Supporting Your Students: Advice for Teachers

Identifying and encouraging applicants

The University of Cambridge is looking for applicants, regardless of background, who are academically able, who will thrive on a challenging education and who have a real passion for a course we offer. We are looking for students with a very strong examination record who have made the appropriate subject choices for the course they are applying for, so advice with regards to A-level (or equivalent) subjects will be valuable in ensuring your students are qualified to make an application. Strong examination results are necessary but not sufficient; whether or not the course applied for is right for the applicant is a consideration made by Admissions Tutors when assessing applications. Encouragement and advice in further exploration of their subject, such as extension classes or directed reading, is therefore useful in helping your student to determine whether the course offered at Cambridge will satisfy them for three or more years. The College Area Links scheme offers a way for all schools to contact the University and arrange for representatives to visit schools and talk to potential applicants; the Oxbridge Regional Conferences and the University and College Open Days are also excellent events to direct your students to.

College choice

Most Colleges offer most subjects, but there are some differences in application requirements for some subjects, so it is worth checking these. Subject specific requirements can be found on the subject pages .For equally qualified applicants their choice of college will not affect their chance of being offered a place at the University. It may however affect their chances of securing a place in the first round, and therefore they may be interviewed or directly offered a place by another college in the winter pool. Students will not be disadvantaged if more than one student from the same school applies to the same college, nor will they be at an advantage if the school has successfully sent applicants to that college in previous years.

Students can submit an Open Application whereby they do not specify a college choice. Their application will then be assigned to a college who has had fewer applications than average for that subject. Once an open application has been assigned to a college there is no chance to switch, and the application is then treated in exactly the same way alongside direct applications.

Personal statement

Personal statements are used to establish a student’s interest in the course applied for, their understanding for what it involves and why they are so passionate about it. Evidence of reflective thought on further reading and any relevant work experience is therefore an important element in the personal statement, and is often used as an embarkation point at interview. A good template is for two-thirds of the personal statement to be subject focused, and the remaining third to detail an applicant’s other interests, activities and achievements. These are seen as evidence of an applicant’s ‘spare capacity’ to have a life outside of work and of their potential to be pushed further at university. Certain activities are not valued over others and there is no expectation for students to be ‘all-rounders’. Excellence in extra-curricular activities will not compensate for lower academic potential. If a student is taking a Gap Year they should outline their plans for what they hope to do in their personal statement.

Reference Writing

A reference is particularly useful in giving us the opinion of subject specialists on an applicant’s abilities and potential. As the majority of our applicants are predicted to achieve top grades, many references are similar, describing ‘outstanding’ students. However the most useful references will be those that are more specific in their remarks on academic performance and potential, and will also give evidence for an applicant’s intellectual flexibility and curiosity, their analytic ability, logical reasoning and ability to learn quickly. An emphasis on the academic and subject-related is of most use to an Admissions Tutor, as well as information on an applicant’s organisation and focus. Pieces of information that can be of particular use are:

  • Indication of an applicant’s ranking within a class or year group, or in comparison with previous pupils and year groups
  • Evidence of a willingness to explore and discuss ideas outside the confines of the subject specification, if applying for a subject studied at school/college
  • Evidence of steps taken to find out about the subject, for a non-school/college subject
  • Any health or personal circumstances that might affect performance at interview
  • If an applicant has underachieved at GCSE or AS level, the reasons why this might have happened
  • Any problems in provision of teaching in your school

There is no need to write a special reference for Cambridge as we receive a copy of the UCAS reference you supply. However, if you wish to make any Cambridge-specific comments you are very welcome to send these to the Admissions Tutor at the College to which the student has applied, or to the Cambridge Admissions Office if the student made an Open Application. Updated information on a student’s progress or personal circumstances is also useful, as long as it is received before the December interview period. Please ensure in correspondence that the applicant’s name, course and UCAS Personal ID are clearly stated.

Tests and submitted work

Most applicants are required to take a subject-specific written admissions assessment, either pre-interview or at-interview. Schools will need to register students for pre-interview assessments, students cannot register themselves. Pre-interview admissions tests are sat in the November after applying. Please see the Cambridge website here to see which subjects have pre-interview assessments and which have at-interview assessments. Full details of Girton’s admissions tests are found on the subject pages. The results of these tests are considered along with the rest of the application and the tests themselves may be used for discussion in the interview.

Whether or not an applicant needs to submit written work, and what format it should take will vary on college and subject. Generally speaking the written work that is most effective tends to be that which applicants are likely to enjoy discussing and which has been completed relatively recently.

Extenuating circumstances

For applicants with a particularly difficult educational or personal background, an additional reference should be completed. This can be done through the Extenuating Circumstances form.

If there are any problems which arise after application, please let the college know as soon as possible so that these can be taken into account.


If a student has any disabilities please encourage them to declare this on their application. This will particularly help if they are invited to interview so that special arrangements can be made if necessary, such as extra time in tests. More information for students with a disability is available on the University website.