Cambridge interviews vary from subject to subject and from College to College, but the information below provides a guide as to what you can expect.
Your College will send out detailed information and advice about interviews, explaining where to go, the format and what will be expected of you. If you’re asked to stay overnight, the College will normally cover the cost of your accommodation and meals.
When do the interviews take place?
Interviews usually take place in Cambridge during the first three weeks of December. A small number of candidates may be asked to attend a further interview in January. If you decide to apply keep this time free of any unbreakable commitments!
The University conducts a number of overseas interviews. These may take place earlier and involve an earlier application deadline.
Although interviews take place towards the end of the application process, it’s important to remember that they aren’t a ‘final hurdle’ and that performance at interview alone doesn’t determine the outcome of an application.
How many interviews will I have and who will they be with?
You'll have one, two or three interviews (most commonly two), each lasting between 20 and 45 minutes. The exact form and length of interviews vary from College to College and between subjects. How many interviews you'll have depends on the College to which you applied/were allocated. However, you'll be told what to expect in advance.
Interviews are predominantly academic and subject-related. One or two will be with specialists in the subject you've applied for, one of whom is usually the College Director of Studies who would oversee your academic studies and progress at Cambridge.
There may be another more general interview with someone not directly related to your subject, probably a College Admissions Tutor, the person in charge of admissions for that College.
Will I have to sit a written assessment?
If you’re applying for a course which has an at-interview written assessment you will normally sit this on the same day as your interview(s). No advance registration is required for at-interview written assessments and your interviewing College will provide full information.
If you're in any doubt about what to expect, please contact the College and ask.
What are the interviewers looking for?
The main focus of interviews is to explore your academic potential, motivation and suitability for your chosen course. Questions are designed to assess your:
- problem-solving abilities
- assimilation of new ideas and information
- intellectual flexibility and analytical reasoning
It’s important for you to remember that interviewers won’t be trying to ‘catch you out’, but will be challenging you to think for yourself and show how you can apply your existing knowledge and skills laterally to unfamiliar problems.
Interviews help selectors to gauge how you would respond to the teaching methods used at Cambridge. Interviews are similar in many ways to supervisions.
What will I be asked?
Interviews are discussion-based, predominantly academic and subject-related, so you'll be asked questions:
- relevant to the course you've applied for
- about the information you provided in your written application
In all subjects, we're looking for informed enthusiasm and an ability to think independently about your subject.
You'll probably find some of the questions quite challenging. They're designed to encourage you to think for yourself and develop an argument or tackle a problem. Don't panic if you don't immediately have an answer to a question.
- interviewers want to find out how you think and apply your current knowledge, how well you can expand on and apply your existing knowledge to unfamiliar problems rather than how much you know.
- very often there are no right or wrong answers to the questions asked. It's the process of reaching your answer that's generally of most significance rather than the answer itself.
- don't be afraid to consider new ideas but if you don't understand something, say so and feel free to ask for clarification at any point if you need it.
- answer the questions in your own way, the interviewers want to hear what you have to say about your subject; don't just say what you think the interviewers want you to say or what your teachers or others would want you to say.
Subject-specific academic interview
The purpose of this interview is to assess your understanding of your subject and your potential for studying it at Cambridge. You should expect:
- a challenging discussion relating to your chosen course, which may include topics covered in your recent academic work and raised in your written application (eg wider reading and work experience)
- to be asked to apply your existing knowledge to new situations by discussing problems that you've not previously encountered
If you're applying for a non-school subject such as Medicine or Engineering, you should have some background knowledge of the field and what it involves.
For some courses, some Colleges may ask you to read an article/piece of text/prose which will be discussed in the interview. If this is required and it’s something they want you to read and think about at home/before you come to Cambridge, the College will provide all the details in the letter inviting you to interview. Alternatively, they may ask you to read something just before you go in for your interview. In all cases, the College will explain the format of the interview in the invitation letter and if you have any queries, please contact the College to ask.
General academic interview
You may also have a general academic interview, where you may be asked:
- to expand on the information you gave in your personal statement so keep a record of what you wrote
- why you want to come to Cambridge, and why you're interested in your subject
- about your wider academic work/interests and what you hope to do in the future as a career. However, don't worry if you haven't got any definite plans at this stage
Are extra-curricular activities taken into account?
While achievements in particular extra-curricular activities may be impressive, getting an offer of a place isn't influenced by them. However, interviewers often ask about other interests or experience that you mention in your application where they're of relevance to the course that you intend to study. If you've expressed a particular interest – in an author perhaps, or a recent article or programme, or some work or travelling you've done – be prepared to be asked about it.
What should I wear?
You're not being assessed on your clothes or appearance so there's no need to dress formally, and it's not necessary to wear a suit. On the other hand, you might not want to look as though you're going to the gym or for a night out!
The best rule to follow is to wear whatever you feel comfortable in and don't be put off by what other people choose to wear to their interview.