University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, UK. It’s the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the third-oldest surviving university in the world. It’s best known for the quality of its theoretical research. It is said that it was formed by scholars that left Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk in 13th century.

The Cambridge undergraduate teaching system (similarly to University of Oxford) is organized around a group of self-governing colleges, where students attend tutorials and spend a majority of their time. Tutorials are supported by lectures delivered by the university itself. Each student is assigned to a certain college and it determines their studying groups, benefits and available facilities. Graduate research is primarily focused around the departments, although graduate students also belong to colleges. All students have access to University-wide provisions, such as libraries and sports facilities.

Cambridge is consistently one of the top universities in UK and in the group of 10 best universities in the world (7th in Times Higher Education World Ranking 2012-13).

Famous affiliates include Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Henry Cavendish, James Clerk Maxwell, J. J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Charles Darwin and many more.

Aside from the academic excellence, Cambridge has a wide offer of extracurricular activities, run by the students themselves. Sport societies members range from beginners to Olympians, and there truly is a club for everyone. The Cambridge University Polish Society attracts the Poles and people with interest in Poland, and is a leader amongst the Polish Student Societies in the UK, organising conferences, speaker events and activities celebrating Polish culture.

Terms are very short (8 weeks) and teaching happens in supervisions and lectures for undergraduates, and in seminars and tutorials for graduates. Most of the assessment for undergraduates is conducted during exams, with supervision work only as instruction. The exam term (Easter) is mostly free of lectures, with time used for revision and practise of the concepts taught in the two previous terms. Unlike many other places, the final marks are determined in the last year.

In Cambridge, colleges have a tradition of holding ‘formal dinners’, where students and member of staff sit together, wearing academic gowns, for a served 3-course meal. It is an opportunity to meet people from other subjects and fields of study, and often teaches the undergraduates polite dinner conversation. Depending on the college, these may take place from weekly to even daily dinners!

Rowing, probably the most famous Cambridge sport, happens on College and University level. During their time in Cambridge, about 50% of all students try rowing, so it is definitely something to have a look at as a Fresher, even if only to get acquainted with the jargon. In the annual May Bumps, we have about 1500 students competing, with many more watching from the banks. Good performance always brings proud to the college, and stories linger for long. The Boat Race, the most watched single day sporting event in the world, happens every year around Easter, in a battle against Oxford and Cambridge’s finest rowers, frequently with international rowing stars. The sole aim of either of the boat is to defeat the opponent. There are no prizes, neither for the first or second place.

Undergraduate UCAS application

The first and most important thing you need to know is that you do not apply directly to Universities. You fill in your application with a centralized system called UCAS (the only exceptions are: performance based music, dance or drama courses at conservatories as well as part time courses where you apply directly to the course provider) and chose the universities and courses you would like to be considered for. You can only supply one application a year and this is what each of your Universities of choice is going to receive and assess you on. You can chose up to five courses to apply for – those can be the same courses at different Universities or different courses at one University. However, if you are considering Oxbridge, you need to remember that you can only chose to apply to either Cambridge, or Oxford – not both – and only for one course. You could apply either as an individual or through a registered institution – please contact your school to check if you are eligible for the latter.



Visit and take a look around. This is where you need to create an account and through this account you will submit your application. The UCAS portal also holds a lot of useful tips which you should definitely pay attention to. If you are ready, click the ‘Apply’ link and start filling in your application. You do not need to do it all at once – feel free to save it at any point and come back to it later.



For Oxbridge, you have to submit your application through UCAS before 15th of October. Please note that this means that if you want to start your studies in October of a given year you might often need to apply at least a year earlier!



All UCAS applications carry a certain administrative fee which tends to vary from year to year and depends on the number of courses you apply for. Please check for details. You only need to pay the fee when you are actually submitting the application – opening an account is free.



Personal statement

This is an absolutely crucial part of your application. A short essay in which you have to convince the admissions officer why should they make an offer to you and not a number of other applicants. Here you should demonstrate your passion for your field of choice and convey how important it is for you to get a place. You need to explain why you are interested in this particular course at this particular institution. This can be quite tricky, given that you can only supply one personal statement for all your UCAS choices so choosing the same course across different universities might be a wise choice (it is easier to prepare a good personal statement for one course than for five different ones).


