How to Get Into Cambridge: A Guide for US Students

In the Best Global Universities rankings by US News, the University of Cambridge is number nine. On the other hand, it is number three in the 2022 Top 100 Universities in the World by the QS World University Rankings. The good news is that you could be a student at this prestigious research institution in the UK if you are from the US.

Filling out the UCAS form is the first step for US students to apply to Cambridge University. They must also have high GPAs, AP exams, and standardized test scores. Undergoing the interview is a necessary step, too, if they are among around 75% of applicants chosen by Cambridge to go through it.

There are many prestigious institutions for higher education in the US. Because they are highly selective, gaining admission into them can be a herculean task for most college-bound teenagers.

Cambridge University is one of the most elite schools on the face of the planet. And since it is located in an entirely different continent, you may find it very challenging to receive an acceptance letter from a UK-based institution.

But it’s doable, especially if you are one of the less than 10% of US applicants who are welcomed to its campus.

So, do you plan to apply to it and believe that you got what it takes to get accepted?

Don’t stop reading now. You got the grades, guts, and gusto — and now it’s time to know what you need to apply to the University of Cambridge and become one of its students.

Cambridge University

What is the Acceptance Rate at Cambridge?

For academic years starting from 2010 to 2021, the acceptance rate for undergraduate students at Cambridge University is 23%. That’s equivalent to about one out of four applicants getting an offer from the institution. The acceptance rate for international students at Cambridge is 21.4%.

Many students, especially those who are not fully confident with their transcript, test scores and the rest of their application, get intimidated by the low acceptance rates at top-notch colleges and universities in the US.

Selective schools outside the nation have some of the lowest acceptance rates, too. Case in point: the acceptance rate at the University of Cambridge, which accounts to less than a quarter of all applicants. It’s true that the UK-based school has a low acceptance rate. However, its acceptance rate is not the lowest on the planet.

Here are colleges and universities across the globe whose acceptance rates are lower than Cambridge’s:

UNIVERSITYLOCATIONACCEPTANCE RATE
Hanyang UniversitySouth Korea3%
University of CampinasBrazil4%
Harvard UniversityUS5%
Stanford UniversityUS5%
Yale UniversityUS6%
Princeton UniversityUS7%
University College LondonUK7%
Columbia UniversityUS7%
Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) ParisFrance8%
National Autonomous University of MexicoMexico8%
University of ChicagoUS8%
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUS8%
California Institute of TechnologyUS9%
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)UK9%
Brown UniversityUS10%
RWTH Aachen UniversityGermany10%
University of PennsylvaniaUS10%
University College DublinIreland10%
University of EdinburghUK10%
University of NottinghamUK11%
Duke UniversityUS11%
Vanderbilt UniversityUS11%
Dartmouth CollegeUS11%
Far Eastern Federal UniversityRussia12%
Northwestern UniversityUS13%
King’s College LondonUK13%
Johns Hopkins UniversityUS13%
Imperial College LondonUK14%
University of LiverpoolUK14%
Amherst CollegeUS14%
University of WarwickUK14%
Cornell UniversityUS14%
College of the OzarksUS14%
Tufts UniversityUS14%
Rice UniversityUS15%
Bowdoin CollegeUS15%
Nara Medical UniversityJapan15%
Colorado CollegeUS16%
University of BremenGermany16%
National University of SingaporeSingapore16%
University of California BerkeleyUS17%
University of California Los AngelesUS17%
UC Berkeley ExtensionUS17%
Washington University in St LouisUS17%
University of HelsinkiFinland17%
Waseda UniversityJapan17%
Barnard CollegeUS17%
University of Southern CaliforniaUS17%
Georgetown UniversityUS17%
University of OxfordUK18%
Wesleyan UniversityUS18%
University of Notre DameUS19%
Colby CollegeUS19%
Davidson CollegeUS20%
University of Abertay DundeeUK20%
Aalto UniversityFinland20%

There are many higher education institutions with lower acceptance rates than Cambridge University. Despite this, an acceptance rate of 23% (21.4% for international applicants) still makes the school selective.

