We're delighted that you're considering applying to Sidney! Here you'll find guidance about how our application process works.
In order to minimise COVID-related risks to our applicants, students and staff in the coming undergraduate admissions round, we are making plans to interview applicants this year without requiring them to travel to Cambridge. We will release further details about alternative arrangements as soon as we can. More information will be available here and on the University website in due course.
There are 29 Cambridge Colleges admitting undergraduate students, and it may seem tricky to know where to start.
It's important to remember that the core objective of the Cambridge Colleges is to offer admission to students of the greatest intellectual potential - irrespective of social, ethnic, religious, gender, and financial considerations.
Sidney admits around 105 new undergraduates every year, and we offer all of the subjects available at the University of Cambridge (except Education).
Sidney may be relatively compact in size, but the friendly atmosphere and sense of community is second to none. We're proud of the atmosphere of inclusion and encouragement we foster: we want our students to excel academically, and to be happy while doing so.
Explore this page for information about how to apply.
Choose a course
First up, you need to decide which course you'd like to study at Cambridge. The University of Cambridge has 30 undergraduate courses covering more than 65 subject areas. You can apply to study any of these at Sidney, except Education.
Once you know the course you're applying for, start delving into the subject more by stretching yourself beyond the school syllabus. Check out our Beyond the syllabus resource hub to see a whole range of resources that are ready and waiting to be explored!
Choosing a College
Next up...choosing a College! At Cambridge, all prospective undergraduate students must apply to a College rather than to the department or to a central admissions office. You can choose to apply to a College directly (see the University website for guidance about choosing a College), or you can choose to make an open application. The best way to get a feel for the Colleges is to come along and visit! You can find out information about our open days and visiting Sidney on our Come and visit webpage. We hope to welcome you to Sidney soon!
The University of Cambridge website is the best place to find all the latest information about applying to Cambridge. The application process may seem daunting, but every Cambridge College has an Undergraduate Admissions Office who will be there to support you throughout the journey.
- Dates and deadlines
There's lots of dates and deadlines to be aware of when applying to the University of Cambridge.
For most applicants, the deadline to apply through UCAS is the 15 October. However, if you're someone who would like to be interviewed in Malaysia or Singapore, or if you're applying for an Organ Scholarship, then you'll have an earlier deadline. Make sure you're familar with the various dates and deadlines on the University of Cambridge website before you begin your application.
- Personal statement
Personal statements allow students to tell us about their subject interest, and the process of writing a personal statement can often help a student better understand their academic interests and intellectual motivations. Check out the University website for guidance on writing your personal statement.
The school/college reference tells us about an applicant's abilities and potential. Cambridge Admissions Tutors look for indications that a student’s academic strengths are well suited both to the course and to the style of study at Cambridge. Your teacher can discover more about writing a reference by looking at the Teachers' Guide available on the University of Cambridge website.
- UCAS Apply
All applications to the University of Cambridge are made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Your UCAS application must be submitted online using UCAS Apply. The UCAS institution code for Cambridge is CAM 05, and the campus code for Sidney Sussex is 3.
- Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ)
Once your UCAS application has been received, you'll be asked to complete an online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). In order to make a valid application to the University of Cambridge you must submit your SAQ by the specified deadline.
- Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA)
If you're currently living or studying outside the EU, you're also required to submit a Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA). This requirement does not apply if your family home is outside the EU, but you're studying within the EU at the time of your application.
- Admissions assessments
Many subjects require applicants to sit an admissions assessment either before the interview or at-interview if they've been invited. If you're required to sit a pre-interview assessment then you must ensure that you've been registered to sit the assessment before the deadline - check with your UCAS referee!
If you're required to sit an at-interview assessment then you don't need to register as the College interviewing you will coordinate all arrangements.
- Written work
Many applicants will be required to supply copies of written work. Please note that this work should not be written specially for the occasion and should have been marked by a member of your school/college staff. Please check our subject pages to see if you might be required to submit written work. We'll provide further guidance on the requirements for written work, and a coversheet, on receipt of your application.
- Extenuating Circumstances Form
If your education has been significantly disrupted or disadvantaged for health or personal reasons, you may wish to submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form.
- Taking a gap year
Taking a gap year means you'll be taking a year out of education between school and university and there can be a whole host of reasons for wanting to do this. Sidney Sussex is neutral about applicants taking gap years, and we're very happy to receive applications from students who are, or who will be, taking a gap year.
The UCAS gap years page features lots of useful information to help you to think about the pros and cons, the different options, and what you want to get out of your year.
Preparing for study during a gap year
To ensure that you're as prepared as possible to start a Cambridge course in October, you should try to maintain your academic skills and knowledge as much as you can during a year out.
Applying for Modern and Medieval Languages? Read some easy material in your target language to get used to reading in a foreign language.
Applying for Mathematics? Plan how you'll maintain and develop your maths skills during the year. Some students find it useful to take a course or an additional qualification in mathematics or work through a textbook in order to structure their progress and gain further skills.
Applying for English? Stay writing by keeping an online journal or blog.
A gap year provides a great opportunity to read around the subject you're interested in, so check out the Cambridge Departments page to see if there's a reading list available. Check your local library!
Our Beyond the syllabus hub offers a whole host of useful resources to help you stay focused on your chosen subject.
At Sidney, we welcome students from every background and from all school types. We particularly encourage those students whose families and schools have little experience of applying to Cambridge to talk to us for more advice and support during the application process. We're firmly opposed to discrimination of any kind, and admit students on academic merit alone.
