What are we looking for?

We are seeking to admit the brightest and best students regardless of background. Pembroke is an open, friendly and diverse community, and our diversity is one of the things that contribute to our academic strength – we aim to recruit from the broadest possible base. So if you are among the brightest students in your school and are achieving highly in public examinations, and Cambridge offers a course that you are interested in studying, we would urge you to think about making an application.

In assessing you, we will try to find out as much as possible about you, from your examination record, your school reference and examination predictions, your personal statement, the interviews, and any written test we set. In other words we will assess you holistically, not on the basis of one factor alone.

What can you do to increase the chances of gaining a place with us?

The 4 Rs

We believe there are essentially four key things that can help make a successful application:

Right Course

Cambridge University offers a huge variety of courses to choose from, and offers teaching by those engaged in research at the cutting edge, but it is crucial that we offer a course that YOU want to study. You will spend three or four years engaged in a lot of independent work, and it is critical that you enjoy what you are doing, or you won’t feel strongly motivated, and probably won’t do as well as you would have done on another course. So make sure we offer something you want to study. Alongside that go choosing the Right Subjects at A-level or equivalent: for some of our courses it is essential that you study particular A-levels/ equivalents. Details of any subject specific requirements are given in the subject pages.


Where there are not extenuating circumstances which have adversely affected your performance, results in public examinations are a very good predictor of potential success at university. This is less the case with GCSEs than with sixth form courses – A-levels or equivalent. In fact, contrary to widely held belief, Cambridge sets no minimum requirement for GCSE A*s. While this doesn’t mean that GCSEs are unimportant and that you shouldn’t work hard for them, it does mean that they are not critical to success in our application process. We are much more closely interested in how you are doing at 16+. Those who apply to us having sat AS units in Year 12 tend to be averaging good A grades in at least three of those subjects and are predicted to achieve at least A*AA in their subsequent A2 examinations. The situation is the same with all 16+ examination systems. So you need to work hard to prioritise the best results possible in your public examinations.


No matter which subject you apply for, it is crucial that you demonstrate your commitment to it above and beyond the strict confines of the school syllabus. This means pursuing the subject mainly by doing some extra reading or work related to your core interests – reading a History book or a novel not on the syllabus, for example, regularly reading The Economist, or Nature, or another relevant magazine. You should also keeping abreast of some of the current developments in your subject where applicable. In whatever you read you should always aim to engage critically with it: ask yourself if you can summarise the argument being made, the evidence being deployed, and always think about your reaction to it. In mathematical subjects, there is no substitute for strong skills, and these come with practice.


Sometimes people say interviews are not about revision, but in many ways they are, because knowledge forms the foundation on which interview questions often build. So you should go back over sixth form work before coming to interview – scientists, revise your formulae, for example; historians, revise your dates. This will enable us to build on existing knowledge at interview.