Most applicants for a place at Trinity are invited to have an interview. Our applicants are usually very able students with excellent academic records, high exam predictions and strong support from their schools. Our approach is to assess our applicants’ academic potential, particularly their ability to thrive in the teaching setting that Trinity and the University of Cambridge offers. To choose between them we need more information than the application form usually provides. An interview gives us the opportunity to see candidates individually and talk to them about the subject they want to study.
The format of interviews
The interview process is slightly different for those applicants who are at school or college in the UK (or, if you have left school, are ordinarily resident in the UK) and those who are at school or college outside the UK. For applicants invited to interview, those applicants who are in the UK will be offered an in-person interview in Cambridge. As international travel is expensive and often difficult to arrange at short notice, those applicants who are outside the UK can choose whether to come in-person or have an online interview. If they opt to have an interview online, this will be done via the platform Zoom. The distinction only affects the format of the interview. The type of questions you will be asked and the level of assessment will be the same whether you are interviewed in person or online, and that is explained in a bit more detail on the last part of this page.
For applicants who have in-person interviews
If you are invited to interview, we look forward to welcoming you to the College for your interview. When you arrive at the main Gate, in the adjoining Old College Office, you will be met by a member of our team of student ambassadors who will confirm with you the time and place of your interviews. Our student ambassadors will direct you towards where you need to go. For some subjects, there is some material to look at and consider before the interview begins, and you will be taken to the relevant place where you can review it. The student ambassadors will at the appropriate time direct you towards the relevant interview room, and accompany you there if it isn’t immediately clear where it is.
For students who need overnight accommodation: If you are unable to make a round trip to Cambridge in a single day, we are pleased to offer you free overnight accommodation and meals in College. We are only able to offer accommodation to the applicant themselves, and not to any accompanying parents, guardians or friends. When you are invited to interview, if you would like overnight accommodation, please let us know on the response form you will be sent with your interview invitation.
For those who need help with travel costs: We are happy to support eligible UK students with travel costs for public transport. You are eligible for reimbursement if you are a UK student and any of the following apply: (i) you are eligible for free school meals, (ii) you are from a family with an income of below £30,000, (iii) you are estranged from your family, or (iv) you are in local authority care. If you would like such support, please let us know on the form you will receive from us when you apply. This information would not be available to us without you informing us about it, and it will be kept confidential from your interviewers during the admissions process. If you are invited for interview, you will then be asked to send us the travel details (such as online receipt or a photo of a paper receipt), and we will reimburse you as soon as possible. Alternatively, let us know at that stage if this is a problem and we can buy the tickets for you. We do not reimburse international travel.
If travelling to Cambridge becomes difficult or impossible: We recognise that some applicants may find it difficult to travel to Cambridge, particularly if they become unwell during the Winter. If this happens to you, please let us know as soon as possible. We are willing to consider remote interviews for UK students in these circumstances, but it is up to you to tell us and to explain why. If you do have a remote interview, please see the information below about online interviews.
For applicants who have online interviews
Students based outside the UK can opt for an online interview. We will ask you soon after you apply to us for your choice in the event that you are invited to interview. Please note that this choice is final; we cannot switch you between online and in-person interview formats if you change your mind later.
If you are outside the UK, please do consider the practicalities of what it would mean to come to Cambridge for your interview – the travel time and expense, the environmental impact, and for many applicants the difficulties of arranging a visa at short notice. You may also want to consider whether you can explain and show your abilities as well remotely as you can in-person, and that is often specific to your subject and your personal preferences. Please be confident that we do not judge you based on your choice for the format of your interview – we understand that this is a judgement based on your personal circumstances, and we don’t give any preference to one group over another in decisions about admissions.
If you are having a remote interview, it will be run on the platform Zoom. It would be helpful to familiarise yourself with this platform if you haven’t done so already. It is free to sign up to an account (via https://zoom.us/). You will need to be confident that you have access to a reliable internet connection, on a computer with a video camera, in a place where you can be confident you won’t be disturbed during the interview. It is for you to decide where that will be. It can be in your school, your home or somewhere else – wherever you feel most comfortable and have most confidence that you won’t be interrupted. If you anticipate any problems with this, please be in touch with us to explain your situation.
