Important advice for your application

Most of our undergraduate applicants will be applying to university for the first time, and it's natural that you will have questions. If the answers below don't contain the information you're looking for, feel free to get in touch using the e-mail address at the foot of this page.

If my education has been disadvantaged in some way, can this be taken into account? 

Yes. St Catharine’s enthusiastically supports the Cambridge Extenuating Circumstances Scheme.

Is there any funding available for travel costs incurred when attending interviews?

To enable applicants to come to interview in Cambridge, St Catharine's is pleased to provide support for travel costs to students who attend a UK maintained sector school/college who are/were in local authority OR in receipt of free school meals. Public transport travel costs will be reimbursed, and we will contact eligible applicants directly with further information when they are invited to interview.

I don't feel I have had access to good advice about applying to Cambridge - what should I do?

The first thing to say is please do not worry. Our admissions system focuses on specific academic things such as previous exam performance, our own admissions assessments, and how you fare at interview - and even when assessing these we always take into consideration information about how much educational support applicants have had.

Also, we do not base our decisions on things which are very dependent on how much guidance students have received - how polished their UCAS personal statement is, or how 'slick' they are at interview. The best advice is simple: do as well as you can in your public exams, don't worry if you find the admissions assessments 'hard' (some bits of it are meant to be), and be ready to talk about academic things at interview. And, of course, apply!

Should I take more than three A-levels? Will I be at an advantage?

You should be aware that (1) we assess applicants' school performance based on their three best 'relevant' subjects, and (2) A-level, Scottish system and many other conditional offers are usually based on achievement in three subjects. Thus, sitting four or more A-levels is not a direct advantage for an applicant to St Catharine's, and it is a personal decision whether doing more than three subjects is right for you. One disadvantage of doing more than three subjects is that you might think you are 'spreading yourself too thin'. Conversely, the advantages of doing more than three subjects are things you need to make your own personal decisions about:

  • You may decide that you can maximise your chances of achieving your three-subject-based offer if you take four or more relevant subjects.
  • You may feel that doing more subjects will help you get offers from your other university choices.
  • You may consider that taking extra subjects will be a good preparation for your eventual university course.
  • You may simply wish to continue with additional subjects because you enjoy them or because they provide you with skills which could be useful in the future (e.g. a language for a scientist, or Maths for an arts/humanities student).

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.

What subjects should I take at school?

First of all, you should read the information on the webpage relating to the specific university subjects in which you are interested - subject choice is extremely important for some Cambridge courses, and largely unimportant for others.

  • If you want to apply for a science subject we strongly encourage you to take three of the following - Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology.
  • Things are often more flexible for arts and humanities subjects, but it is a good idea to take subjects directly related to your chosen university subject, and then 'top up' with 'Russell Group facilitating subjects' such as English Literature, any non-native language, History, Geography, sciences or Maths.
  • Obviously, applicants for certain courses often take subjects which are not Russell Group facilitating subjects, such as Music, Government and Politics, Classical Civilisation, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, and so on.
  • However, we do not favour subjects which have less academic content, such as Art. Theatre Studies is an acceptable subject for potential English applicants.
  • Archaeology and Law are notable because they encourage applicants who are currently studying sciences, arts, humanities, or any mixture of the three. Studying Law at school does not provide any particular advantage when applying to study Law, and indeed most of our applicants are not studying it.
  • Please note that we consider Further Maths as a full subject in its own right - indeed, it is highly desirable for many of our courses.

There are some subjects we offer, for which you do not have to be formally studying the equivalent subject at school. These include Archaeology, Classics, Computer Science, Economics, Geography, Law, Music, Theology, Philosophy and Psychology. In addition, school Biology is not required for Biological Natural Sciences, Medicine or Veterinary Medicine. This may be for one of the following reasons - see individual subjects pages for details

  • No specific prior knowledge is required (e.g. Law),
  • Other subjects provide just as good a preparation (e.g. physical sciences for Veterinary Medicine)
  • Other qualification types are acceptable (e.g. grade 8 Music Theory for Music)
  • The University has developed alternative course routes for applicants who have not studied the subject at school (e.g. Classics)
  • Enthusiasm and aptitude can be demonstrated by self-taught or recreational involvement (e.g. Computer Science).

