Cambridge Interview Guide: Dates, Questions, & Offers 2024

Cambridge Interview Guide: Dates, Questions, & Offers 2024

The Cambridge interview is a significant part of the admissions process for undergraduate applicants seeking places at one of the UK’s leading universities. 

Over 80% of candidates receive invitations for interviews, but only around 15.7% get into Cambridge University. Making it a competitive and intellectually challenging stage aiming to identify bright students with a high potential to thrive in Cambridge’s intensely academic environment. 

Interviews involve 1-3 separate 20-45 minute sessions testing applicants’ subject knowledge, analytical thinking and ability to apply existing understanding to unfamiliar problems. 

The competition runs at around 5 applicants per place, making interviews pivotal for differentiating exceptional candidates in the application process. 

This guide covers key details including practicalities, dates, preparation strategies and insights into making impressive Cambridge interviews to maximise your chances of admission.

Understanding the Cambridge Interview Process

The University of Cambridge is part of the famous Russell Group, which has very strict admissions rules. The Cambridge interview is an essential part of the admissions process for undergraduate applicants. 

Over 80% of applicants are interviewed at Cambridge

With Cambridge’s interview rate of over 80% of applicants, it provides an opportunity for tutors to assess your subject knowledge, intellect, potential, and overall suitability for studying at one of the UK’s leading universities. 

Cambridge interviews are conducted in small groups or one-on-one with tutors, fellows or graduate students of your chosen college, typically lasting between 20-45 minutes

You can expect 1-3 separate interviews, each assessing your ability to apply existing knowledge to new situations, cover details from your personal statement, and discuss academic work, reasons for applying to Cambridge, and future career plans.

Cambridge Interviews

Cambridge interviews take place in early December, within the first 3 weeks, once the large volume of applications has been reviewed and shortlisting decisions made. 

During the Cambridge application process you will have 1-3 interviews, each 20-45 minutes

Some Colleges require you to travel to Cambridge for 1-3 days depending on how many separate interviews you have. Others have online interviews. 

You’ll be assigned accommodation and have opportunities to explore colleges, attend open days, ask questions of staff and students, and experience campus life first-hand. Interview questions aim to move past memorised knowledge to test your capacity for reasoning, problem-solving solving and handling new ideas. 

What percentage of Cambridge applicants get an interview?

Tutors look for enthusiasm about your subject along with intellectual potential. With competition running at around 5 applications per place, the interview plays a decisive role in the admissions process. Around 80% of applicants get invited for an interview

Shortlisting decisions for Cambridge interview

Not everyone who applies gets an interview as talked about this in previous paragraphs. With exceptional competition, even applicants with near-perfect grades can be unsuccessful if enough candidates demonstrate greater enthusiasm, passion and potential on paper. 

Cambridge tutors have their methods and criteria for determining who gets interviewed. However, tutors generally place a heavy weight on teacher references, personal statements conveying genuine interest, super-curricular activities like reading journals or academic writing, strong test scores, and an ability to demonstrate intellectual curiosity about your chosen university course.

Applicants with an average grade of AAA* or higher had an 89% Cambridge interview rate

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Key Dates for 2024 Cambridge Interviews

For the 2025 entry, the key dates around interviews will be:

  • End November 2024: Interview shortlisting completion
  • 1-21 December 2024: Interview period
  • Early January 2025: Interview offers made
  • Mid-January 2025: Winter pool decisions

What Kinds of Questions Get Asked?

What do Cambridge tutors look for in an interview? Cambridge interviews involve unconventional questions that go beyond memorised facts to test quick thinking, application of core principles and capacity for intellectual exchange.

You may be asked through experiments like “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” or need to apply basic scientific concepts to make back-of-the-envelope calculations estimating real-world values.

Questions often start from a passage of text, historical account, image, graph, personal statement, or other stimulus to trigger analytical discussion. 

Interviewers manipulate constraints and assumptions to see how you respond. Success involves staying calm under pressure, communicating clearly, and demonstrating the potential to thrive in Cambridge’s intense academic environment.

Example of a real interview question from Cambridge tutors:

Tell me about a news article you have read recently that you found interesting.

This looks super simple. You may wonder – why this question? 

This question provides an opportunity to showcase interests and knowledge beyond academics. An insightful answer would demonstrate curiosity about current events, and subjects, critical thinking skills in forming opinions, and verbal communication abilities. 

Depending on your area of study, you could discuss a recent news article that relates to your subject matter and share thoughtful analysis. For example, an economics applicant may choose to talk about the EU’s plans to deal with the winter energy crisis. 

Read more:

Example Answare to Question 

A good answer to this question could be something like this:

I read an article yesterday in Reuters about EU energy crisis plans. European countries have allocated nearly 800 billion euros to address the energy crisis, per a recent report. Germany leads with 270 billion euros – concerning given most countries cannot match its fiscal firepower. So far, support has centred on blunt tools like price caps. As the fiscal room narrows, governments must get creative. More targeted aid for lower incomes and strategic industries could help optimize limited funds. However, the analysts presuppose sectors’ “strategic” importance; governments may disagree on priorities. And targeted subsidies risk perceptions of favouritism. Still, the scale of spending shows leaders recognize the crisis’ severity and social impacts. Whether relief reaches those most affected remains an open and critical question. Refocusing existing funds seems wise, but political inertia favours status quo aid.

Example Questions from Cambridge Interviews

Below you can read some of the real questions from Cambridge interviews in the last few years.

