Applying to St. John's College at Cambridge University

St John’s is one of 31 Colleges at the University of Cambridge. Colleges are where students live, eat and socialise, and where they receive small group teaching sessions called supervisions, which are regarded as one of the best teaching models in the world. Colleges are also self-governing; while they are part of the University (subject to University regulations) they select their own students and have their own internal procedures. Although students receive the same outstanding education whichever college they attend, each has its own unique history, environment and identity.

St John's was founded in 1511 and is one of the largest Colleges in Cambridge. Its former students include Nobel prizewinners, Prime Ministers, scientists, artists, and leaders in business and industry. Today it has more than 150 “Fellows” (resident academics who teach and research at St John’s), about 900 students (a mix of undergraduates and postgraduates), and about 250 staff. 

For more information, visit: St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Why did you apply to Oxbridge?

For Law, an Oxbridge education means a lot, given the degree of competition for the top jobs. Cambridge topped the Times league table for Law as well, so it seemed worth a try. I was in two minds about applying though, because it does affect your applications to other institutions when you're applying for the most popular subjects. (Profile 232)

Size and its beautiful settling, considered Trinity but heard that it loves mathematicians where maths isn't the subjects I really like though I'm okay at it. And because they do a written test at interview. So St. John's was chosen at last. (Profile 1081)

Cambridge appears "better" for maths than Oxford. I'd done well in my A/S UMS marks so felt that I would be able to apply to Cambridge. If I had lower UMS I would have applied to Oxford, as they cannot see UMS marks. (Profile 702)

Why did you apply to St. John’s College?

All the usual reasons - big, old, rich, central, large number of Law students. Actually it was pretty much a random choice, made the night before I sent off my form, but it's probably worth thinking about carefully since there is a great deal of difference between the colleges. (Profile 232)

Size and its beautiful settling, considered Trinity but heard that it loves mathematicians where maths isn't the subjects I really like though I'm okay at it. And because they do a written test at interview... so St. John's was chosen at last. (Profile 1081)

It's a big friendly college, I went on an open day and really liked the students at the college, and the tutors. It's well located, brilliant accommodation, loads of facilities and looks awesome. Also it has a really good college spirit. (Profile 702)

Highest number of economics fellows, big, pretty, liked it at open day. Also had very good accommodation and food and was rich (Profile 172)

What was your general impression of  St. John’s College and any other colleges you visited?

On open days I got the impression that the students were friendly, and I genuinely just liked everything about it. It was a little intimidating to visit, but I'm glad I did! (Profile 702)

I saw most of the colleges while I was in Cambridge. The ones in the centre were all fairly similar.

- John's: Gorgeous, old, lovely architecture. The friendliest when I came to look around (I didn't go to an open day). Large - but that's what I wanted. Attracts a lot of tourists, which can be a pain.

- Caius: Beautiful again, and friendly when I went to an open day. Decided it wasn't for me because you have to eat in hall 5 times/week or something, which didn't appeal.

- Queens: Stayed here for a week. Lovely - very friendly, the right size, next to the river. Lots of things going on there, beyond academic stuff. (Profile 232)

It looked really nice, the students were very accommodating and although the porter gave me the wrong key to my room initially, everyone was very helpful. (Profile 87)

I found that St. John's was very pretty and the people were all incredibly friendly. I liked the fact it was so big. I also stayed in Gonville and Cais for a week for the Sutton Trust summer school which also seemed friendly. I wasn't keen on Trinity when I looked round though. (Profile 185)

I really liked my college. It seemed big but friendly which was what I wanted. (Profile 172)

Describe the day-to-day aspects of living in the college. If you stayed in college, how was the accommodation? How about the food?

- Accommodation: 

- First year - Cripps. 1960s building but you learn to love it. 4 rooms on a landing (usually single sex with opposite sex on the adjacent landing) sharing kitchen (well 2 hobs, sink and fridge), toilet, shower and bath (all separate). Some of the best accommodation in Cambridge - very big rooms but also quite expensive.

- Second year - much less predictable. If you want to stay in college (as in within the actual walls) which most people do you have to share. You can be a jammy git and get separate bedrooms and sitting room and kitchen (smiles to herself) but you will more usually have to share bedroom and sitting room with one person sleeping in the sitting room. All rooms have kitchens. Some are ensuite. You pay according the the facilities offered. If you don't want to share you have to live out of college but generally only about 5 mins at the most outside college gates and it's college owned accommodation so there's not water rates or electricity bills to pay.

- Third year - Second year accommodation is balloted. Some tutor's reverse this ballot and some don't. Ours does. Basically the majority of people chose to have single rooms in college (3rd years or returning 4th year language people have preference on the ballot) which range from lovely ensuite palaces to penthouses (at the top of and two levels) in Cripps to bedsits above the chaplin. People choosing to share get better double rooms than in the first year but are not guaranteed two bedrooms. You can also live out of college in your third year if you wish.

- Fourth (+) years - accommodation is outside college but in college owned accommodation and I think most people chose to share a house with friends.

- Food: Good. Meant to be some of the best in camb but a bit stody for me so I cook for myself (Profile 172)

- Accommodation: 1st year, big rooms, sharing bath, shower toilet, kitchen with 3 other people. Not the prettiest building, but warm and you're with all the other first years. 2nd and 3rd year, awe inspiring accommodation, a ballot, often shared (if you choose to) in New Court or other places around the college. Option for houses.

- Food: Lovely, got a Christmas dinner on my interview day. (Profile 702)

- Accommodation: The rooms were huge compared to bristol, they were comfortable and had a great view.

 - Food: Excellent. Perfectly edible, quite a wide range available... but you couldn't understand the cooks. (Profile 87)

- Accommodation: My accomodation for my interview was great - sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, but that was a third year room! I stayed in a first year room on the open day, and these were fairly big, especially in comparison with what I'd seen in other universities. 

