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How I got into Medicine at Cambridge University

Read about Chandan's rollercoaster of an application process before finally getting an offer for Medicine at Cambridge University.

May 2021
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

The first time I heard the term “Oxbridge” was when I was still in primary school and I was told these two universities were the best universities in the world. Naturally, I decided I was going to go to one of them – there was no debate. Only problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to study – I was just going to go to Oxbridge.

It was only in year 10 that I decided that medicine was what I wanted to study, and it would be Oxbridge where I would go. It wasn’t only me though – many people at my school were aiming for Oxbridge and we were so fixated on that idea that any other university just seemed inadequate in comparison. At this time, my goal was to achieve good enough GCSE grades to make a competitive application to Oxbridge. I was always researching the statistics and working out my chances of getting in. At the end of year 11, I had decided on Cambridge after attending two Cambridge summer schools (both widening participation schemes).

I remember stepping foot in Cambridge and just being awestruck by the city – I am from an inner-city town outside Birmingham, so I had never seen a place like Cambridge. Every building just looked like a castle! However, in year 12 I finally decided to actually research the universities I would apply to and consider the important factors such as cost of living, location, course structure, and so on. It was at this point when Cambridge was truly where I wanted to be. It was no longer about the clout or the name (although that was a nice addition I won’t lie). It was that Cambridge offered dissection as part of the course – something I wanted. It had a collegiate system – something I wanted. The course was 6 years long, split into pre-clinical and clinical years, and completing an intercalated BA was part of the course – all of which I wanted. The supervision style, the location, the funding available, the traditional course type – everything was just what I was looking for.

With my heart now set on Cambridge, I was driven. I did so much work experience, volunteering, and extracurricular activities to make my application competitive. This included Olympiads, challenges, research projects, article writing, and attending programmes. All of this was on top of my A-level studies. With the entry requirements for Cambridge being A*A*A, I needed to be predicted at least this to apply, but I knew that I really wanted to be predicted 3A*s for my A levels to stand a competitive chance. After working myself into the ground for my year 12 exams, I came out with what I aimed for – 3As. Perfect. Now it was time to sit my UCAT (Cambridge didn’t use the UCAT but my other choices did). Once again, I worked myself into the ground, and it paid off - I came out in the 98th percentile. Great. Next up: my personal statement. After spending hours each day writing and editing on my statement, it was finally ready for submission. Fantastic. My teachers had completed my reference and by the start of Year 13, my application had been sent off. Amazing.

As for the college I applied to, I naïvely decided to base my decision on statistics. I chose the college which had a good acceptance rate and was named after a song I liked – Homerton B. That was apparently all I needed to be sure of my choice (my stupidity astounds me). The next part of the application which Cambridge required was the BMAT. This time, I had to juggle revision for the BMAT with my A-level studies. After putting in my all for this exam, I ended up receiving a 6.8 in section 1 and a 5.8 in section 2. But I fell short and got a 2A in section 3 (the essay).

In my eyes, this was the end of my application journey as no Cambridge admission tutor would ever accept someone who did so poorly in section 3. So, when I did receive an interview offer, I was so elated and shocked I thought Cambridge was playing a cruel joke on me. The interviews were in the style of panel interviews, but with an academic focus instead. I would be grilled on science and maths and so I decided to revise for my interviews as if they were exams (a bad idea) by attempting to learn anatomy and using textbooks to study A-level topics in extreme detail. But what I didn’t realise was that my interviewers didn't expect me to know about tiny details; they just wanted me to know the A-level content well. So, when I mistook collagen for cellulose and forgot how to draw graphs as I had neglected the basics during my preparation, it reflected badly on me. I really tried my best during my interviews but honestly, I thought I did horrifically and that I would be rejected. My interview day was also the first time I saw the college I applied to, and by the end of the day, I truly thought it would be the last time too.

When January came each day worried me more and more. On the morning of the 15th of January, I received the email that was going to determine my future. And I was devastated.

I had been rejected.

Yes, I was rejected. Having read the rejection email, I found they liked my application but not enough to offer me a place. However, there was a section at the bottom that stated I was eligible for adjustment. I knew what adjustment was, but I didn’t think Cambridge would offer it for medicine. After extensive research, I learnt this was the second year Cambridge was offering placements for medicine through adjustment, and it was only available to students who were classed as coming from a disadvantaged background. Whilst I was eligible to apply, I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance of getting an offer through this scheme.

2 other medical school offers later and after putting Leicester as my firm choice, the pandemic hit, and I found out my teachers would determine my grades. I felt my chances of getting into Cambridge plummet as I imagined there would be fewer free spaces on the course due to the pandemic. My already low chances of getting an offer had become virtually impossible for me.

And I had made my peace with it. I had decided that Leicester was where I wanted to be, and I put Cambridge behind me. The day before results day, Cambridge posted the courses which had spaces available for adjustment on their website. The previous year, each course had at least one space available but this year, with the pandemic, there were very few courses with places. But after seeing medicine on the list, my dream of going to Cambridge was back on! The next day was results day and after finding out my teachers graded me 3A*s, I went home and filled out the form for adjustment. I didn’t have to do anything else to apply and I was told I would find out the next day if I received an offer or not.

The following day was horrible; I constantly thought I was going to throw up and couldn’t do anything all day. After spending hours trolling the Student Room, I finally received a phone call at 6pm. It was from Cambridge. This was it. After confirming my identity, I found out I had received an offer to study medicine at the University of Cambridge and was going to be at Peterhouse – the oldest and smallest college at the university. I could not have been happier! After firming Cambridge, I was set to go and the long and arduous journey leading to Cambridge had been worth it all.

Author: Chandan Sekhon
Editor: Latifa Haque

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