  • If you entered a tele-transporter and your body was destroyed and instantly recreated on Mars in the same way with all your memories intact, would you be the same person?
  • What is the difference between buying and selling slaves and the buying and selling of football players?
  • Is being hungry the same thing as wanting to eat? 
  • Why do firms exist?
  • Why is there not a global government? 
  • Why would you consider Toys R Us to be a failing business? 
  • If you could make up a word, what would it be? Why? 
  • Is someone guilty of an offence if they did not set out to commit a crime but ended up doing so? 
  • Should a Wal-Mart store be opened in the middle of Cambridge? 
  • What do you think of teleport machines? 
  • What makes you think that I am having thoughts? 
  • When are people dead? 
  • Tell me about these eggs. 
  • Are there too many people in the world? 
  • Why are you sitting in this chair? 
  • How would you travel through time? 
  • What is the purpose of comedy?
  • What problems do fish face underwater?
  • Was Romeo impulsive?
  • Can you imagine the world without laws?
  • Describe a potato, then compare it with an onion.
  • Do you think you are clever?
  • Last achievement in world medicine?

What Makes the Best Cambridge Interview Candidates Stand Out?

The most successful Cambridge interviewees stand out by combining enthusiasm for their chosen subject with intellectual nimbleness, curiosity and articulacy. 

With competition running over 5-to-1 for undergraduate places, simply having top grades is not enough. Interviewers look for engaged, responsive, socially confident students who can handle unfamiliar problems and interact fruitfully with academic challenges. 

Being able to hold your own in a high-pressure intellectual discussion signals your potential to positively shape the philosophical, political and creative conversations Cambridge is known for. 

Students who change the world make lasting impressions in their interviews.

How to Prepare for Cambridge Interviews

Succeeding in Cambridge interviews involves tailored preparation focused on the core principles of your subject while also training quick analytical thinking. 

Practice problems, mock interviews with teachers, self-directed study groups and online interview question banks can all help expand your mental frameworks for responding coherently to unfamiliar challenges. 

Know key terms and concepts by heart, read academic journals to increase exposure to college-level discussion, and seek opportunities to apply classroom material to real-world questions. 

Learn to structure responses clearly, rebound from mistakes and participate energetically in intellectual exchange. Internalise the creativity, bold thinking and inquisitiveness Cambridge values rather than memorizing answers.

Inside Information: Cambridge Interview Spreadsheets

What do Cambridge interview spreadsheets created by applicants tell us? A vital yet rarely discussed part of Cambridge’s interview process involves detailed scoring spreadsheets used to track applicant performance. 

Here are some key findings from the Cambridge interview spreadsheet collected by applicants in 2023:

  • Applicants with an average grade of AAA* or higher had an 89% interview rate
  • Applicants with an average grade below AAA* had a 63% interview rate
  • On average, applicants who were interviewed had slightly higher grades (AAA*) than those who were deselected (AAA)

So based on this analysis, it appears applicants with top grades (AAA* average) are very likely to be invited for an interview at Cambridge, while those with slightly lower grades (AAA average) still have a decent interview chance but lower than the top grade applicants.

Dealing With Unusual Cambridge Interview Questions

From brain teasers to thought experiments testing basic scientific principles, Cambridge interviews challenge applicants with unconventional questions to trigger analytical thinking under pressure. 

Faced with problems like “Estimate the number of gas stations in Scotland” or “Discuss the Clinton presidency using interpretive dance”, stay calm and demonstrate your problem-solving capability. 

Ask clarifying questions, think through logical steps applying core concepts, communicate clearly and check back with the interviewer once formulated your approach. 

Success comes from showcasing intellectual nimbleness rather than memorizing answers. 

Prepare using practice questions, analyze underlying frameworks and principles being tested, and keep curiosity at the forefront.

Receiving Interview Offers: What happens next?

The period after interviews brings nerve-wracking waits for final decisions. Most applicants receive quick rejections based on their interview performances while standouts get provisional offers during December and January. 

A middle group stays in uncertainty, neither accepted nor rejected. These candidates form Cambridge’s “winter pool” with hopes of getting offers later depending on spaces opening up. 

By mid-January, winter pool applicants usually receive either welcome offers or the devastating news they’ve been unsuccessfully once and for all. 

The winter months pass tensely for these candidates as they hope for the best. Ultimately, Cambridge’s tiny undergraduate intake compared to applicants makes admission extremely competitive. Identifying the deepest talent remains the interviewers’ overarching priority.

The Cambridge Interview Experience

Undergoing the high-pressure Cambridge interview process offers invaluable learning experiences regardless of the outcome. 

Intellectually intense question sessions provide opportunities to demonstrate and improve reasoning skills even for rejected applicants. 

The challenging atmosphere mirrors Cambridge’s broader environment emphasising critical analysis and creative thinking. Candidates unanimously describe the process as uniquely demanding yet highly stimulating, pushing intellectual growth. 

Interviewers seek promising students demonstrating academic enthusiasm and potential for thriving in the university’s dynamic, interdisciplinary atmosphere. Engaging fully in the interview tests whether you possess these qualities. 

Simply by applying and reaching the Cambridge interview stage, you signal yourself as one of the nation’s top academic talents.

Cambridge interviews FAQs

What percentage of Cambridge applicants get an interview?

Over 80% of applicants to the University of Cambridge are interviewed.

Are Cambridge interviews in person?

Some Cambridge colleges (Gonville & Caius, Pembroke College, Peterhouse College, Trinity, King’s, and Selwyn College) do interviews in person at the university for UK applicants, but the majority of interviews on other colleges are online – especially for overseas students.

What does Cambridge look for in an interview?

Cambridge looks for enthusiasm, intellect, analytical and critical thinking, and the potential to thrive in a demanding collegiate academic environment.

How to pass the Cambridge interview?

Cambridge interview preparation is the process that needs to start a few months before the interview. It requires a lot of work and preparation. Prepare using practice questions, use mock interviews, hire expert tutors to guide you, communicate clearly, and demonstrate intellectual curiosity.

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