- Food: Good (Profile 185)

Any thoughts on the tutors/students at  St. John’s College?

- Tutors: Enthusiastic, seem to really like teaching, and are passionate about their subjects. Brilliant tutors.

- Students: Friendly, a strong college spirit, very jokey. Generally outgoing and fun. (Profile 702)

- Tutors: Quite informal, accommodating and since i was nervous at first, they accommodated for this and i was soon at ease.

- Students: Brilliant guys and gals. The were very truthful, although they didn't slag anything off really. One or two were paid to stay in the JCR and tlk, but others stayed too and were nice. (Profile 87)

- Tutors: Very friendly, the physicist was a little eccentric.

- Students: I didn't see many students, but those I met seemed very down to earth. (Profile 185)

- Tutors: My personal tutor isn't really interested in your welfare which isn't too much of a problem as the senior tutor's great. Basically they're just a mix of people some nice and some not.

- Students: Sporty. Argh. But there are a significant number of people who play no sport. Then there are the people in my year I still haven't seen (Profile 172)

What questions were you asked during your interview(s)?

[Classics] Parse 'rebus'? How many declensions are there? How many latin cases are there excluding the vocative? Hence deduce how many were in Proto Indo European? Give a few meanings of the word 'Quibus'? What peculiarity does this word possess in the respect of its relation to a certain preposition? Which personal pronouns share this wonderful property? On the subject of personal pronouns, name two intensifying enclitics affixed thereto? Why shouldn't we stack enclitics? What detrimental effects does this have to our Latinity? What do you feel about the lack of distinct aorist form in Latin? "Latin is far from the pristine, perfect, sanctified tongue it is portrayed to be" - using your knowledge of defective verbs, obsolete particles and lack of perfect active participle, comment on this statement? Compare the use of Chinese particles, particularly "ma", "ba" and "le", to that of Latin? Iulius Caesarne invented a particular form of "sum"? Hence deduce this formerly wanting form? Why did you pick St. John's college? (Profile 292)

[Computer Science] My first interview was very informal, he was tired and we just talked about where i was from, why i chose cambridge, extra-curricular activities and the odd thing off my personal statement. The second interview was based on fairly simple P2 maths... such as logs and sequences. I was then asked to spot a pattern and that was pretty much it. I was asked lots of questions which got progressively harder - which is apparently a very good thing.

log(base 2) of 8 = ? + some other equally unchallenging questions. Mathematical induction style qu. Logic/sequence spotting qu'. (Profile 87)

[Economics] In my first interview I was asked to talk about an area of Economics that I was interested in, and to explain an argument from an article I had been sent beforehand. I then had to do a logic question. In my second interview I had to answer all the usual 'Why Cambridge?', 'Why St. John's?', 'Why Economics?'. Then about what I read, what I do in my spare time, and how my friends would describe me. Finally I had to describe a mug! (Profile 185)

[Engineering] Got the 'set' question (a question which was sent out a week prior to interview; for students to solve and show and explain to the interviewers at interview) WRONG!! I was able to get it right after a few prompts however but the fact i got it wrong in the first place does show that they do allow for mistakes (Profile 1063)

[Law] First interview was with two Lawyers. Firstly they wanted to know why French and English were good subjects to prepare for he study of Law. I didn't know. After that we moved on to Law - who should get compensation for the Hillsborough disaster. I made a few comments, they built on that, and I made a few more inane remarks. Then we talked about land rights for natives - e.g. whether aborigines should be compensated for the land that was taken away from them. I went down the wrong track completely, but they took me back and sent me in the right direction. Again, more waffle. Finally they asked a question about the law of homicide, which was legal reasoning - no knowledge assumed. That one was probably the easiest of the three, but in all cases they led you into a trap - watch how they use your words in replying, and think before you speak. The personal interview wasn't informal, but was more relaxed. The tutor (Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic) asked me about why I wanted to do Law, and my future plans. I didn't actually have many so I waffled a bit more about how a Law degree is excellent for a wide range of careers, etc. We also talked about the hobbies I listed on my UCAS form, and my interest in languages, which was fine. We then moved on to some legal/political issues seen from a layman's point of view. I think I was asked what is the greatest injustice in the country at the moment - things like that. I was also very unlucky in that my interview was on the day which the Guardian chose to launch a legal attack on the laws of succession based on the HRA - my first priority that morning had not been to buy a newspaper, so I had to think very quickly. (Profile 232)

What advice do you have for potential applicants based on your experiences?

[Engineering] Become as confident and passionate about the subject. Read lots about it and make the interviewers centre about what YOU like within what you wish to read. Enjoy the time there and don't hide in your room all day revising. I looked at the computing departments website and found something interesting and wrote about that on the form.... but it didn't come up in the interview so it didn't do me any harm... (just make sure if u do this, you know what u wrote down and can expand on it in an interview!) (Profile 1063)

[Computer Science] Know your maths! Although it wasn't too difficult (for someone who's done further maths), if u only do normal maths then you might want to brush up on logs, series and proof by induction. (Profile 87)

[Law] Remember Law is very, very competitive. Try reading a few books beforehand, so that you have some idea of what you may be asked. "Learning the Law" by Brian Simpson was recommended to me, and it's worth skimming through. "How to do Things with Rules" is good as an introduction to legal reasoning.

Get lots of work experience, at courts and with lawyers - it's not difficult to organise. I would also suggest applying to some sort of pre-university taster course - many places run them (I think Nottingham does a weekend every January). I went on the Sutton Trust scheme, and spent a week in Cambridge in the July before applying. It was excellent - if you go to a state school, it's worth looking into. (Profile 232)