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1. What do I need to do to apply for Law at Cambridge?
All UK universities go through UCAS, which is the standardized university application service provider. The process includes the submission of the standard personal information (name, address, etc), along with the all-important academic grades as well as a personal statement. These are essential, but, in terms of the application, are rather standard and don’t require too much fuss, so I won’t go too much into that.
Cambridge, however, has an additional application called the COPA (Cambridge Online Preliminary Application) which is for international students only. The most important thing to note about this is that there are extra short essays. They are optional, but it’s good to fill them out if you can. Why miss out an opportunity to let them get to know you better? The first essay is an optional personal statement, which provides an opportunity to talk specifically about why you are applying to Cambridge in particular. I think this is important because this is the only chance you get to do this. There are lots of good universities, so why Cambridge? A good way to answer this question is to ask yourself what draws you to it compared to, for example, Oxford. Next, is a question about specific career plans, followed by a question on how you have kept up your interest in your subject, and one for “anything else” that you want to add. It isn’t compulsory to fill them out, and you don’t have to know what you plan to do for the next ten years of your life, but if you do have specific plans, it would be good to tell them about your plans. A word of warning to students, especially those without prior scholarships: when you submit the COPA, you will have to pay a fee of £30 (roughly RM150).
The Cambridge UCAS application is usually due in mid-September, and the COPA a month later in October. You will also have to submit the SAQ (Supplementary Application Questionnaire), which all applicants (not only international students) submit. If you are already submitting the COPA though, don’t worry about the SAQ, as it’s quite similar. A few weeks after I submitted my COPA, I was emailed with an interview invitation, which is a normal and vital part of the application process. Candidates can choose to be interviewed in Cambridge itself or Malaysia; I chose the latter. If you are being interviewed in Malaysia, you will need to pay a fee of around RM600 (all fees are paid by credit card online). Some courses require additional tests, and as I applied to read Law, I had to take the Cambridge Law Test (CLT). I had both my interview and the CLT in the same day. All tests administered by Cambridge are taken on the same day, and some people have their interview and test on different days (though within the same few days).
2. How did you write your personal statement?
The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application, and also one of the most harrowing. I wrote over ten drafts in total, and my final draft is a far cry from my first. I can still remember staring at a blank screen in the middle of the exam period wondering what I was doing, and if I should be studying instead of working on yet another draft… Quite a horrible experience at the time, but looking back, I appreciate that learning process.
In my statement, I wrote mainly about my motivation for reading Law, and brought in ECAs that related to my subject. Using this, I was able to elaborate on both key experiences, and the skills needed to study Law. I also ensured that I wrote about my A Level subjects, and brought in how they have made me even more interested in studying Law. In short, I made sure that everything was relevant to reflect my interest in Law, and showcased the qualities I have that will make me a good law student!
While writing, I asked trusted people for help, including the lovely people in my college, and used their criticisms and opinions to fine-tune my statement. The last few drafts were tough, as I had to cut out something I thought was absolutely essential. This risk, however, clearly paid off.
3. Did you have to take any admissions test? If so, how was it and how did you prepare for it?
I had to take the Cambridge Law Test (CLT) a few hours after my interview. To be honest, it was quite hard! There are three types of questions that can be asked: Comprehension Questions, Problem Questions, and Essay Questions. What you receive can depend on your college, and I received a Problem Question. You can find out more about the CLT here: http://ba.law.cam.ac.uk/applying/cambridge_law_test/ (there are sample questions too!)
I prepared by reading several law articles, as recommended by my Head of School in KDU University College. For the CLT, they don’t expect prior legal knowledge, so you don’t have to go into hardcore study mode for it. If you’re not taking Law as an A Level subject, don’t worry – they say that that isn’t a factor, and I didn’t take it either. The most important thing is to hone in on certain skills, namely critical thinking, a sharp, discerning mind, and strong logic to be able to apply what you are given. I concentrated mainly on my upcoming AS exams, as the subjects I took were helpful for the CLT, in terms of skills needed.
