Getting accepted into Cambridge University is a challenging yet rewarding endeavour. With an average acceptance rate of just 15.7% in 2022, Cambridge remains one of the most competitive universities in the UK.
However, understanding key factors like the admissions process, acceptance rates by course, and how your background influences your chances can help prospective students submit the strongest possible UCAS application.
This guide will break down everything you need to know about acceptance rates and getting into Cambridge as a UK or international student.
Admissions Process at Cambridge University
Unlike some other UK universities that use a centralised system, applying to Cambridge is submitted to and evaluated by the university’s independent colleges. Cambridge applicants can either apply directly to a specific college or make an open application that is allocated to a college by an automated system.
Applications are first reviewed by the relevant college, which can make a direct offer or defer the application to the Winter Pool to be reconsidered by other colleges.
Applicants who receive offers after pool review may be placed in the Summer Pool if they narrowly miss their offer conditions and are then reconsidered after A-level results are released. There is also an August Reconsideration Pool for certain underrepresented students who missed their offer conditions but performed above expectations.
This decentralised, college-based process means admissions decisions depend heavily on the recruiting priorities and academic interests of individual colleges in any given year. The availability of places in each subject varies across colleges.
Why Is the Acceptance Rate Important for Cambridge?
The acceptance rate is the percentage of applicants offered admission. Cambridge’s 15.7% acceptance rate means over 80% of applicants are REJECTED, highlighting how competitive gaining admission is.
For prestigious universities like Cambridge, Oxford, and Imperial College, the acceptance rate is a measure of selectivity and prestige. The lower the acceptance rate, the more exclusive the university is perceived to be. Cambridge has all the resources and facilities it needs, so maintains high standards to admit only the very top students.
However, Cambridge also has to balance selectivity with diversity goals. This means monitoring acceptance rates for disadvantaged and underrepresented student groups and using outreach programmes to ensure Cambridge admits the best applicants across all backgrounds.
- King’s College London Acceptance Rate
- Oxford University Acceptance Rate For UK & International Students
- Durham University Acceptance Rate
- Imperial College London Acceptance Rate For UK & International Students
Factors Influencing Cambridge Acceptance Rates
Cambridge’s overall acceptance rate is influenced by many factors:
- Number of applications – more applications lower acceptance rates
- Standards/entry requirements – higher standards reduce offers made
- Subject priorities – focus on certain subjects means more offers in those areas
- Diversity goals – priority on disadvantaged groups may raise their acceptance rates
- Recruiting in overseas markets – more international applicants lowers rates for home students
For example, the 22,470 applications received in 2022 were slightly down from 2021, contributing to the small rise in acceptance rate compared to the previous year’s 15.1%.
- Cambridge Colleges Pros and Cons
- Choosing Oxbridge College
- The Best Cambridge Colleges for Engineering
- Tompkins Table Rankings 2022 of Cambridge Colleges
- Oxford University Acceptance Rate
- Durham University Acceptance Rate
- The Best Cambridge Colleges For Law
- How to apply to Cambridge University
Cambridge Acceptance Rate
In 2022, Cambridge received 22,470 applications for undergraduate courses and made offers to 4,238 applicants, resulting in 3,544 acceptances and an overall acceptance rate of 15.7%, according to the Admission report.
This remains extremely competitive compared to leading universities like Oxford (13.7%), Imperial (12.7%), UCL (14.2%), Warwick (20.6%), and the Russell Group average of 22.9%.
To put this in perspective, over 80% of applicants with the highest possible grades and extensive extracurricular accomplishments will still be rejected by Cambridge each year.
Cambridge Acceptance Rates by Course
Acceptance rates at Cambridge vary enormously between courses, from 7% for Medicine to 46.4% for Music. This reflects the differing levels of competition for places.
Courses like Medicine, Economics, and Engineering are overwhelmingly popular and can accept fewer applicants. Less oversubscribed courses like Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Education are still highly competitive but have higher acceptance rates.
