Worried about going for interview at Cambridge University? Worry no more! Here's your handy guide, brought to you by saint! (if you want to go to Oxford (are you sure?), check out Interviews at the University of Oxford, from where I blatantly stole this idea. Ta, Helen4Morrissey.)

If you're reading this anything but idly because you're too bored to do anything else, chances are you already know about the system. However, for the uninitiated/plain dumb, here's what you have to do to get an interview:

  1. Choose a subject.
  2. Choose a college. (I recommend Emmanuel College. Free laundry service and the best bar.)
  3. Fill in a UCASform, including a Personal Statement.
  4. Send it off to the UCAS board.
  5. Wait for the offer of an interview to pile in. If it doesn't pile in, and you get a letter politely declining you, be philosophical about it. There are plenty of other good universities, many of them better than Cambridge in certain disciplines. Or, try again next year.
  6. If you get an interview, turn up on the right day at the right time in the right place.
  7. That's it.
  8. So, now you've been offered that interview. Congratulations! Bet you're bricking it now.

    Here's some general advice:

    • Go to the toilet first.
    • Arrive on time.
    • Wear something reasonably smart - ie, a tie, chaps - unless they've told you otherwise. Just to be on the safe side.
    • Have a drink of water.
    • Do not be terrified. (easier said than done.)

    So: what form will the interview take? Well, here's where my general knowledge falters a little, because I only have experience at one college in one subject. However, the following is definitely true for everyone:

    • you will be interviewed by a don in your chosen subject and, most likely, another don who has something to do with admissions. Whilst this can vary, it's mostly the case that you will have one subject specific interview and one which is more general.
    • You will be given a time beforehand, unlike beastly Oxford, who make you sit around waiting all day for three or four days.
    • You will not be expected to know everything, but you will be expected to have done a decent amount of reading in your chosen subject, and you will be expected to show independent thought and the ability to think originally.
    • You will be challenged by the interviewer to back up whatever you say. You should not be afraid to climb down if you think you are wrong; you should not be afraid to sit in silence and think for a moment.
    • You should be very careful not to try and obviously show off, though it's probably unavoidable that you'll be showing off a little. Try not to be a wanker: if they don't like you they won't fancy teaching you for three years. (If you were born a wanker, don't worry: the tutor might be one too and you'll get on like a house on fire.)
    • you will do much better if you are relaxed. Try and teach the subject interview like an informal tutorial; try and treat the general interview like a chat with someone you don't know at some cocktail party.
    • you will probably talk more than the tutor, but don't force it. Don't feel you have to keep talking to fill the aching void of silence. (And if there isn’t a node for the aching void of silence there damn well should be.) If you do you will most likely end up rambling. They won't like that, and they won't like it if you don't let them get a word in edgeways.
    • You should not try to be a smartypants. Don't disagree with everything the man or woman says on principle. Don't try and be funny. You’ll be too nervous, probably, and if it goes wrong the silence will be excruciating. Don't try and be quirky or memorable. Just act like an enthusiastic confident student who knows their shit, which is presumably what you are. Ever watched Pop Idol? Remember the people who tried to be a bit wacky and crazy and funny? Remember what happened to them? Exactly. Neither do I.
    • You should not lie. THEY WILL CATCH YOU OUT. Probably.
    • You should not feel like they’re trying to fuck you over. They aren’t. They’re interested in you. Genuinely. They want to find out about you but if they say something surprising it isn’t an attempt to ridicule you, it’s out of an interest in seeing how your mind works. Don’t believe those horror stories you here about interviewers saying ‘surprise me’ and then just sitting there, or that kind of thing: it (almost) never happens.
    • This is almost impossible – but you should not to feel as if everyone else there is more intelligent than you. They’re thinking exactly the same thing about you. Except for that smug looking bastard sitting in the corner. He’s probably a genius.
    • You should shake their hand properly. Personally, I hate people who feel like a dead haddock when you shake their hand. Ought to be nice and firm.

    OK, that last one’s scraping the barrel a bit, so I’m probably almost done, but it may be helpful to put down my personal experience, at least for anyone applying for English. I had two interviews first thing in the morning, which was something of a bitch, at 9 and 9:30, and had to get there half an hour before. When I arrived I was given a poem to read – Lacrimas Verae by Geoffrey Hill, I think, if anyone’s interested – and told that I’d be discussing it at my first interview. I read it and made some notes, and the interview was a breeze. The guy was really nice and it genuinely felt more like a discussion, or tutorial, than an interview: it was properly give and take, not like a test at all.

    Then I had my general interview, in which I talked about the books I’d put on my personal statement for most of it and about other interest a bit as well. We even got on to a comparison between James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Fight Club. Which was a bit weird.

    So – surprisingly chilled, and all my friends who applied had much the same experience, with the exception of one poor sod who got asked why he thought he should be given the place over someone from a sink estate who’d worked incredibly hard to get there and was probably more intelligent. (Which is kind of a difficult question to answer, if you ask me.) So – be not of faint heart, young everythingite! Go forth and interview! It’ll be fun! Trust me!

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