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If you’re applying for Engineering at Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll be wondering what the admissions tutors are really looking for. Natural intelligence? Bookish smarts? Confidence? Modesty?

Well, to help you out, we’ve created three Engineering applicant profiles. Read their backstories and decide which applicant has what it takes!

Applicant 1: Charlie 18

Before his interview: 

  • Charlie is in his second year of A-Levels, studying Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Biology.  He is predicted A*A*AA.
  • He particularly loves the mechanics modules of Maths, which is why he has decided to apply for Engineering. He does lots of extra mechanics-style questions in his free time. 
  • He has read a bit around engineering, and enjoyed the books he has read. He also did some work experience in a consultancy firm. It wasn’t directly linked to engineering, but he included it in his Personal Statement as he thought it showed dedication. 
  • He did a couple of ENGAA papers as preparation, but didn’t practice them to timed conditions. 
  • He struggled for time with the ENGAA but was happy with the questions he did do. 

During his interview: 

  • Charlie was given a pre-interview test upon arrival at Cambridge. He was shocked by this, as he was expecting just to be interviewed. 
  • He ran out of time, and hadn’t prepared much maths, as he wasn’t expecting questions on pure maths in his interviews, so he floundered on a few of the questions. 
  • In the interview, with a little guidance he managed to find the answers to some of the maths questions, although it was clear that he hadn’t prepared maths as comprehensively as he should have. 
  • The physics section was stronger, and he had done lots of revision, so he tried to show off all the content he had learnt in preparation. 

Applicant 2: Andrew, 19 

Before his interview: 

  • Andrew is currently on a gap year doing an industrial placement at a large electrical engineering firm. 
  • He has A*A*A in his A-Levels, in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. 
  • He does lots of practice during his gap year for the PAT, ensuring he has not forgotten any of the skills he accumulated during his A-Levels. 
  • He reads a lot around the subject, and has attended a course of lectures in London during his evenings on his gap year, about sustainable development going into the future, and how engineering can help preserve the valuable dwindling natural resources we have. 

During his interview: 

  • Andrew performs well in the interviews. He has done a lot of preparation, talking to his friends about engineering and the work he has been doing during his placement. 
  • His graph-drawing question goes well, and he manages to cope well with the more developed maths content. 
  • He struggled more with the physics question, but listened to the guidance of the interviewer and managed to reach a solution
  • He drew a diagram at the beginning of the physics question, which meant he had a better grasp of what was going on. 

Applicant 3: Bea, 17

Before her interview: 

  • Bea is in her second year doing Maths, Physics and Biology. She is predicted 3 A*s. 
  • She is also doing an EPQ in Engineering, and how electrical engineering is used in iPhones. She has not done any work experience, but has enjoyed exploring the theoretical side of engineering through her EPQ. 
  • To prepare for the ENGAA, she did lots of revision of all the A-Level content. 
  • She hadn’t done any past papers, so was shocked by how time-pressured the ENGAA was. 
  • To prepare for her interviews, she read a lot about engineering and memorised lots of information about different mechanical and digital systems from various books she’d read. 
  • She did a bit of problem solving but not much, as she thought her A-Levels would be sufficient.

During her interview: 

  • Bea was very nervous for her interview. She didn’t therefore speak that much, and just solved the questions on the whiteboard. 
  • She was silent when she did so, so the interviewer didn’t get much insight into Bea’s reasoning and how she was thinking about the problem. 
  • She was stronger in the earlier parts, but got flustered when she got to the more developed parts of the questions, and struggled to take on board the interviewer’s advice. 

Who is the best candidate? 

Andrew is clearly the best candidate here. Although they all have high enough predicted grades, Andrew prepares thoroughly and ticks many of the boxes that admissions tutors are looking for. 

What did Charlie do wrong?

  • Charlie’s work experience is not relevant to engineering. Work experience is only worth including in your personal statement if it’s relevant to the course you’re applying to. There’s no point shoe-horning in your work experience if it is not relevant. 
  • Charlie did not do sufficient preparation for the ENGAA, especially not in timed conditions. 
  • Charlie was not fully prepared for his interviews, and was therefore caught out by the maths aspects of the pre-interview test and interview questions. 

What did Bea do wrong?

  • Although Bea’s EPQ is useful because it is theoretical, she has not done any practical preparation for her application. Practical preparation is highly valued by admissions tutors, as it shows an active desire to engage in engineering as a career and field. 
  • Furthermore, she is completely under-prepared for the ENGAA, not even knowing how the sections are split down. 
  • She is also too closed off in her interviews, not giving the interviewers a chance to understand how she reasons. Although her answers are clear and she grasps most of the content, she does not come across as a teachable student. 

What did Andrew do right?

  • Andrew is using his gap year to enhance his application, attending relevant lectures and engaging with useful work experience. 
  • Also, despite having achieved an A* in his Physics and Maths A-Levels, he is not resting on his laurels, but doing active preparation for the ENGAA, so he performs very well. 
  • He communicated well in his interviews, and took on board and acted on the advice of his interviewers, which is really important. 

Conclusion

Obviously there’s no model candidate; every student is different, and the admissions tutors are keen to accept a diverse cohort. But clearly there are ways you can improve your application and maximise your chances of success whilst staying true to yourself. Instead of resting on your laurels, strive to be the very best.

For more advice on Engineering interviews, take a look at our guide to preparing for interview, and our model Engineering interview. Good luck!

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