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Frequently asked questions

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Frequently asked questions about applications

Student reading notes

Is there anything that I should be reading / watching / doing in preparation for my application?

It’s always a good idea to explore your subject before you apply to study it at degree level, after all you want to be sure that it’s a subject that you are intellectually curious about and will enjoy! There are many different ways to explore your subject; reading, watching foreign language films or documentaries, visiting exhibitions, listening to podcasts are just some examples. 
Pre-university students interested in the field of linguistics can find many useful written and video resources at All Things Linguistic: Resources for high school teachers and Proto-linguistics: 6 ways to do linguistics in high school. Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker also has a number of excellent introductory videos online, such as this presentation on linguistics as a window to understanding the brain.

What are the entry requirements for your courses?

For MML, HML and Linguistics the typical offer is A*AA for A-levels. The typical offer for International Baccalaureate is 41 points total, with 7,7,6 in the Higher Level subjects. Remember that for MML you need to offer at least one language at A-level or equivalent. For HML some Cambridge Colleges require History A-level or equivalent. There are no required subjects for Linguistics.

How many people apply each year?

MML - approximately 400
HML - approximately 90
Linguistics – approximately 95

How many students start the course each year?

MML - approximately 160
HML - approximately 25
Linguistics - approximately 30-35

How do I apply for a place?

When you apply to Cambridge, you don’t apply to the university, but to one of the 29 Colleges that admit undergraduate students; note that three Colleges are for mature students only (aged 21+ when starting the course) and two are only for those who identify as women. Currently, all Colleges admit students for MML and HML. All Colleges except one (St Catharine’s) admit students for Linguistics.

Colleges are much more alike than different – they all offer three years of accommodation for their students, have libraries, cafeterias, social spaces and sports facilities and support their students’ academic progress and welfare needs. There are many reasons to choose a College and they are based on personal preferences: do you want to be in a larger or smaller College; do you want be to in the hustle and bustle of the city centre or a quieter, more peripheral College; what facilities for sports/music/cooking does the College have; what are the accommodation arrangements? You don’t have to choose a College, but can make an ‘open’ application, where you are assigned to an undersubscribed College, which from that point on handles your application as if you had chosen it.

I am an international student. Where can I find out about the application process for me?

For more information on applying from overseas, please see here:

Will my choice of College affect my chances of being offered a place?

No. All Colleges participate in the Pool system, which acts as a moderation system and allows strong applicants at oversubscribed colleges to be offered places at undersubscribed Colleges.

Does it matter that there is no Fellow (lecturer) in my language at the College that I’m applying to?

No, not all Colleges have Fellows in all the languages offered in MML or HML, especially the ‘smaller’ subjects such as Italian, Russian or Portuguese. Similarly, not all Colleges have a Linguistics Fellow. It doesn’t matter if there is no Fellow since all colleges will provide the teaching and support required and often have longstanding connections with colleagues at other Colleges to ensure that continuity is provided. As you develop specialist interests, you’ll be taught by the relevant member of staff, meaning that students travel to different supervisors in different Colleges as appropriate.

Will I be at a disadvantage if I decide to take a gap year?

No, there is no disadvantage to taking a gap year. You may be asked at interview about your plans for your gap year and hope that you will be able to use some of your time to keep in contact with academic work and preparation for your chosen degree course. If it’s possible to spend some time abroad immersed in a language that you will be studying for MML or HML, this can be really helpful, but we know that it isn’t always possible.

If I apply for HML, could I be given an offer to study either History or MML, instead of for HML?

Yes, this is possible. If, after your assessment and interviews, no College is able to make you an offer for HML via the Pool system, you may be made an offer for either History or MML instead. 

What should I put in my personal statement?

Your Personal Statement is an important way for you to tell us what interests you in the degree course that you want to study. Roughly 80% of it should be academic related, exploring several different activities that you’ve explored. Don’t just tell us what you’ve read, or seen, or explored, but reflect on what you’ve learnt from it and how it relates to what you hope to explore on the degree course. A good starting point is to think back to the “spark” that led you to realise that this is what you want to study - remember that this is a Personal Statement, it’s all about you!

The other 20% of your statement should tell us about other aspects of your life, such as responsibilities you might have (leadership roles or work); achievements in non-academic areas, or how you enjoy your spare time. At Cambridge, we want to know that you’re not only doing really well at school, but can manage well your working week and balance commitments, as this is a good sign that you’ll cope well with university life. We are not looking for any specific skills or achievements, other than those that are relevant to your chosen degree subject.  

What happens in the interview process?

The interviews are an important part of the application process at Cambridge and take place in the colleges. It’s important to remember that they are part of a holistic assessment that also includes any written assessments, your UCAS application and, at some colleges, submitted schoolwork too. The interviews are not designed to ‘trick’ you, but are an opportunity to show us why you’re right for the degree.

Most candidates have two interviews, usually for about 20-25 minutes each, with experts in the subject that you’ve applied for. The interviews may involve preparing some material - usually reading - immediately beforehand, which is then discussed as part of the interview. You may also be asked about some of the academic explorations that you’ve told us about in your Personal Statement.

If applying to study a language that you are currently studying for A-level (or equivalent), you should expect to spend part of the interview talking in the language. For the most part, the interview isn’t a ‘right-or-wrong’ test, but a chance for us to see how you work as an intellectual - how you think and how you use information provided to you as part of an intellectual conversation, much like how we teach you in the Cambridge supervision system. 

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