In general, being accepted to study Medicine at any university is incredibly demanding and already requires excellent grades across specific subjects. Choosing to apply to Cambridge only increases the number of hurdles you have to clear before being accepted to study. The best way to begin preparing your application for undergraduate Medicine at Cambridge is to be informed as much as possible about the application process, its requirements, and what the university is looking for in candidates.
The most important thing about applying to any Medicine course, but at Cambridge especially, is achieving the right grades. Medical degrees are incredibly intensive, and the university needs to know that you have the right background knowledge and ability to keep up. Understandably, institutions are also trying to ensure that the quality of graduating doctors is excellent. Currently, the minimum required grades from the university are A*A*A in A-Level and 40-42 points at IB (with a 7 7 6 spread across your Higher Levels). However, medical courses are competitive, and one way to distinguish yourself as a candidate is to be predicted threes A*s or the equivalent (although, your offer will likely only require you to achieve A*A*A). The general requirement by Cambridge is that you gain A-Levels or equivalent in Chemistry and at least one of Maths, Biology, and Physics. That being said, there are two things two bear in mind. The first is that, realistically, virtually all successful applicants have three or more Maths or Science subjects. The Cambridge website states:
“Please note that in the past three admissions rounds, 96% of applicants for Medicine (A100) offered three or more science/mathematics A Levels and, of these, 29% were successful in obtaining a place. Of the 3% of applicants who offered only two science/mathematics A Levels, just 3% were successful in gaining a place.”
Given this, I would highly recommend choosing at least three of these subjects, with four being preferable (if you are able/allowed). The second thing is that, on top of university-wide requirements, some colleges will have their additional requirements of grades and subjects that they look for. While I will explain the college system below, here I will leave a link that details each colleges preferences and requirements for applicants.
As alluded to above, Cambridge is a collegiate university. This means that it is composed of several constituent colleges, each with its halls of residence, teaching staff, and facilities. Colleges will have significant variations in size, architecture, and general atmosphere. For instance, some colleges are only for mature students, and some are women-only, and so on. Part of your application will involve deciding whether or not you would like to make an application to a specific college and, if so, which one you wish to nominate as a preference. You may find that, for whatever reason, you do not want to select a college to apply to. This is called an ‘open application’, if that happens, then you will be allocated a college by the university.
Some people mistakenly opt for making an open application in the hopes that it will increase their chances of getting a place. However, this is ineffective as the university is happy to displace a candidate from their nominated college if that college is oversubscribed and another college does not have enough applicants of that candidate’s quality or higher. Cambridge offers Medicine at all colleges except for Hughes Hall, so you should have plenty of variety to choose from. One way to begin deciding which college you would like to apply to is to take a look at the Cambridge University website, which should have links to any individual college website.
Something found to be particularly helpful when applying to Oxford is to look at student forum posts to see what atmosphere colleges had. Be wary, however, because occasionally a disgruntled student might talk about the college in a way that is not a reliable indicator of your likely experience. The best way to get this information is to visit the colleges which you think that you might be interested in. Cambridge holds open days in July, which is an excellent opportunity to visit colleges (which should all be open to visitors at that time), as well as to find out additional information about your course from potential tutors.
Once you have decided whether you want to apply to a specific college or make an open application, it’s time to start to apply through UCAS. Unlike most universities, applications to Oxford or Cambridge must be submitted by the 15th of October in the academic year preceding the one that you wish to start your course. If you are applying from outside the United Kingdom, you may be required to submit your application sooner, in which case you should consult the university website. By now, you will hopefully have the right predicted grades and a strong personal statement. It is highly advisable, given the competition and that Medicine is a vocational degree, that you display your interest in the area or peripheral disciplines by participating in some related extra-curricular activities. One option is to try to gain work experience in a hospital, or by shadowing a doctor, another is to volunteer with a medical charity. Finally, it might be worth seeing if any medical conferences take non-professionals and perhaps consider doing some research into a developing area within the field so you have a specialist subject to talk about at interview.
For many universities in the UK, it is required that you sit a BioMedical Admissions Tests (commonly abbreviated to ‘BMAT’) to assess your likely aptitude for medical degrees; Cambridge is one of these institutions. The test was developed by the university to help admissions tutors differentiate between students, as many candidates gain identical, perfect, grades. The BMAT is composed of three parts: Aptitude and Skills; Scientific Knowledge and Applications; and a Writing Task. The Aptitude and Skills component is a general test of data-analysis, logical inference, and comprehending arguments. Scientific Knowledge does what it says on the tin, and it is trying to see how well you can apply scientific and mathematical knowledge. It is the application component which is essential here – the only specific knowledge required is material that is already covered within GCSE Maths and Science syllabi.
Finally, the Writing Task: this entails choosing one of three questions and developing an answer to it, to test your ability to create and organise ideas into compelling arguments. It is essential that you register in advance to take the BMAT, aside from your UCAS application, and you will be required to sit the assessment in an accredited testing-centre (although often, this will be in your school if you are applying from within the UK).
When any pre-interview tests have been completed, and your application is fully submitted, Cambridge will then consider whether they will invite you up for an interview. Cambridge tends to give interviews to a higher proportion of students than Oxford; however, they take a smaller percentage of those students that they interview. Interviews are generally conducted within the college that you applied to, if you submitted an open application then you will be assigned a college to interview at. For some international students, or in other extenuating circumstances, the college might agree to conduct an interview over Skype. Sometimes applicants are asked to interview at more than one college, if this is the case, then you will be informed while you are in Cambridge for your initial interview. There are several reasons why you might be interviewed at more than one college; being asked to do conduct another interview elsewhere does not, on its own, correspond to either a greater or lesser chance of success.
The interview process can seem daunting, and there are lots of legends about eccentric professors and absurd questions. However, interviews are there for a few excellent reasons. Primarily interviews are there to make sure that you are a good fit for the style of teaching at Cambridge. Cambridge uses the tutorial system, which means that you will spend a great deal of time being taught in small groups, pairs, or alone by a tutor (rather than predominantly in large seminars or lectures). An interview situation offers an insight into how you cope with being taught in the tutorial style – responding to new information and questions in real-time. Some of the brightest students in any subject do not flourish in this environment, so do not take it too badly if you do not excel in or enjoy the interview process.
Also, if you are a student from abroad for whom English is not your first language, then interviews are an excellent opportunity to see whether your English is strong enough to undertake a course taught in this manner. Some colleges might also make you sit additional testing at the interview, which they should make you aware of beforehand. For further information on interviews at Cambridge, as well as information on how to prepare, please visit the Cambridge website. Interviews tend to happen in the first few weeks of December, and you should know whether you have secured one by late November.
Once you have completed your interview, it’s time to be patient and wait to see whether or not you have been successful. If you receive an offer, then the only thing left to do is firmly accept via UCAS, achieve the necessary grades, and await further correspondence from the university and your assigned college. You will know whether this is the case by early January; however, there is the chance that you might be pooled. Pooled students are those whose positions at their college of choice was taken by other candidates, but are strong enough to challenge weaker applicants to different colleges, thus meaning that their application to the university might be successful. If you are pooled then there is a small chance that you might be asked at this stage to sit another interview at a new college; however, this is quite rare. Either way, all applicants should know whether they have a place at university by the end of January.
If you have any other questions or want some further advice on getting into Cambridge to study Medicine at the undergraduate, please feel free to contact us via our website. Good luck!