Predicted grades

As part of your application you will need to supply estimates of grades you might obtain in your examinations at the end of the year. If you are applying through your high school, this will be filled in by your teachers. If you are applying as an individual then you will have to provide the estimates on your own. This is not the most important part of the application, but it gives the admissions officer and indicator of your academic abilities.



Good references are an important part of your application. Be sure to choose a person who knows you well in the context of the field you wish to pursue at University. This should be a person of certain authority, like one of your teachers or people who supervise your extra curricular activities. They should be based not only on your academic performance but also on some extra-curricular activities. References should be in the system by the deadline (15th October) and your application fee should be paid by then, too.

It is good to leave yourself plenty of time to do everything since you might need to sort out any problems your advisors or teachers point out and if your school is in the system – you need to give your teacher some time to fill in your references.



Tracking the status of your application

After you submit your application you will need to track its status through UCAS. This stage of the application tends to be the longest and can take weeks or even months.

1. The Universities review your application

Each department responsible for the courses you applied for will review your application and will decide to make you an offer or reject your application. An offer will consist of the grades you need to obtain in your final year examinations in order to obtain a place at the course. Sometimes, if your application was particularly impressive you might obtain an ‘unconditional’ offer which means the University is happy to offer you a place regardless of your grades.

2. You make your choice

When all of the courses you applied for receive a status update it is your time to make a choice. Out of the courses that decided to make you an offer you should choose two and indicate which is your first choice and which would you like to take if your are unsuccessful at fulfilling the offer from the former. The universities you have chosen will be notified.

3. You work to fulfill the offer

At this stage you should consolidate your efforts on obtaining the grades required for fulfilling your conditional offer. When the results of your examinations come through, you should contact the University and supply proof of the results. Based on that your offer status will change to unconditional and you can start celebrating!

4. Don’t lose hope

If you miss your offer at either your first or second choice it is still worth contacting the university and asking them to reconsider their decision. As mentioned earlier – your grades are not the most important part of your portfolio. Some Universities are willing to overlook slightly weaker results if they have seen potential in other parts of your application.

5. If you missed the deadline…

We recommend to ask the university or college if you are allowed to apply late – especially for courses with a 15th October deadline, as it is unusual for them to consider late applications because their courses are highly competitive.



Some Universities – including Oxbridge – will ask you to come in person for an interview before making you an offer. This usually means you will be invited to stay on campus for a day or two and you will be interviewed by a member of your chosen department. You should be able to demonstrate interest and basic knowledge around the field of your choice as well as general academic ability. You do not have to come, sometimes a phone interview can be carried out instead, but it is highly recommended.


Taking a year out

If you decide to take a year out you can still apply now and defer you start date by a year or you can apply a year later. The latter allows you to get all your results confirmed and hopefully receive unconditional offer for the following year. The former means that you need to meet the relevant deadlines and meet any offer conditions by 31st August this year. They you would be free to enjoy your year out without worrying about your application. Make sure you check if your chosen universities or colleges are happy with deferred entry application.



If you did not obtain a place at your first- or second-choice course, you might feel a little bit upset but this does not mean you cannot start University this year. You are eligible to enter the clearing stage of applications where you can still choose to apply to other Universities which might still have places on courses similar to your initial courses. The Clearing vacancy search closes on 30th September. After that date you can still add Clearing choices in Track – but you need to contact the chosen university directly to discuss vacancies.


Starting at your University

If you obtain a place at the course of your choice you will receive a letter from your University welcoming you. At this point you should no longer be contacting UCAS and you should start arranging accommodation at your new home as quickly as possible! Congratulations!



The key to a successful UCAS application is knowing exactly what you want to do in your life and tailoring your personal statement to that particular goal. This is often hard to figure out on your own, but we’re here to help you work through all your doubts. It is important to understand that applying for five very different courses at the same University, just because it is high in rankings, will not take you very far. The thing that matters the most in you application is demonstrating you have a passion and ability to pursue a career in your field of choice. Grades are very important but you also need to persuader the admissions officer that you will can bring actual value to your future department.