We're looking for students with ability, enthusiasm, and commitment to the academic study of their chosen subject. In selecting students, we'll consider:
- your academic record, including examination results taken so far and predicted grades in your final exams
- your personal statement, showing your motivation, enthusiasm, and wider exploration of your chosen subject. Remember to check out our Beyond the syllabus resource hub
- your reference from your school or college
- submitted written work - in some subjects we may ask you to send us two essays written as part of your normal schoolwork
- your performance in any admissions assessments we ask you to sit
- if you're invited to interview, your performance at interview
All of these factors together will be used to make a final decision about your application.
Why do we interview?
There's no blueprint for an ideal Cambridge student. We assess everyone individually, which means we look at – and for – different things in different people for different courses. We use interviews because they allow us to find out more about your enthusiasm for your subject, your academic strengths, and your potential to make the most of our teaching system. Discover more on the University of Cambridge website.
- Does it all hinge on the interview?
No! We have a holistic admissions process and although interviews play an important part in our admissions process, it's important to stress that they are just one factor in making our final decision. Alongside interviews, we also place great importance on your academic record, the information provided on your UCAS form and SAQ, your reference, written work, and admissions assessments.
- How many applicants are invited to interview?
Due to the level of competition for places at Cambridge, we're not able to interview every applicant, and some candidates will not be invited for an interview.
At Sidney Sussex we interview all candidates who have a realistic chance of being offered a place, which in recent years has been around 80% of our applicants.
- What is the interview format at Sidney?
Most candidates will have two interviews in Cambridge (usually in Sidney Sussex College), lasting about 25-30 minutes each. See more information on our Subject pages. We try our best to schedule interviews on the same day, and can provide accommodation (free of charge) if you'll be expected to stay for two days. We'll provide you with free accommodation if you have a long journey ahead, and there's financial assistance available to certain applicants for travelling to and from Cambridge.
Interviews typically take place during the first three weeks in December, and you should make sure you're available around this time as it's very difficult for us to reschedule interviews except in cases of illness or other serious problems.
Some applicants may be required to study a short text before an interview, and these applicants will be informed about this in the invitation to interview email. They'll be allocated a reading time and reading room.
Our interviewers are fully aware that interviews can be a daunting experience for many candidates, and they'll do their very best to put you at ease.
Interviewers will not try to 'trip you up' or make you feel stupid, and will not ask any trick questions. The aim is to assess your academic potential and suitability for the course chosen.
Cambridge has a unique supervisions teaching system, which allows our students to engage with new ideas at a high level and think conceptually. Many interviews are almost like a mini supervision, and so they're a great way for you and our interviewers to ensure that you'll respond well to the teaching methods used at Cambridge.
Just remember that we're not looking for a smooth or polished performance - we're simply interested in what you say, not how you say it!
- Overseas interviews
Information about overseas interviews can be found on the University of Cambridge website. You're strongly encouraged to apply for an interview in your home or school country if this is an option - there's no advantage to being interviewed in Cambridge. If you'd like to know more about Cambridge interviews, please look at the University's information pages for advice and tips.
- What is the winter pool?
The University of Cambridge receives more than 16,000 applications for around 3,400 places each year. The ‘winter pool’ (also known as the inter-College pool) is designed to ensure that the best applicants receive an offer of a place regardless of the College to which they applied or were allocated (in the case of open applications).
If a College is over-subscribed in a particular course, strong applicants are put into the winter pool for other Colleges to consider. All Colleges can consider pooled applicants and Admissions Tutors and Directors' of Studies from each subject meet during the admissions period to discuss the overall standard of applications so that they can see how their own College’s applicants compare – Colleges would rather admit a strong applicant from the pool than a weaker applicant who applied directly/was allocated to them.
As a result of being placed in the winter pool:
- some applicants may be asked to attend another interview at a different College, usually in January
- some applicants may be offered a place at another College without further interview
- some applicants may be ‘taken back’ by their original College and made an offer
- some applicants are unsuccessful, in which case they’ll be notified by their original College
If another College wishes to re-interview you, they'll contact you in early January.
In a typical year, around 3,400 applicants are made offers by their preference/original College, and around 800-900 applicants are made an offer by another College through the pool.
- What do applicants need to do?
There is nothing that you, your teachers/advisers, or your parent/guardians need to do and Colleges should not be contacted during this time.
- January interviews
If another College wishes to re-interview you, they'll contact you in early January (probably by telephone or email – please try to ensure you're available on the telephone number provided as part of your application and check your emails, including the junk folder, regularly). Please note that if you’re invited to be re-interviewed you may hear sooner than most applicants about the outcome of your application.
Before the January interviews, it’s a good idea to do some research about the College that’s going to re-interview you to familiarise yourself with it – take a look at the College website or check the entry in the University’s Undergraduate Prospectus.
You may also find it useful to re-read your application (and any submitted work) and look at the information and films about preparing for interviews on the Undergraduate Study website. If you have any queries about the College offering you a re-interview, you can telephone the College Admissions Office or, of course, ask questions at the interview itself. If you’re concerned about the cost of travelling to Cambridge for a second interview, please advise the College offering your re-interview.
Following the pool, all applicants will be informed of the decision on their application. If you receive an offer from a different College through the pool, you should in no way feel that you’re somehow ‘less desirable’ than those offered places by their preference/original College. Bear in mind that the purpose of the pool is to ensure that the strongest applicants’ chances of admission aren’t dependent on College choice/allocation. In addition, students who were pooled do equally well academically as those who received an offer from their original College.
If your application is pooled but you’re unsuccessful in gaining a place, it’s important to realise that there may be many very good applicants in the pool who aren’t offered a place. We’re constrained by numbers (in terms of both the size of Colleges and University departments) and unfortunately can’t take all those who have the ability and potential to do well at the University.
If you feel uncertain at any stage of the application process, then our friendly Admissions Team would be very happy to have a chat and answer any questions you have.