For the subjects that have pre-interview reading or questions, you will be given this at a specified time in advance of your interview. We will add further information here nearer to the time.
For the interview itself, for subjects in the Arts and Humanities as well as Psychological & Behavioural Sciences, you don’t need anything except for a computer with a video camera and a stable internet connection.
For candidates being interviewed in Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine and Natural Sciences, you will need to have access to a graphics tablet (or ‘drawing tablet’) during your interview. This could be an iPad or another device plugged into your computer. A typical such device is a Wacom One with a stylus (pen) which costs about £36 to purchase. This is so that we can see what you write during the interview, such as if we ask you to make some calculations. There is no need to buy anything other than a small sized device. If you are in a subject that requires a graphics tablet and you have not used one before, we strongly recommend you practise with one before your interview.
If you are invited to a remote interview, you will be sent a single link. We strongly encourage you to log in for your interview(s) 10 minutes in advance. You will be met there by some of our student ambassadors, who will make sure your technology is working well. They will pass you through to the interviewers at the appropriate time.
The interview content
The type of discussion you will have in an interview varies from subject to subject. If you are applying for an Arts and Humanities subject, you should be prepared to talk about your reading outside the school syllabus and to put forward your own ideas and be able to develop them through the discussion. If you are applying to a subject in the Sciences or Mathematics, you will be asked to work through a number of problems which are not entirely standard in type. We are less interested in your conclusions than the methods you use to reach them. The interviews are academically focused, and we don’t set traps or ask trick questions to catch you out. We are solely interested in making an assessment of your academic potential, and your ability to learn from the sort of teaching we provide here.
Further details about the format of interviews in particular disciplines are available on our subject notes pages:
To give you a sense of what interviews are like, we have filmed three mock interviews, two held in person and one held online. The two in-person interviews are in full, one in the sciences (Engineering) and one in an arts subject (Modern Languages). The questions asked here by our interviewers are similar to those they have asked previously in interviews. The interviewees in both videos are current Trinity students, who – to make the interview more realistic – are studying different subjects to those for which they were interviewed here. They had not previously met their interviewers or been informed about the questions they would be asked. We’ve kept the setting as close as possible to how interviews actually take place.
The third video below shows you short excerpts of a mock Zoom interview we held in 2020. It shows how joining a Zoom interview works, and how to use a drawing tablet on the Zoom whiteboard. There is one specific difference for the online interviews we now hold: you will be transferred directly from the ‘waiting room’ into your interview – that is, you don’t need to click on a separate link as shown in that video. Apart from that, the video shows how remote interviews work from now on.
Interview 1: Engineering (in person)
Interviewer: Professor Matthew Juniper (Engineering)
Interview 2: Modern Languages (in person)
Interviewer: Professor Emma Widdis and Dr Carlos Fonseca
The following video is a mock interview for ab initio Russian; ab initio—‘from scratch’—courses are designed for those looking to study a language of which they have little to no prior knowledge.
To ensure the mock interview resembles what an applicant might expect to encounter in a real interview, we have asked a current student from a different subject area to be our interviewee. William has no formal background in the study of Russia or Russian and was given the stimulus material 30 minutes prior to filming. The mock interview was unscripted and filmed in one take.
You may have noticed that some questions were relatively straightforward while others were much trickier. It is perfectly fine to not have a fully formed response to every question or indeed to not have an answer at all. Some candidates may very well leave at the end of the interview thinking they have answered questions poorly; however, not answering questions perfectly is not something to worry about—we are interested to see how candidates think on their feet! The most important thing to do if presented with a difficult question, unfamiliar terms, or even if your mind goes blank, is therefore not to panic. You are welcome to take a moment to pause, reflect, or ask for further clarification from the interviewers.
Interview 3: Natural Sciences (remotely)
Interviewers: Dr John Rudge and Dr Milka Sarris