The purpose of Oxford and Cambridge’s elaborate, intricate and sometimes pretty stressful admissions process is to try to find the brightest students who will most benefit from the Oxbridge tutorial and supervision style of teaching. However, there are many more applicants who fit the bill than there are places for them at Oxford and Cambridge. Therefore the two universities do everything they can to ensure that they are as fair as possible by ensuring that those who applied to oversubscribed colleges and didn’t get a place, aren’t unsuccessful just because they picked the wrong college. Oxford does all this redistributing during the interview period in December, but Cambridge does their ‘pooling’ in January.
In previous years, students have had around a 1 in 3 chance of getting a place through the Winter Pool. This is partly because some of the under-subscribed colleges take a lot of their students from the pool – sometimes their entire intake for a particular subject – but also because some colleges, even though they receive a lot of strong applicants, prefer to take students from the pool – believing that they get stronger candidates that way. Of these 3235, 470 were invited back for interview and of these, 233 were made an offer. This means that you have about a 1-in-2 chance if you are invited back for interview, but many people still get in through the pool even if they are not invited back for another interview. Somewhat surprisingly, 166 students last year were put in the pool, only to be fished out again by the college they applied to in the first place. This can sometimes be because your college thinks you are terrific, and have decided that if you don’t get picked up by another college in the pool, they will ensure you get a place with them.
If you are being invited back for interview, bear in mind that it could be over a month since your last interview at Cambridge – and the Christmas holiday has an uncanny ability to drain your brain of all the useful information you’ve just learnt. Your second interview may be just as tough – if not tougher – than the first, so it’s important to revise what you have written on your personal statement, bring yourself up to date with what is going on in the your subject field and ensure you are firing on all cylinders ready for the interview. Remember also, that the interview is going to be testing your ability to discuss your ideas and work with new information, not just asking you show what you know as you have to in some exams. Ask your teachers, parents or friends whether you can have a mock interview style discussion with them on a particular topic so that you can sharpen yourself up ready for the interview. If you are not invited back for interview, there is, unfortunately very little you can do – it is in the lap of the gods as they say…
As you no doubt know, applying to Cambridge is a competitive process. There just aren’t enough places for all the people who deserve them. If you have been put in the pool, then it means that Cambridge really believed that you were good enough to get a place – they did everything they could to find you one, but unfortunately this time they couldn’t. If you’re not sure whether you would like to reapply, you should consider your offers from other universities and whether your subject is one where taking a gap year is sensible. You can read our blog on the subject – and as ever, if you’d like our advice on anything university related, you can give us a call on +44(0)20 7499 2394. Quick update – The Guardian has published a behind the scenes account of the decision making process in the Cambridge Admissions offices – as well as how the winter pool works. – http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/10/how-cambridge-admissions-really-work?newsfeed=true