In 2022, courses with acceptance rates of less than 10% included Medicine (7.6%), Economics (10%), Computer Science (8.4%), and Engineering (12.9%). Of courses with over 100 acceptances, the highest acceptance rates were 46.4% for Music, 42.1% for Modern and Medieval Languages, and 29.5% for History.
|Cambridge Course||Acceptance Rate|
|Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic||40.70%|
|Asian & Middle Eastern Studies||33.80%|
|Classics (4 years)||38.10%|
|History & Modern Languages||24.00%|
|History & Politics||14.60%|
|History of Art||20.80%|
|Human, Social & Political Sciences||11.30%|
|Modern & Medieval Languages||42.90%|
|Theology, Religion & Philosophy of Religion||40.20%|
|Medicine Graduate Course||7.00%|
|Psychological & Behavioural Sciences||9.30%|
These variations mean that applicants should choose courses aligned with their academic strengths and interests rather than simply applying to the most competitive courses. A student with a passion for languages and the arts has a better chance of being accepted to study Modern Languages than Medicine, for example.
Cambridge Acceptance Rate for International Students
International students face an uphill battle being accepted to Cambridge, with an acceptance rate of just 9.8% in 2022 compared to 18.8% for UK applicants. Competition is especially fierce for courses like Economics (10% UK vs 3.9% international) and Medicine (13.7% vs 5.9%).
The lower acceptance rate for international applicants reflects how Cambridge prioritizes recruitment from within the UK, and strict overseas student number quotas.
However, Cambridge’s outlook is increasingly global, reflected in steadily rising numbers of international acceptances over the past decade. In 2022, 20.4% of accepted students were international compared to 15.2% in 2013.
Cambridge University Acceptance Rate For Masters
Competition for postgraduate admission to Cambridge is just as intense as at the undergraduate level. In 2021, the Cambridge Masters acceptance rate was 11.5% across postgraduate courses, down from 12.4% in 2020. Significant variations exist between programs. For example, 2021 acceptance rates ranged from 18% for Bioscience enterprises to just 4.8% for Architecture.
Prestigious master’s degrees like the MPhil in Advanced Computer Science and MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise accepted fewer than 1 in 10 applicants.
As with undergraduates, acceptance rates are lowest for applicants from overseas, especially non-EU countries. But Cambridge encourages international applicants for many master’s programs by not setting quotas for non-EU students.
Cambridge Acceptance Rate vs Oxford
As the top two universities not just in the UK but globally, Cambridge and Oxford are perpetual rivals. In 2022, their undergraduate acceptance rates were similar at 15.7% and 13.7% respectively. Both, Cambridge and Oxford, receive over 20,000 applications per year and reject around 85% of applicants.
However, Oxford tends to attract slightly more undergraduate applications than Cambridge – 24,450 compared to 22,470 in 2022. Competition is especially high for courses like Medicine and PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford.
At the postgraduate level, Oxford accepted 17.9% of applicants in 2022.
While Oxford remains number one in global university rankings, its admissions process and student mix are extremely comparable to Cambridge. Prospective applicants can expect similarly minuscule chances of acceptance and intense competition for places at either institution.
Cambridge Acceptance Rate vs Russell Group Universities
The Russell Group is a self-selected association of 24 leading UK universities committed to intensive research activity. Its members include Oxford and Cambridge, as well as prestigious institutions like UCL, Imperial, Warwick, and Durham.
In 2022, the average acceptance rate across Russell Group universities was 22.9% for UK students. Cambridge and Oxford were clear outliers, with all other Russell Group members accepting between 12.7% (Imperial) and 39% (Queen Mary University) of applicants.
Therefore, while gaining admission to any Russell Group university is an impressive achievement, students face much steeper odds applying to Oxbridge compared to other elite institutions.
A Russell Group aspirant who doesn’t quite make Cambridge’s standards could still thrive at a slightly less competitive member university. For example, a student narrowly rejected from Cambridge Engineering may succeed in applying to Imperial or Manchester instead.
