About the Interviews
Cambridge interviews are often the most dreaded part of making an application to Cambridge, but there's no reason why they have to be. This section will tell you a bit more about why we interview and what the interviews will be like.
Interview dates 2020
In order to minimise COVID-related risks to our applicants, students and staff in the coming undergraduate admissions round, we are making plans to interview applicants this year without requiring them to travel to Cambridge in December. The University will release further details about alternative arrangements as soon as we can.
We advise all prospective applicants to keep the first three weeks of December free.
Why we interview
Most people who apply to Cambridge have many As and A*s at GCSE, and most are predicted A*A*A or more at A level (or similar in equivalent examinations). On paper then, they all seem to be of similar ability, so we need a additional ways of distinguishing between them. Interviews are one way in which we can do this. However, that is not to say that everything hinges upon how well you do at the interviews (a popular misconception). When considering whether to give you an offer, university staff will take all of information available to them into account, including your past examination results, your performance in assessments, your school background, and anything else that might be relevant (for example, if you missed significant time at school through illness).
Are the interviews fair?
Yes. There can be an idea that Cambridge interviews somehow discriminate against certain people: girls; boys; people from state schools; people from independent schools; people who have lots of extra-curricular activities; people with poor social skills. The fact is: Cambridge does not allow any discrimination. At Emmanuel, we take steps to ensure that everyone is treated fairly:
- All of our interviewers receive interview training, so that they can help candidates to perform to the best of their ability
- Other than in exceptional circumstances, you are not interviewed one-on-one: there are two interviewers present, who will make notes during the course of the interview
- The College Admissions Tutors moderate all aspects of the admissions process, including comparison between applicants for different subjects
- If your application is unsuccessful, we will upon written request and with your permission, send a letter/email to your school giving feedback
In summary, interviewers cannot make 'ad hoc' decisions: they are trained in assessing candidates, and they have to justify whatever decisions they make - to the other interviewer(s), to the Admissions Tutors, and also to your school.
Interviewers understand that you may be nervous during the interviews, and will make allowances for that. There is absolutely no chance that interviewers will try to catch you out by asking you trick questions. You may have heard apocryphal stories, but they are certainly not true. Instead, interviewers see the interviews as a chance to get to know you, to establish your ability to think in depth about your subject, and to see what potential you have for taking the subject you want to study further.
What happens at the interviews
Most people who apply to Cambridge from the UK or other EU countries will be interviewed in Cambridge. Exactly when the interviews take place varies from College to College, but at Emmanuel interviews take place in early to mid-December. The format of interviews may vary a little from subject to subject, but typically you will have two interviews. Each interview lasts for 20-25 minutes, though some may be longer, and you may have to read a passage or some questions beforehand, so that you can discuss them during the interview. Further details can be found in our subject pages and you may also find the University's preparation film useful.
One of your interviewers will normally be the Director of Studies, who will oversee your studies if you are accepted into the college. However, the interviewers will not expect you to know everything, will take into account the material you have covered in your coursework when assessing your performance. Do not worry if you have to stop and pause for a while before answering a question; that is much better than rushing on and not thinking through what you are saying. The interview is supposed to be an intelligent discussion, and you will be expected to think about what you say and respond to the interviewers' questions with your own ideas and thoughts. You should not say what you think they want to hear, say what you really think - and if they disagree, do not be afraid to debate the point.
During the interview period, we have undergraduates on hand to take you to your interviews and collect you afterwards, and we also have a common room for you to relax in. If you have any questions or passages you need to read for your interviews, we will tell you about them when you register on the day, and there is a quiet reading room for you to read them in. We try to make sure that the experience is as stress-free as possible.
Occasionally circumstances beyond your or our control can intervene in the interview process - such as your being stuck in traffic and therefore arriving late. You can be assured that in any circumstances like that, we will make whatever allowances are necessary to compensate for them, both for you and for any other affected candidates.
What to wear and how to prepare
Just choose something you feel comfortable in.
You cannot be coached for a Cambridge interview, but it often helps to reduce nerves if you think over what might happen at the interview in advance. Helpful things you could do include:
- Think over your answers to obvious questions like "Why did you choose Cambridge/your subject?"
- Re-read your Personal Statement and think about how you would talk about the topics you have mentioned in it if you are asked – pay particular attention to comments that you have made about your subject or any work experience
- It is sensible to do a bit of extra reading around your subject
- Equally, it can be useful to keep up with any news articles related to your subject. This applies especially for those applying for vocational subjects (Economics, Medicine, Law, etc)
- Get used to talking about your subject in an intelligent and clear way. You can do this by discussing it with a teacher or a friend, or by explaining a difficult concept to a fellow student