Cambridge is without doubt one of the most prestigious universities in the world, offering students an excellent education as well as an incredibly intense and diverse experience of student life. Though the workload is often crushingly hard, it is also highly rewarding. The (as compared to other universities) extreme focus on individual input hugely increases one’s capacity to tackle difficult problems creatively. In short, applying to Cambridge could well be the best decision in your whole life.
But how do I get in?
Just as Cambridge is known for its excellence, it is known for the competitiveness of its application procedures. Yet these are merely meant to guarantee that the most hard-working and intelligent students will actually get in – and you could well be one of these. Yet especially as a non-native speaker you’ll need to prepare vigorously for every step of the application procedure. The official Cambridge University website has detailed information about all of the application process and should be your primary source of information on how to apply successfully. There are hundreds of websites, books, agencies, etc. that offer (often dubious) advice on how to make the cut, but all of these should be treated with caution. As such we wish to reemphasise the Cambridge University Application Office’s official stance that paid (usually horrendously expensive) tutoring does little to increase application success chances! Rather, we (cautiously) recommend that students keen for more information on the Cambridge Application procedure browse through the Oxbridge-application pages of www.thestudentroom.co.uk (the largest UK-website on all education-related things). It may also be useful to pick up a book on getting into Oxbridge, which are numerous and widely available though often shabby – checking reviews on Amazon will be crucial in selecting something proper (though even the best are often inaccurate).
Is the application procedure any different for Austrians?
The short answer is no. All applicants are assessed on an equal basis by merit alone – unlike in American elite universities there is no quotas or ways to buy your place at university. There is also hardly any unofficial bias in selecting students (whether on the basis of gender, nationality, ethnicity, a disability, etc.) , as the multi-tiered application system makes this practically impossible. However, non-native speakers educated in a very different system of schooling may of course be at a certain disadvantage in proving their worth. The below is a few tips on how to mitigate these disadvantages specific to Austrian nationals, though they may also apply to others.
- Do I have the right grades?
The Application office actually publishes country-specific information on what the minimum expected average grade is. For Austria, this is currently a 1.3 average in the Matura. If you don’t think you can achieve that, there is most likely no use in applying to Cambridge (you may wish to look at other, also excellent UK universities such as Imperial College or London School of Economics and Politics, or if you like the idea of a collegiate university – Durham). If you do meet the 1.3 average mark requirement, be aware that the closer you get to a 1.0 average the better! A majority of Austrian undergraduate students in Cambridge did indeed achieve 1.0 (though as of writing this page the students referred to mostly did not yet do Zentralmatura).
- Is my English good enough?
This varies a lot with whether you study an Arts or a Science subject (?). Science subjects tend to be mostly focused around solving problem sheets and, later on, doing research. For neither of these flawless English is necessary, though you should still be able to communicate well with academic staff and, of course, you’ll need to know all essential vocab in your subject of interest (e.g. Maths). In most arts subjects on the other hand you’ll be required to write eloquent essays putting forward strong arguments, as well as being able to quickly process questions asked by your supervisors (the people who teach you in groups of one or two) and answer verbally. Unsurprisingly, arts subjects thus require a much higher level of English proficiency than Science subjects. Cambridge does have official English proficiency guidelines, but as all applicants need to come to an interview these requirements are often neglected if there it is found that the applicant talks English well enough. Individual subject requirement information pages at the Cambridge University website will have more detailed info on English proficiency requirements.
- Any more hints or advice?
– Be sure to start thinking about the application process well in advance of the October 15th UCAS deadline for Oxbridge applications. Make sure you know the exact specifications for personal statements beforehand and when finished secure the help of native English speakers (if you know any) in scanning your personal statement for any spelling mistakes. You’ll find heaps of information on Personal statements in the sources mentioned above, but generally try to show yourself as interested and capable, rather than boasting about past achievements.
– When it comes to the time you’re invited for interviews, make sure you take plenty of time to prepare for this crucial step in the application procedure. As English most likely is not your first language, definitely find a friend or relative well in advance to do mock interviews with. The content of these is not so important, but especially for Arts subject applications you should be used to coming up with intelligible answers to difficult questions without much delay. You’ll find mock interview questions from many sources and even though these will most likely be very different from the questions you’ll actually be asked, they’ll still be of help in teaching you how to react when asked on difficult topics. As a general rule, this skill is more important than extensive prior knowledge of your field (again, this is more true for Arts than for Science subjects).
– Try to get in touch with someone in Cambridge studying your subject and ask them any questions you may have. There is an official Facebook page for this, but feel free to also get in touch with us over Facebook if you want fellow Austrians’ advice. We will do our best to put you in touch with an Austrian student studying the subject you want to apply for if you can convince us that you have what it takes to get in.