Recommended for reading:
Factors Affecting Your Chances of Getting Into Cambridge
While the admissions odds are undoubtedly intimidating, thousands of students each year do fulfil their Cambridge dreams. Making a competitive application involves presenting your absolute best self across these key areas:
To even be considered by Cambridge, achieving straight A/A* grades at GCSE and A-Level or equivalent is virtually compulsory. In 2022, 97.9% of accepted applicants attained A*AA or higher in their 3 best A-Levels, according to the official Admission report.
Cambridge receives thousands of applications each year from students with perfect or near-perfect grades. You need outstanding results simply to get your foot in the door.
Focus on attaining top grades in subjects most relevant to your intended course. If you narrowly miss the grades, taking additional math, science or language qualifications can strengthen your application.
Extracurricular Activities and Leadership
Cambridge seeks well-rounded candidates whose academic prowess is matched by creativity, civic engagement, and leadership skills developed through extracurricular activities.
Pursuing performing arts, starting an organisation, succeeding in competitive sports, or volunteering in your community are great ways to showcase your passions and development outside of class.
Leadership can be demonstrated through roles like captaining a sports team, conducting an orchestra, or directing a student play. Cambridge favours candidates who display initiative and make outstanding contributions to their schools or wider communities.
Personal Statement and Reference Letter
The personal statement and academic reference are critical for bringing your application to life and convincing colleges you deserve one of the limited places available.
Your Oxbridge personal statement should highlight why you are a perfect fit for your chosen course, connecting your academic record with relevant extracurricular activities and interests. Reflect on how specific experiences have fueled your intellectual curiosity and prepared you for studying at Cambridge.
An enthusiastic reference from a teacher who knows your capabilities well is vital too. Ask teachers early who would be willing to provide a glowing recommendation emphasizing your work ethic, leadership, and potential.
Cambridge applicants from the UK are required to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) exam testing problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.
Some courses also mandate students sit an additional aptitude test related to the subject, such as the Mathematics Admissions Test, or UCAT.
Preparing extensively through practice papers and mocks is essential for excelling on these challenging tests designed to distinguish the very best candidates.
Learn more in the guides:
- UCAT Test – What is, Key Dates And How to Prepare
- BMAT Test – What is, Dates And How to Prepare
- UCAT vs BMAT Test: What is the Difference?
While securing a place at Cambridge is highly demanding, thousands of deserving students succeed each year. Presenting your academic and extracurricular accomplishments in the best possible light gives you the greatest chance of admission.
Remember that Cambridge colleges make contextual offers taking into account barriers you may have faced.
Familiarise yourself with the Oxbridge application process and be strategic in your college and course choices. With passion, perseverance, and a flawless application, you too could soon become a member of one of the world’s most prestigious learning communities.
1. What was Cambridge University’s acceptance rate in 2022?
In 2022, the overall acceptance rate for undergraduate admission at Cambridge was 15.7%. Over 80% of applicants were rejected.
2. How does Cambridge’s acceptance rate compare to other top UK universities?
Cambridge’s 15.7% acceptance rate is exceptionally low compared to other elite institutions like Imperial (12.7%), UCL (14.2%), Warwick (20.6%) and the 22.9% Russell Group average. Only Oxford is similarly selective at 15.9%.
3. Which courses have the highest acceptance rates at Cambridge?
Courses like Music (46.4%), Modern and Medieval Languages (42.1%), and History (29.5%) offer better chances of admission due to less competition for places. Medicine (7.6%), Economics (10%) and Computer Science (8.4%) are among the toughest courses to get into.
4. Is it harder for international students to get into Cambridge?
Yes, Cambridge prioritizes UK applicants, reflected in the 9.8% acceptance rate for overseas students compared to 18.8% for Home/EU applicants in 2022. Competition is fiercest for courses like Economics and Medicine.
5. What academic grades do I need to get into Cambridge?
Virtually all successful applicants achieve straight A/A* grades at GCSE and A-Level or equivalent. In 2022, 97.9% of accepted applicants attained A*AA or higher in their best 3 A-Levels. You need outstanding results to be competitive.