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What qualifications do I need in order to apply to St Catharine's?

This brief listing gives you a brief indication of the sorts of levels of attainment that we will be expecting from successful applicants. It is not a 'tariff' system, and we do assess every individual on their own merits. If you are in any doubt, please don't hesitate to contact the admissions office for advice.

Do bear in mind that there is no single criterion on which we base our admissions decisions. Our decisions are based on an aggregate assessment of your past and likely future academic performance at school, your performance in any tests that we set you, and how you perform at interview. The occasional low GCSE grade, aberrant A-level module score, or hasty interview response, are unlikely to adversely affect your chances.

Our numbers of applicants (averaging 3 - 4 per place) give us maximum flexibility in choice: we reserve (and sometimes exercise) the right to accept candidates who have not quite made the terms of their offer.

GCSE attainment

There are lots of myths about what you need to have gained at GCSE in order to make an application to Cambridge. Not all applicants to Cambridge have perfect GCSE scores - indeed, many successful applicants do not. As a general rule of thumb, if you have been entered for the GCSE higher tier exams, and have gained at least a few A* and A grades, and are now comfortably expecting to attain A-grades at A level then you should feel confident about making an application. Our assessment procedures will usually include interviews, where we will be interested in trying to find out what makes you tick, and so on, so that in the end our final assessment will balance the different aspects of your application (your paper record; your references; your motivation, enthusiasm and potential, and so on).

Students taking AS/A2 levels

At present the typical conditional offer for applicants to Cambridge courses in science is A*A*A, and for arts and humanities subjects A*AA. Also, do bear in mind that we may tailor offers to match the individual applicant, and you should also read the St Catharine's webpage about the subject for which you wish to apply, for details of any specific requirements.  If you are sitting more than three subjects, we may specify in which subjects we would like you to achieve an A, or exclude certain subjects (e.g. General Studies).

Most of our conditional offers are based on A2 exams which candidates sit at the end of year 13 (or the end of the Upper Sixth form year). We do, however, take into account certificated AS results, along with all other relevant information, when assessing candidates' applications and deciding on offers. In exceptional circumstances, we very occasionally make 'matriculation' (EE) offers. We do not - and will not - require attainment in particular STEP papers as a part of our offer, except in Mathematics.

We encourage potential applicants to tailor their choice of A-level subjects (or equivalent qualifications) to optimise their chances of gaining admission to the courses they wish to study at university. If you read the specific page for your subject on this website, and indeed on the websites of other universities, you will get an idea of what subject choices may help. Some subjects, such as Medicine, have very specific requirements, whereas others, such as Law, do not.

If after choosing subjects to increase your chances of gaining a place to read your chosen university subject, you are left free to select additional A-level subjects, then St Catharine's particularly values traditional academic subjects. These include English, all non-native languages, History, Geography, Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology/Human Biology. Many of our applicants are studying three such subjects at A-level, but do contact us if you would like any further advice.

Qualifications beyond A-level

To create 'as level a playing field' as possible, we only require qualifications beyond those usually studied in the last two years of school where absolutely necessary. Please see the details on our page about your chosen course.

In Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, applicants to all Camrbidge colleges must sit the BMAT exam. See these subject pages for details about this test.

In Mathematics, STEP is a requirement, and forms part of conditional offers (syllabus, entry forms, specimen papers etc., available from STEP Office, Purbeck House, Purbeck Road, Cambridge CB2 2PU).

Students following other examination systems

While many of our applicants are taking combinations that include AS/A2 level exams, we do receive large numbers of applications from candidates following alternative examination routes. Since our offers are all tailored to the individual, this poses no problem to us whatsoever, and we welcome applications from all bright and motivated students. Just as a guide, this lists very simply our 'typical' offer that we might expect to make (but bear in mind that we may often specify the attainment of certain grades in certain subjects):

International Baccalaureate - in Higher Level subjects, often 7,7,6, with an overall score of 40-43.

Scottish System - you will usually have gained grades of AAAAB or better in 5 Higher subjects; our offer will usually be for AAA or occasionally AAB in Advanced Highers.

Pre-U System - we set offers based on the equivalence between pre-U grades and A-levels stated in the pre-U website. For example, D2, D3, D3 is equivalent to an A*AA offer. Successful candidates taking a mixture of pre-U and A-level qualifications will probably be given an offer which is equivalent to A*AA, although it may require complex phrasing

European Baccalaurate - average score of 90% with a score of 9 in up to 3 subjects

Abitur - average score of 1.1 or 1.0; with high scores on individual subjects

Advanced Placement Tests - we usually ask for the highest grade (5) in any relevant AP test

SATs - we don't usually use these as a part of a 'conditional' offer; but note that most of the successful candidates we admit who have taken SATs will probably have an aggregate score of at least 1400 - 1450. (Scientists will usually have a math score of 750 or above)

Advanced VCE, or Vocational A-levels - if you are thinking of applying, and are taking some or all of your advanced courses at VCE level, you should contact us in advance so that we can offer you detailed advice about the extent to which your course may or may not offer an appropriate background for the course you are interested in at Cambridge. Our experience so far has been, for example, that candidates wishing to read Engineering at Cambridge who are taking an advanced VCE in Engineering will need to be taking at least A-level mathematics in addition. Equally the advanced VCE in Science alone will not be an appropriate training for Natural Science at Cambridge.

Overseas students

If you are student from outside Europe thinking of applying for a place then what you need to do next depends on a number of things:

- If you are not taking any of the examinations mentioned above (A-levels, IB, EB, and so on), then you should contact the Admissions Office for advice. We do have experience of dealing with applications from a wide-range of exam systems, and can usually advise you of the sorts of level of qualification that you will need.
- Overseas students should also be aware that if you are made an offer of a place, you will need to produce evidence of your ability to pay the fees for the course, before your place will be confirmed.

English language skills

If you are a student for whom English is not your first language, and if you do not have a pass (at C grade or above) in GCSE English or any equivalent exam, then any offer of an academic place may well be based on the additional requirement that you pass an English Proficiency exam. As a guide, we would usually require a pass in a test such as the British Council's IELTS test (see with an average score of 7.5 and a minimum score of 7.0 or 7.5 in individual elements.

Mature students

At St Catharine's, we are happy to receive applications from Mature Students in all subjects except Medicine and Veterinary Medicine: in these two subjects alone there are quota places available specifically for Mature students at Wolfson, St Edmund's, Lucy Cavendish and Hughes Hall.

Entry criteria for Mature students are generally similar to those for other applicants - we will usually expect you to be studying (or have recently studied) at an appropriate level, whether A-levels, Foundation courses, or whatever; and we will expect you to be able to show recent evidence of your academic ability. We are prepared to take Mature students from non-standard academic backgrounds, but it is essential that you make contact with us (either with the Admissions Tutor, or with the Director of Studies) at a very early stage so that we can discuss your needs and give you realistic advice as appropriate.

Last modified 17th April 2015