4. How was your interview session?
Cambridge law interviews in Malaysia are generally done on a one-to-one basis. I was first asked a fairly technical question, but most of the interview was based on a case study. Using the scenario (which was actually a real case), my interview asked how I would argue if I were the prosecutor, the defence, and finally, what I would decide if I were the judge. This gave me the opportunity to see both sides of the story, before coming to a decision of my own. There was quite a lot of interaction as I worked through the questions, and I found my interviewer friendly. The interview was definitely intellectually demanding, but I found it enjoyable as a whole.
I think what helped me through was that I exhibited a strong desire to learn, and I actually had fun during the interview too. I read that Cambridge interviews are like mini-supervisions, so I decided to treat mine as such, and saw it as a glimpse into how learning in Cambridge would be like if I did get accepted. Because of that, I was able to absorb as much as possible, and tried my best to show my enthusiasm for knowledge.
I prepared for my interview and the CLT simultaneously, so please refer to the above section for general preparation. There were, however, several things I did specifically for the interview. My college arranged for a mock interview through MABECS, which I found really helpful. The questions were very different, but it was good to have a test run before the actual thing. I also read through my personal statement again (and again) to make sure I could elaborate on everything there (and also remind myself of why specifically I want to pursue law), and thought about a few questions I thought might be asked.
Cambridge recently published a post with tips on the interview, which can be viewed here: http://www.becambridge.com/blog-guest/2014/08/04/interviews-behind-the-scenes/
5. What do you think contributed to the success of your application?
That’s an easy one: lots of prayers and hard work!
I think what made me stand out was that I had a strong opening line to catch their eyes, and had a solid conclusion as well. In terms of my content, I also sought a lot of advice. I strongly believe that getting the opinions of others is very important, but don’t try to please everyone. It’s your personal statement, and ultimately your chances at going to a good university after all.
Another vital thing was the recommendation letters from my college. I made sure to participate in activities when I could, and was vocal (aka loud and asked weird questions) in class. This was of course part of the A Level learning process, but I also think it helped my college to write strong letters for me, as they had more material to work with.
6. I’m applying to read Law at Cambridge this year. Can you please give me some advice?
Just do your best! Try not to have regrets in the end, and work so that you are giving your all at any point in time. I certainly didn’t expect to be given an offer by Cambridge, and when I applied, my attitude was to do my best so that even if I wasn’t accepted, I wouldn’t have any regrets, and wouldn’t think “oh, maybe if I had put this in and said that in the interview instead… Maybe if I had listened to X about putting this in…”
For your personal statement, make sure that it’s you. Try this: if you stick in someone else’s name instead of your own, does it still fit? If the answer is yes, then you should probably work on it more until it finally sounds uniquely you. You don’t have to say that you admire a particular person or book just because everyone else is doing so (unless you really do and have a unique reason). Be yourself, and not anyone else.
For the interview, think aloud. They want to know your thought process, and it’s fine if you get answers wrong (and anyway, if you are asked your opinion in a law interview, there’s no right and wrong, though there is a better argument). It’s the journey that counts, not so much the destination, especially in this. Demonstrate a strong desire to learn, and be teachable!
Also, pick your Cambridge college carefully. Some, like mine, require written class work to be submitted. I found this something I liked, since I had essays with solid marks, and as I applied for law, I wanted them to see the quality of my written work. These colleges provide alternatives if your subjects are not essay-based, but this is something to take into account, as if you submit written work, it will form part of your application, and contribute to the final decision.
Once you have done your very best, then just pray very hard, and leave the rest to God.
Alicia Loh is a Bank Negara Kijang Emas scholar who will be reading Law in the University of Cambridge. She gives all glory to God. She can usually be found with a book and lots of pink, and blogs at http://www.alicialoh.com, where she writes important things about life (such as her furry baby’s first time walking on grass).