Of Robes and Long Dining Tables, of Fireplaces and Scholars.

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Besides being THE most prestigious university in the world, Cambridge has been my dream. A dream that never was. I mean, me? Surely, there must be more qualified candidates around the world.

So there I was, scrolling through Cambridge’s entry requirements after receiving my AS Level results. Imagine my joy when I found that I met the minimum entry requirements. But that was only the first step of a long and arduous journey.

Personal Statement

THE personal statement. Quite possibly the most formidable step of the UCAS application. (Interviews aside, of course.) What on earth do you write? How do you get someone to take notice? Well, it might be a good idea to grab hold of some successful samples online, just to have a brief idea of what to include. Generally, the outline would be: catchy introduction and why you chose your subject; what you’ve done that demonstrates your passion towards the subject; your extracurricular involvements and the type of skills they inculcate. But of course, you already know the drill.

  • I like Physics/Chemistry/Biology. No, no, no. Be a little bit more subtle.
  • If you’re going to start your personal statement with some cliched quote from Darwin, Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, forget it. At least use a slightly obscure quote that no one else ever uses. It might pass you off as slightly more intelligent than the other candidates.
  • If you’re going to mention the New Scientist or Cosmos magazine, please be a little more original. At least every other (if not all) Natural Sciences personal statement includes a mention of those articles.
  • If you have no idea what to write, grabbing a few books off the suggested reading list or watching public lectures related to your subject might be good starting points.
  • Demonstrating how the activities you’ve partaken in qualifies you for a Science degree undoubtedly requires some creativity. Being a club member improves your team-working skills, and that will help when you’re in a research team, for example. Well, if you’re involved in a remotely interesting club (like Geography), that would hone your patience, which is ABSOLUTELY essential when carrying out experiments.
  • But do try getting yourself involved in international science competitions, volunteering for science fairs, attending public lectures and writing about them in your personal statement subsequently. They would vastly increase your chances of getting noticed.

Interviews (Or not)

Next go hours, days and months sitting before the computer screen, waiting for that all-important email. Certain colleges require that you send in copies of your written work prior to your interview (essays, assignments etc.). But don’t worry if you don’t have any – just send them an email to explain. I didn’t have any either.

As the interview would likely be centred on your personal statement and whatever else you wrote on your COPA, it would be helpful if you familiarize yourself with whatever you wrote. Say, if you wrote that you like evolution, read a few books about it so that you are ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you. They’ll probe you just to check that you actually know what you wrote about, but that’s about it. The other questions will likely be about A level topics, specifically, the modules you wrote about in your COPA.

There will also inevitably be a section on drawing graphs, so just be prepared to draw a graph for a given equation and explain why it should be like this or that, etc. Oh, while I’m at it, just think aloud. It’s good entertainment for the interviewer as he/she tries to figure out your thought process and deliberate on whether you’re teachable. My interviewer was actually trying to teach me about proteins during the interview session. There will also be paper and pencil laid before you, so feel free to use them if you need to illustrate your thoughts.

The good thing about Cambridge interviews is that you don’t need to smile and put on a whole bubbly, cheerful personality. Just be yourself (in the truest sense of the word). One interviewer once said that what distinguishes offer-holders from non-offer-holders is the sparkle in their eye. Be really passionate and treat the interview as a tutorial session.

If you were having your interviews in Malaysia, there will be a TSA assessment followed by an essay question a few days after the interview session. It would be worth going through “Thinking Skills” by John Butterworth and AS Level Thinking Skills past papers. As for the essays, they would likely be on stuff that you have learnt during your A levels. You might find some sample questions on college websites (I think Magdalene College has it).

That’s about it for applying, I guess. Good luck and may you achieve your dreams!


This student will be pursuing Biology in University of Cambridge, although she has also received an offer from Imperial College London. The aforementioned student has chosen to remain anonymous for fear of invoking the anger of Geography students.

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