If I have taken an A-level early, will it be taken into account when a conditional offer is made?

We frequently receive applications from candidates who have taken an A-level one year early - often, but not always, it is Maths. In general we require applicants to have studied for and sat 'three A-levels taken within a two-year period', as we believe this is an indication of how a future student will cope with the workload involved in studying for a degree.

Because of this, our conditional offers do not usually include any A-level subjects taken early. However, you should be aware that 'early' A-levels still support your application in two ways. First, good performance in 'early' A-levels will certainly be taken into account in the assessment of your academic potential when we are considering to whom to make offers. Second, were you to narrowly miss your eventual conditional offer, high marks in a previous A-level would be one of the factors taken into account when deciding whether to still offer a place.

For example, if someone is studying Maths, Further Maths and Physics then they should study the three subjects and sit the exams within a two year period. If their school policy is for them to sit Maths at the end of their first year of A-levels, then their Maths grade will form part of their UCAS application, and we would set an offer based on Physics and Further Maths. (If they were studying a relevant fourth subject, then that would also be included in the offer, although were the applicant to narrowly miss their offer, the grades in all four would be taken into account when decided whether to still offer them a place.)

Can I apply to start a course at an unusually young age?

Please note that St Catharine's usually discourages applications from students who would be under 18 by the January 1st of the first year of their proposed course. For example, if you wish to start your studies in October 2021, you should be 18 by 1 January 2022. If you are in this situation, we strongly advise you to contact the college admissions office in advance.

Is it ok if two candidates from the same school apply to the same course, the same college, or even the same course at the same college? 

Because we simply seek applicants with the most academic potential, we don't mind if we receive applications from candidates at the same school (this happens quite often), even for the same course. Each application will be considered on its merits.

Can I take a year out before starting at St Catharine’s? 

We are generally happy for candidates to apply to defer entry for a year, especially if they have specific plans for that 'year out'.

  • However, please note that we discourage deferred entry in Mathematics.
  • The situation is slightly complicated in Medicine, because the University and each individual college have strict, externally-imposed numerical quotas of medical students which they must admit each year (the St Catharine's quota is 11). Thus, any candidate applying for a deferred medical place is considered in the light of the likely field of Medicine applicants in the following year. However, if you wish to take a gap year, our advice is still to apply at the earliest opportunity - for most applicants this is their last year of school - because if you are not successful in gaining a place on a medical course, you can then re-apply during that gap year (see below, 'Does St Catharine’s consider candidates who are applying to university, or even Cambridge for a second time? ')
  • In certain circumstances we will consider applicants who wish to defer for two years - in the past this has usually been applicants from Singapore who are expected to undertake national service. If you are in this situation, then you should apply via UCAS to defer for one year, but also email the St Catharine's Admissions Office to advise us of your intentions. Then, if you are successful, we would make you an offer deferred for one year in the first instance, but then move your entry year one further year into the future once this becomes possible in the UCAS system.

I am not from the UK – how does the application process work for me? 

Applicants from other EU member states and outside the EU are considered in exactly the same way as UK applicants, and make up perhaps 15% (EU) and 10% (non-EU) of our students. There are no maximum or minimum numbers of non-UK EU or non-EU students we must take, so admission is based entirely on academic grounds.

The only exception is that the University as a whole does have a maximum quota of non-EU Medical students - see this link. If you are unsure of your status, or live in a territory such as the Channel Islands or Switzerland (which usually 'count' as non-EU), you may want to contact our admissions office for more information. See also our page for international students, or the University website.

What score do I need to get in my Admissions Assessment or BMAT to be interviewed, or made an offer?

There are no absolute admissions assessment score thresholds for being called for interview or being made an offer. This is for two reasons:

  • The assessment papers are not standardised from year to year, so the average and spread of candidates' marks will vary between years. Because of this, we start by looking at where each applicant falls within that year's distribution of marks. (For medics, there is a system of standardising marks between the two BMAT sittings in any one year.)
  • We then look at lots of other information as well and certainly do not base our decisions entirely on assessment scores. We also look at public exam performance, the written content of the application, contextual information, and interview performance if an interview has yet taken place.

