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General Information

General information about applying to Cambridge can be found via the University’s Undergraduate Admissions website.

To this we would like to add answers to a number of commonly posed questions.

What are we particularly looking for in History applicants?

As with all courses, we aim to admit 'the best and brightest'. In the case of History, this means those who have the intellectual and academic ability to do really well at Cambridge, and who pair this with genuine interest in the subject.

How can we tell if someone is genuinely interested?

There are many ways of demonstrating an interest in the subject, but undoubtedly the most important is through showing evidence of further reading in your spare time, whether this is related to the history you study at school or not. We hope you will tell us about the history you have studied and read, and what you thought of it, in your UCAS personal statement and, in most cases, at interview.

How much of your personal statement should you devote to history?

There are no hard and fast rules, but the UCAS personal statement allows you an opportunity to tell us what you find most interesting about your chosen subject, and why you want to continue to study it at university. So we often use the personal statement as a starting point for discussion at interview. Most really effective personal statements are at least two-thirds subject-focused.

Apart from evidence of interest in history, what else do we look for in a personal statement?

  • Good written English;
  • Analysis: we are not looking for a historical 'shopping list'. We want to know what you think about what you have studied and read; studying and reading are of limited use unless they are completed analytically;
  • Honesty: you don't have to pretend to be someone you're not. We are looking for very bright, very interested, real people. So don't kick off your personal statement with a 'striking' quote about history culled from the internet unless it actually means something to you.

What are we looking for in submitted work?

We know that many of you will have completed few essays by the time you apply, and so we try to be flexible when we ask for school or college work. You don't need to write something especially. It's a good idea to send in something you enjoyed writing and would be happy to discuss at interview. (Take a copy before you send it!) When we read these essays, we are looking for evidence of good written English, factual accuracy, structure, and full and effective analysis and argument.

Is there a written test?

A number of Colleges have been piloting a common-form written test taken at time of interview. But this is a relatively informal thing and essentially provides additional written material to be considered alongside the submitted essays, and in a similar way.

What will we all talk about at interview?

History. This encompasses the history you have studied in the last year or so, your submitted essays, any history you have told us about in your personal statement and anything you have read. You may also be asked to read an unseen passage of primary or secondary material before one of your interviews, and then talk about it in the interview. You'll be asked interesting, challenging questions that you will have to think hard about, but which, in most cases, you will find do-able. Interviews are essentially an interactive historical aptitude-test in the form of a discussion. Your job is to listen carefully to the questions, have a bash, and try to enjoy it.

How should you prepare?

  • Read, and think about what you are reading;
  • Do some revision ahead of your interviews;
  • Work through some of the material in the Virtual Classroom on this site.


Will you still get in if you have a 'bad' interview?

Potentially.

  • First, it's important that we stress that strong applicants who interview well are quite often under the misapprehension that their interview is going badly. Try not to judge your interview when it is happening. Assessing it is our job. Remember that we are looking for historical knowledge, logic, analytical ability and intellectual flexibility, not a 'performance'.
  • Secondly, we can and sometimes do offer places to people whose interviews have actually gone quite badly, in cases where all of the other information about the applicant indicates that they are in fact hugely able, and that the interview has simply gone wrong – as these things occasionally do, especially when applicants are very nervous.