How to Apply
There is no typical English student at Cambridge. While entry to Cambridge is certainly competitive, if you are among the brightest students in your school or college, if you are really interested in literature, and if you are on course to achieve top grades in your forthcoming exams, you should definitely consider applying. You are likely to be a serious candidate.
We welcome and warmly encourage applications from talented students from every educational and social background. Our students come with diverse casts of mind, and diverse personal, ethnic, educational, and geographical backgrounds. What they share is intellectual curiosity, and delight in reading. Given the shape of our course, they are unafraid of a challenge, and glad to branch out – say, to try Elizabethan poetry or South African fiction for the first time. They have initiative in solving puzzles or finding topics for enquiry for themselves. They have the capacity to manage the independent parts of their studies, and meet their deadlines.
In Cambridge, admissions are handled by individual Colleges, so you should consult the webpage of the College to which you would like to apply (or to which you are assigned, if you make an Open Application) for details of the likely format of the interview, or any written test. For College-specific information, please visit:
For general guidelines, advice, and deadlines, please visit the University's Undergraduate Admissions pages:
All applicants for English (except students applying to the mature colleges: Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund's, and Wolfson) are now required to take an English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) in advance of their interview. There is no charge for this test, and we encourage you not to be nervous about it, but rather to enjoy it as a chance to practice: it is designed to test your skills rather than your knowledge. You can find out more on the links above, or you can visit the website of Cambridge Assessment, the organisation that administers the test.
Details of the format of the test are here:
There are also a number of past papers available:
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to the frequently asked questions we receive from candidates applying to study English:
What do we look for in UCAS applications?
There are many ways of demonstrating an interest in the subject, but the most important is showing evidence of further reading in your spare time. We hope you will tell us about the literature you have studied and read outside school, and what you thought of it, in your UCAS personal statement and at interview.
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. We often use it as a starting point for discussion at interview, but not always. We look for good written English, and for what and how you think: rather than listing titles you've read, try describing why you enjoyed reading these books, and what you thought of them.
What are we looking for in submitted written work?
You don't need to write something specially. It's a good idea to send in something you enjoyed writing and would be happy to discuss at interview. When we read these essays, we are looking for evidence of good written English, coherent structure, and full and effective analysis and argument.
What will we talk about at interview?
Books! This encompasses the literature you have studied and read for pleasure in the last year or so, the books you have written about in your submitted essays, and anything you have told us about your reading in your personal statement. We encourage you to read widely in advance, and think about what you read. It is a good idea to read pre-twentieth century works as well as more contemporary writing, and to read poetry and drama as well as prose, for any good degree course will lead you to these things. But this is not essential: what matters is ambitious reading and thinking outside school.
In a lot of interviews, the applicant is given a poem or short passage to read ‘unseen’ and asked what she or he thinks of it. If you regularly read poems independently, without your teacher instructing you, this ‘unseen’ test will soon be not daunting but delighting, a chance to exercise your intelligence, creativity, and literary insight. A good anthology of poetry from all periods is one place to start, and it will introduce you to writers whose other work you could then seek out. The key point is to read beyond the syllabus of your schoolwork, thus showing your initiative and enthusiasm.
While it is a myth that there are no wrong answers in English, there are certainly many ways of reading and thinking. So do not be shy to respond for yourself in interview – or ever: describe precisely what you see; ask yourself searching questions about it and think about why it matters; consider connections between what you know already and what you are only just discovering; support your analyses with careful evidence. The interviewers love to read and talk about literature, and they look forward to hearing what you have to say.
What should I be reading?
There is no one answer to this question. The truth is, anything you like, and everything that interests you. You should challenge yourself, however, to move beyond the texts you feel comfortable and secure amongst, and beyond the confines of your A-level set texts. You might begin by exploring the authors and texts found in our Resources for Applicants pages.