How Do Students Apply to Cambridge?

Students, whether from the US or elsewhere, should complete and submit the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) app. It is a web-based platform through which everyone who wishes to study in the UK has to apply. The Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) should be filled out, too.

In the US, two of the most popular and widely used application systems by students applying to colleges and universities are the Common App and Coalition App. Some schools accept only one, while others accept both.

The counterpart of the Common App and Coalition app in the UK is UCAS. Created in 1992, UCAS is younger than the Common App, which came into being in 1975.

However, it is older than the Coalition App, which was created in 2015. It was only in 2011 when a UCAS app for mobile devices was invented.

Here’s what it’s like to complete UCAS if you are planning to apply to Cambridge University anytime soon:

Register

Like when using any other college application platform, you need to create a UCAS account first.

The system, after gathering some personal details, will provide you with a username. You will then have to create a password and set your security questions. Also, you will have to add the buzzword your high school has provided, if available.

Complete the details

All mandatory questions should be answered. Needless to say, skipping any of them is not allowed. Some questions are specific for UK residents only. Some important details you will have to provide include personal circumstances, funding your studies abroad and residency status.

Add education history

Did you go to a college or university after getting your high school diploma?

Then you should provide all your qualifications when completing UCAS. This is true whether you didn’t finish the course or completed the program successfully. You should also include any qualifications even if you are waiting for further details such as exams and grades.

Complete employment history

It’s no secret that having a job makes for a wonderful extracurricular. UCAS will ask you to provide information if you have had any paid jobs, be it part-time or full-time.

You can enter up to five different jobs and their respective details. There is no need to include in this part of UCAS any voluntary or unpaid work.

Pick courses

UCAS will allow you to select as many as five courses.

It’s completely up to you whether you will indicate five or not — you can always add additional courses at a later time to complete all five slots. Worry not about choosing courses in order. That’s because there is no preference order, which means that you prefer all five equally.

Write a personal essay

You have at least 1,000 characters or up to 4,000 characters (or 47 lines, whichever comes first) to convince Cambridge University’s admissions officers that you are exactly what they are looking for.

Since UCAS doesn’t have a spell check, it’s a good idea to compose your personal essay in MS word or something similar and paste it into your application.

Get a reference

When applying to colleges and universities, more often than not, students are asked to submit recommendation letters.

In some instances, they have to submit multiple ones, with one coming from a high school counselor. Before submitting UCAS, you must complete a reference who knows you academically, such as a teacher, advisor or coach.

Submit

Before submitting, you will be shown your completed UCAS and asked to review and make the necessary edits.

You will also be asked to check out the declaration. Agreeing to the declaration will allow UCAS to process all the pieces of information you have provided and send it to Cambridge University and/or your other chosen schools.

Pay the application fee

Most of the time, college applications in the US don’t come free of charge.

Applying to the University of Cambridge, which is thousands of miles away, comes with a price tag, too. In 2022, the application fee costs £22 or $30.50 USD (single choice) or £26.50 or $37 (more than one choice). You can only pay if your application is complete.

Related Article: How to Get Into Oxford From the US?

What GPA Do You Need to Get Into Cambridge?

The GPA requirement for admission into the University of Cambridge is 3.7 at least. However, it doesn’t mean that the possession of the minimum GPA requirement guarantees acceptance. The same is true with the possession of a higher GPA. Cambridge, like many schools, has a holistic admissions policy.

Admissions officers at Cambridge and other colleges and universities look for applicants who have higher chances of succeeding in college and beyond. To help them choose, they take a look at the GPAs of students.

In the US, it’s no secret that the GPA requirement at the Ivy Leagues and other competitive schools such as MIT and Stanford University is a 4.0 or something very close to it.

Well, Cambridge University, since it’s one of the most elite schools on the planet, has a high minimum GPA requirement of 3.7.

Let’s take a look at some US schools where an average GPA of 3.7 could get you into:

  • Boston College
  • Brigham Young University Provo
  • Emory University
  • Florida International University
  • Florida State University
  • George Washington University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Princeton University
  • Purdue University
  • Stony Brook University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Vanderbilt University

As mentioned earlier, just because you have a 3.7 GPA or higher doesn’t mean that you will surely gain admission into Cambridge.

