There is no single criterion on which we base our admissions decisions. We make an overall assessment of:
- your academic performance at school in public exams,
- information on your UCAS form,
- your performance in any admissions assessments we may ask you to sit,
- how you perform at interview (your ability to discuss topics raised in your personal statement, and your ability to apply academic skills you have learnt at school to novel information, concepts and tasks) and
- contextual information about your previous educational opportunities and support.
Although applying to Cambridge is competitive - we have approximately four/five applicants for each place - there are few hard-and-fast rules to applying to St Catharine's. The occasional low GCSE grade, aberrant A Level module score, or hasty interview response is unlikely to adversely affect your chances. Also, depending on the circumstances, we are sometimes able to accept candidates who have not quite made the terms of their offer.
At St Catharine's we use all the information available to us at each stage of the academic selection process, so there is no single overriding criterion which 'trumps' all the others.
Attainment in public exams, such as A levels or the IB, remains the cornerstone of our admissions system. That said, most candidates apply before they have finished their school exams, so usually receive offers conditional on them reaching a certain level in those exams.
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/A*/7/8/9 grades, and are now comfortably expecting to attain A grades at A Level then you should feel confident about making an application. We are also happy with IGCSEs - indeed, these can be slightly more demanding than their GCSE counterparts, so we often find that applicants have taken slightly fewer of them.
At present the University's typical conditional offer is as follows:
- most science courses: A*A*A
- most arts and humanities subjects: A*AA
- Economics: A*A*A
- Psychological and Behavioural Sciences; Veterinary Medicine: A*AA
We usually set offers at these levels, but may sometimes 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. We may, or may not, specify in which subjects we would like you to achieve an A*, or exclude certain subjects (General Studies and Critical Thinking are always excluded). Most of our conditional offers are based on A2 exams which candidates sit in one go at the end of year 13 (the end of the 'Upper Sixth').
If an applicant is taking four 'relevant' subjects, we may occasionally set a lower requirement in the fourth subject simply to ensure they complete the course and take the exam - for example, by giving an A* A* A C offer in a science subject. Otherwise we find that offer holders drop school subjects which we think would stand them in good stead for university!
We may take into account certificated AS results, where available, along with all other relevant information, when assessing candidates' applications and deciding on offers.
We encourage potential applicants to tailor their choice of school subjects 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. Many of our applicants are studying three such subjects at A Level, but obviously there are A-level subjects not on that list which may be very relevant to your proposed course of study - Music, Sociology, Government and Politics, or Psychology, for example. Do contact us if you would like any further advice.
A typical offer would be 40-42 overall and 7,7,6 in higher level subjects.
We often find that applicants to science courses have not been permitted to take three science/maths subjects at Higher Level of the IB - and if this is so, we recommend taking two science/maths subjects at Higher Level and one at Standard Level. In this case, we may set conditional offers which include a requirement for the Standard Level science/maths subject instead of the Higher Level 'non-science' subject.
Scottish qualifications (Advanced Highers)
The typical offer is Courses with a typical A-level offer of A*AA generally require A1, A2, A2; and for courses with a typical A Level offer of A*A*A, offers are usually A1, A1, A2..
However, in some cases, two Advanced Highers and an additional Higher may be acceptable (e.g. when an applicant is prevented from studying more than two Advanced Highers due to reasons outside their control) – such applicants are considered on a case-by-case basis and should contact us for advice. If your school/college can only offer a limited range of Advanced Higher qualifications, or taking three Advanced Highers means you travelling to different schools, please do indicate this in the 'Teaching difficulties' section of the Supplementary Application Questionnaire, so that this can be taken into account when assessing your application.
We set offers based on the following equivalence between pre-U grades and A-levels. For example, D2, D3, D3 is equivalent to an A*AA offer, and D2, D2, D3 is equivalent to an A*A*A offer. Successful candidates taking a mixture of pre-U and A Level qualifications will usually be given an offer which is equivalent to A*A*A or A*AA, although it may require complex phrasing.
STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper)
At present, we require attainment in particular STEP papers as a part of our offer only for Mathematics or Maths with Physics (not Physical Natural Sciences) - see the Maths subject page.
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)
The EPQ would not normally form part of a Cambridge conditional offer, and we do not expect you to do one. However, if you are doing an EPQ you may be asked about it at interview, and also, do bear in mind that your other university choices may indeed include your EPQ in an offer, or reduce your conditional offer if you do well in it.
Students following other examination systems - especially outside the UK
We 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. We usually follow the University's list of recommended requirements for all these qualifications - follow this link.
Personal statement - how do we use it?
We do not assess the 'quality' of your personal statement, partly because applicants receive widely differing amounts of help with their statements. For example, it will not usually be used to decide who we interview, or to whom we make offers. The only time it would be used in these decisions is if a personal statement indicates that an applicant has completely misunderstood the nature of the course for which they are applying - and this is rare.