Does St Catharine’s consider candidates who are applying to university, or even Cambridge, for a second time? 

We are very happy to consider such applicants in exactly the same way as we consider first-time applicants, although we would normally expect you to have met or exceeded the University's typical conditional offer in the relevant subject. If you've applied to Cambridge before, our informal advice is that you may want to consider having a fresh 'bite at the cherry' by applying to a different college the second time round.

We would encourage all potential applicants to think extremely carefully before turning down confirmed places at other universities with a view to applying to Cambridge. Clearly this is an individual decision which depends on a candidate's perception of the place they hold, and what offers they might achieve in a second round of applications, but do be aware that the success rate of applicants to Cambridge is approximately 1 in 5.

If your exam results exceed your expectations, then in mid-August you could consider entering the UCAS 'adjustment' process to seek an offer at a different university. However, at present Cambridge participates in the adjustment process in only a limited way (see this link), considering only applicants who meet certain widening participation criteria, all of whom will have been notified of their eligibility by e-mail in the spring.

Can I apply to St Catharine's if I am resitting some exams / taking additional exams because I did not reach the University's typical offer level at my first, 'end-of-school', exam sitting?

An important part of our academic requirements is that applicants should have achieved their exam results as part of a 'normal workload' – for example three A-levels studied within two years. There is no opportunity* to resit exams at the University of Cambridge, so we would have strong reservations about an applicant's ability to cope with the pace and intensity of our degree courses, had they not met this requirement.

Most of our applicants have met/exceeded, or are on course to meet/exceed our academic requirements, so unless there are clear and strong extenuating circumstances, it would therefore be unlikely we would offer to a candidate if they have not met those requirements. You should also read the preceding section about applying to university for a second time.

(*Medicine and Veterinary Medicine students are eligible for resits in their professional qualification exams, but not in their classed Cambridge University exams.)

Does St Catharine’s consider applications to undergraduate courses by applicants already enrolled on courses at other universities?

We do not accept applications from candidates enrolled on undergraduate degree courses at other universities. An obvious exception to this is if you are just about to finish a degree course elsewhere and wish to apply as an affiliated student, in which case, see the next question. Also, you can of course enrol on short, non-degree, courses in advance of coming to Cambridge, if you wish.

We strongly discourage students from withdrawing from courses at other universities so they can apply to us. You should bear in mind that our applicants-to-offers ratio is 4-5:1, and that leaving a previous course could be seen as demonstrating a lack of commitment to higher education. Leaving a university course may also adversely affect funding opportunities to study in the future.

Does St Catharine’s consider affiliated student applications (students who already have a degree)? 

We strongly recommend that potential affiliated applicants contact us in advance. Please note that we do not accept affiliated student applications in Law, Medicine or Veterinary Medicine - we recommend that you get in touch with one of the colleges which specialise in such students. Indeed, all graduate applicants may wish to consider applying to one of the Cambridge colleges which specialise in admitting and supporting such students - Clare Hall, Darwin, Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund's and Wolfson.

Does St Catharine’s consider mature (i.e. over-21) applicants?

We are happy to receive applications from mature students in all subjects. However, applicants in Medicine and Veterinary Medicine are strongly advised to consider applying to a college more used to considering such applications: Wolfson, St Edmund's, Lucy Cavendish (women only) and Hughes Hall (medics, but not vets).

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, 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 the Admissions Office at an early stage so that we can discuss your needs and give you realistic advice.

Does it matter which other universities I have applied to? 

No. No one involved in the admissions process will know where else you have applied. We encourage you to use all the spaces available on your UCAS form (this advice includes medical and veterinary applicants who are sometimes erroneously told by other universities not to use their fifth, 'non-medic/vet' space).

Be aware, however, that UCAS does not permit applications to both Cambridge and Oxford in the same year (except for their Graduate Medicine Courses, for which St Catharine's does not accept applications). 

If I do not get into my college of choice, can I still get into Cambridge? 

Yes, through the Intercollegiate Pool - see the page about preparing for interviews for more information.

Where can I read an independent description of the admissions process?

For a very informative article about how we make our decisions, click here.


If after reading this website you still have questions about applying to St Catharine's for an undergraduate degree, please email us at