Likewise, it doesn’t mean that you will certainly get a rejection letter from the UK-based research university simply because you have a GPA that’s lower than the stated minimum requirement.

Cambridge has a holistic admissions process, just like many US colleges and universities.

This means that its admissions officers look at the whole applicant and not just his or her GPA. According to Cambridge University itself, it wants to give applicants as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate their strengths and potential.

It adds that the following are used when considering each application individually and holistically:

  • Academic record
  • School reference
  • Personal essay
  • Any written work submitted
  • Performance in any written assessment
  • Contextual data
  • Performance at interview
Cambridge University

Does Cambridge Require SAT or ACT Scores?

The University of Cambridge requires applicants from the US to submit their SAT or ACT scores. The SAT score required is at least 1460 or 1500, depending on the course. On the other hand, the ACT score required is at least 32 or 33, depending on the course. Cambridge is not a test-optional school.

In the US, around 1,600 colleges and universities are test-optional, which means that applicants may or may not submit their test scores.

Almost 60 higher education institutions in the country are test-blind. So, in other words, they do not include SAT or ACT scores in the admissions process, even if applicants choose to submit them.

Applicants from the US applying to Cambridge University have to submit their test scores. Besides submitting test scores, they also have to meet minimum SAT or ACT scores, which vary from one course to the other.

You should have a SAT score of at least 1500 for most science courses, such as:

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Natural Sciences
  • Veterinary Medicine

For other courses, applicants should have a minimum SAT score of 1460.

You should send in results of all section scores from a full sitting of the SAT instead of individual section scores from various sittings. So, in other words, unlike many US colleges and universities, Cambridge does not superscore SAT scores.

On the other hand, you need to have a minimum ACT score of 33 for science courses (Engineering, Computer Science, Medicine, etc.) or a minimum ACT score of 32 for Arts and Humanities and other courses.

Keep in mind that the University of Cambridge does not prefer one standardized test over the other.

This means that you can submit either your SAT score or ACT score, depending on which test you have taken.

If you took both exams, it’s a good idea to submit the higher of the two (or the highest across all test dates). This is most especially true if you plan to take science courses, which require a higher minimum test score.

Related Article: Is It Harder to Get 36 on ACT or 1600 on SAT?

Does Cambridge Give Credit for AP Exams

Cambridge University requires US applicants to have at least five Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores of five. This means that it will not give credit to AP exam scores lower than five. Since it’s possible to take AP exams without taking AP courses, US applicants may submit AP exam scores only.

In the US, many prestigious schools have a preference for applicants who have taken AP courses and taken AP exams, too, in high school. That’s because completing them and getting good grades indicate college readiness.

What’s more, it allows those with high grades to earn college credits and graduate from college faster, too.

If your plan is to become a Cambridge student, you should take not less than five AP exams to be considered.

But it’s not enough that you take five AP exams — it’s also a must that you get a score of five on each one of them. Needless to say, the prestigious school in the UK is looking for nothing but the most college-ready US students.

The University of Cambridge also welcomes AP Capstone, which is a diploma program from the College Board, consisting of AP courses that take two years to complete.

It encourages applicants from the US to do so as it will help them develop independent study and research skills, both of which are valuable for higher education success.

Related Article: Can You Get Into A Good School Without APs or honors?

Just Before You Apply to Cambridge

Cambridge University is just as prestigious as some of the most elite colleges and universities in the US. Because of this, it doesn’t come as a surprise why it’s selective and looks for applications that can impress.

Using the application-related details mentioned above, you can determine whether or not you have a chance of getting accepted into it.

Clearly, applying to Cambridge is just as challenging to apply to an elite school in the US. You need to have a high GPA, SAT or ACT score and AP exam grades to have increased chances of getting accepted into it.

Keep in mind that you cannot apply to the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the same academic year. So, in other words, you can apply to only one of the two elite UK schools in a single year.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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