However, you should be aware that the personal statement can be extremely important in your application to other universities, so we advise you to tailor it to what they want, not us - and there is a helpful guide to writing your personal statement on the UCAS website. If the Cambridge course you are applying to is different, or has a different name (e.g. Natural Sciences), to your chosen course at other universities (e.g. Chemistry), then you should use the name it is given at those other universities. You can always explain this further in your online Cambridge Supplementary Application Questionnaire.
Personal Statement - evidence of interest in your subject beyond your school studies
We may select things on your statement - especially 'supercurricular' academic interests and activities beyond your school curriculum - and discuss them with you at interview, This is often the only contribution your personal statement makes to your application to us. Please note:
- these activities may include reading printed or electronic resources (text, audio or video) or attending subject-related events or competitions
- you should not feel you have to spend any money - accessing web or library resources, or participating in school-based activities is fine
- you should interpret the phrase 'subject-related' very broadly - for example, applicants to any science/maths subject should feel free to mention activities in any science/maths subject
- supercurricular study will be helpful for your other university choices as well, so we recommend you use much of the space in your UCAS application explaining how wider study has contributed to your enthusiasm for, and ability to succeed in, your chosen university course
Applicants occasionally ask us what wider study they should do, to which the answer is that they should be guided by their own interests - don't feel you have to read a certain book just because you think everyone else is! That said, there is some useful guidance at this link.
Personal Statement - what about extracurricular activities?
Extracurricular recreational activities are not considered by St Catharine's or Cambridge during your application. This is partly because they are not directly relevant to assessing your academic potential, and also candidates vary greatly in their access to extracurricular activities. However other universities probably will be interested in your extracurricular activities, so do include them in your UCAS application.
Understandably, most of our applicants' school references are good - explaining how well they are performing at school, and that they are expected to do well at university. As a result, school references often do not form a large part of our selection process. However, if you or your school have faced any particular challenges, then this is a good place for this to be mentioned, and we will certainly take such information into account.
If you are applying while still at school, as part of the UCAS process your teachers will be asked to make predictions of your eventual exam results. However, these predictions are not an important part of the admissions process at St Catharine's. This is because (1) accurate predictions are very difficult to make and (2) some schools and teachers tend to 'under-predict' or 'over-predict' for various entirely understandable reasons. As long as your predictions approach the 'general range' of our conditional offers, then they will play little role in our decision whether or not to interview or make an offer. Also, we do not usually consider your predictions when setting your conditional offer level.
Cambridge Supplementary Application Questionnaire
This is an additional form you must fill in, and the deadline for submission is usually one week after the UCAS deadline. You must complete this form, but don't worry if you think you have not written much! The 'SAQ' allows us to gather various information about the educational support you have had at school, and it also allows you to tell us anything 'Cambridge-specific' about your application. If you feel you have written everything you need to on your UCAS application, then it is fine to leave the respective boxes blank on the SAQ - most applicants do.
Applicants in most subjects will be asked to complete a written admissions assessment for which they must be entered when they apply to Cambridge - please make sure you discuss this with your school in advance of the mid-October application deadline. These assessments are sat either before or during the interview process:
- (most sciences and some arts/humanities subjects): 'before-interview' assessments are taken in local examination centres - usually applicants' own schools, usually late in October or early in November, or
- (some arts/humanities subjects): on the day of interview in the college in which each applicant is to be interviewed
Details of which courses have which assessments is provided on this page of our college website.
The aims of these assessments are to provide a measure of how applicants are progressing in their academic studies, and indicate their future academic potential. Details and sample papers may be obtained on the University' admissions website here and its individual subject pages here. Please note, the assessments are meant to be difficult, so don't worry if they look difficult to you! The aim is to provide a wide spread of marks to help us distinguish among a very able applicant field, so candidates often receive offers having achieved scores which might seem low compared to their achievement in school and public exams. Please note:
It is very important that no one should be disadvantaged by the use of written assessments. It is for this reason that no preparation should be required to take these assessments, other than diligent participation in A-level (or equivalent) courses, and familiarising yourself with the sample papers. Also, the assessments received an enthusiastic reception at focus groups including teachers from a variety of school types. In addition, Cambridge has drawn on its many years’ experience conducting pre-interview assessments for Medicine, specifically designed to treat all applicants fairly.
However, we do realise that some applicants will have had less help than others when preparing for the assessments (as of course they may have had throughout their education), so we take contextual information about educational support into account when looking at assessment scores.
If you are a student for whom English is not your first language, then any offer of an academic place may include an additional requirement that you pass an English proficiency exam - click the 'International Students' menu tab for information.
The interview is the other piece of academic information we use when deciding to whom to make our offers. See the separate menu tab for more information about this.
In some arts/humanities subjects you may be asked to submit written work you have done as part of your normal school studies, and which has been marked - this is as much to assess the level of feedback and guidance you have received as to allow us to read what you have written. Thus, this written school work may be one of the things we discuss at interview. If we need written work to be submitted, we will provide full guidance - and please be assured that you do not need to write anything especially for your application.
This information is very important in allowing us to make our admissions decisions. See our webpage giving more detail about what information we use.
Next page: Preparing for interviews