upperhand if they apply earlier than the deadline.

8. Remember the purpose of your interview

Around 75% of applicants are invited for an interview with a Cambridge college. You will not receive an offer before successfully passing the interview round. It’s therefore imperative that you prepare to be interviewed by practising your interview skills and developing your subject knowledge with a professional.
At Cambridge, Medicine interviews follow the traditional panel interview format (rather than the MMI format), so you’ll need to research common questions and practise interview techniques to maximise your chances of success. Interviews for other subjects also tend to follow the traditional panel format but may form part of a wider admissions day that includes taking your admissions test.

In your interview, Cambridge is checking whether you think independently and are excited about your course. When they ask you a question, they are watching how you answer it, rather than your answer itself. Your interview is your chance to engage academically with people in your discipline who are far more senior. Your Cambridge interview is also an audition to check your suitability for the one-to-one conversational style of teaching that you would receive there. Hence, if you can smash this, assuming you’re selected for an interview, you’re in with a good chance of admission even if you don’t fulfil all of Cambridge’s entry requirements.

Check out our video on how to prepare for a university interview!

Practising with an interview training expert who understands the Cambridge admissions process is the most surefire way to improve your interviewing abilities and maximise your chances of success.

Get 1-to-1 guidance from an expert admissions tutor

At the Profs, we have many admissions consultants who can guide you through the process of applying to Cambridge, as well as LSE, Imperial and other top universities. In fact, Oxbridge applicants are over 3x more likely to receive an offer when working with the Profs’ experts, and over 95% of our applicants receive an offer from their first or second choice universities. We can even support you in your wider degree-level education, helping you with everything from writing your dissertation to applying for postgraduate courses. Reach out to our friendly team today to access our dedicated support.

FAQs

Where is Cambridge University?

Cambridge University is located in the city of Cambridge. Its colleges and buildings are spread across Cambridge city centre, with Girton College being the farthest from the centre, but still only 30 minutes away from Cambridge rail station by bus. Cambridge sits in the county of Cambridgeshire, East Anglia, and is just over an hour away from London by train.

How old is Cambridge University?

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. Its first college, Peterhouse, was founded 75 years later in 1284. Cambridge is one of the world’s oldest universities and is the second oldest in the English-speaking world; Oxford precedes it by just over a century, being founded around 1096.

How much is Cambridge University?

Tuition fees for undergraduate courses for UK students are £9,250 per year at Cambridge. Undergraduate tuition fees for international students range from £24,507 to £63,990 per year depending on the course. Students should also consider other costs associated with studying at university, including accommodation, transport, food and other personal costs. Cambridge estimates that students should allow approximately £11,020 per year for living costs.

How do I apply to Cambridge University?

To apply to an undergraduate course at Cambridge University, you’ll first need to submit an application via UCAS. This includes submitting your grades (and ensuring they meet Cambridge’s entry requirements), writing your personal statement, and submitting referees who can write references for you. You will likely also need to complete an admissions test and attend an interview, the exact details of which will depend on your chosen course. Read our guide to the Oxbridge application process for more information on each of these stages.

Does Cambridge give contextual offers?

Cambridge University does not offer systematic contextual offers, unlike some other universities such as UCL and LSE. However, Cambridge does use contextual data to provide academic assessors with the fullest possible picture of an applicant and the context in which their achievements occurred.

Can I transfer to Cambridge from another university?

Cambridge may in exceptional circumstances consider accepting transfer students from other universities. You will need to have completed your first year of study at another university and achieved top grades (ideally a first-class classification in all modules) to be considered for a transfer. If you are accepted as a transfer student, you will be expected to resit your first year at Cambridge (i.e. you will not be allowed to enter into the second year of a Cambridge course). Some courses/colleges will not accept transfer students and transfers in general are incredibly rare, so bear this in mind if you are considering applying for a transfer.

Can you visit Cambridge University for free?

You can visit many colleges and museums at the University of Cambridge during their opening hours for free. Some colleges and museums charge visitors a small entry fee, ranging from £1 to £7.50 per adult.

Is Oxford University older than Cambridge?

Oxford University is just over a century older than Cambridge University. Oxford was founded around 1096 while Cambridge was founded in 1209. Both universities have a long history of providing quality education and producing world-leading research.