Applying to Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Trinity College, University of Cambridge, was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, when he combined two existing colleges (King’s Hall and Michaelhouse) and seven hostels (Catherine’s, Garratt, Gregory’s, Ovyng’s, Physwick, St Margaret’s, and Tyler’s). Since then, Trinity has flourished and grown, and is now a home to around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 Fellows.

If you are interested in applying to be a student at Trinity, visit Study at Trinity, where you can find information about the admissions process (for both Prospective Undergraduates and Prospective Graduates).

Before we jump into tips across all courses at Trinity, we wanted to highlight one intrepid applicant, who was kind enough to share a very detailed account of their Economics interview: 

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

Oxford did not offer straight Economics. That was the main reason really, I have no problem with Oxford and was considering applying to Merton for a bit. Also my Head of Sixth Form said that I would be "better suited to Cambridge." (Profile 01)

I like the city of Cambridge more than I like Oxford. It's smaller, everything's close together and everything's really beautiful. Besides, Oxford only offered PPE or E&M and I wanted to do Economics; anything else means you only get to do the basic modules (ie Macro/Micro and maybe a bit more) and I really wanted to do the more interesting stuff we get to in 3rd year. (Profile 189)

I changed my mind several times but eventually the location of Cambridge (it's slightly closer to where I live) and the more varied options in the third year of the course persuaded me. Also, Cambridge interview a higher proportion of candidates. (Profile 247)

The Cambridge maths tripos generally seems to be faster and more advanced than the Oxford maths course. I also prefer Cambridge location-wise, due to its smaller size. (Profile 339)

I took to Cam; better reputation, nicer surroundings. I thought that because of my dodgy GCSEs i would have a better chance at Cam, because they wouldnt REALLY look at my potential rather than grades (which i was sure that Oxford would do) (Profile 365)

Why did you choose Trinity College?

I had several criteria in mind for a college - central, old, big, pretty - and there were several colleges that I liked. However, when I went to the General Open Day, I felt I had the friendliest reception at Trinity, and decided to go for it. (Profile 247)

Well it was one of the few that did not require a Thinking Skills Assessment or written work. The history surrounding the college also greatly appealed to me...Newton, Byron, Marvell, Nehru...what more could one look for?! Also, Trinity admits a large number of students (around 15) for Economics. Students in the past have performed very well there, and I saw that as a reflection of the College's high standards. (Profile 01)

I wanted to be at a big college, and Trinity takes lots of mathematicians. Also a very beautiful and grand college. (Profile 339)

I first decided that I wanted to go for one of the older colleges in town, mostly because I love the architecture there, and then I got the impression that Trinity was the most famous of those, and very beautiful indeed, so I went for there. (Profile 624)

Largest college (size matters). Very impressive, beautiful buildings. Rich (although I didn't know this at the time...). (Profile 235)

What was your general impression of Trinity College and any other colleges you visited?

Trinity: big, grand, beautiful, friendly. 

Fitzwilliam: More modern, lovely chapel, friendly students but it wasn't for me.

Newnham: lovely grounds & nice atmosphere.

I saw lots of other colleges, but these ones I actually officially visited. For me, the best way to find out what colleges I liked was to run round madly at a general open day. I went for Trinity because the people I met there were friendly. (Profile 247)

Grand. Spacious. Impressive. Go visit them yourself, you can't really describe Cambridge colleges in a few lines of text. (Profile 339)

Trinity seemed to be the most beautiful and impressive college. Some others had really nice aspects, often very beautiful too, but Trinity won for me at the end, lthough I did initially have a tough time choosing from my college "shortlist". (Profile 235)

It felt like really grandiose place, especially in daylight. Everybody I met seemed nice and friendly. (Profile 624)

Trinity is grand, and Cambridge itself has a very good student atmosphere. (Profile 503)

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: Rooms vary enormously, but are seemingly bigger and better than at other universities; speaking from personal experience, since I have seen rooms in Nottingham, London, Leicester and some others. Some is in new halls, some in medieval buildings. All rooms (I think) will have a wash basin, some have fridges, all have access to cooking facilities that are half decent. Showers and baths generally shared between 5 or so people, but there are also en-suite rooms. At Trinity, college accommodation is guaranteed for the entire duration of your course, and is among the cheapest in Cambridge.

- Food: Good. I don't eat in hall (except the social gatherings that are formal halls) as I like cooking and cater for myself. (Profile 235)

- Accommodation: I was provided accommodation by the college. The bedsit I had seemed okay.

- Food: I actually thought it was quite good. Many people I spoke to said that Trinity's food is generally not so good, but that was not my impression from the food in the days of my interview. (Profile 624)

- Accommodation: The accommodation is basic, but ample. Good-sized desk (could be useful!). The room I stayed in has a shared bathroom, but I believe an en-suite is available. (Profile 503)

- Food: It was okay, I guess, not as nice as the food they provided at the Open Day though! Although, I felt sick with nerves this time, so maybe I can't judge. (Profile 1051)

- Accommodation: Seemed similar to accommodation in halls in other universities. 4/5 individual rooms on a floor, with shared kitchen, bathroom, toilet. Room had a sink, bed (seemed uncomfortable), desk, seating...

- Food: Edible but not great. Runs on ticket system. Ticket for 3 course meal, orange juice counts as a course. (Profile 95)

Any thoughts on the tutors/students at Trinity College?

- Tutors: Friendly and seemed keen to meet me and find out what I knew, rather than what I didn't know.

- Students: I didn't really meet many of the college students, but the other applicants I talked to were all approachable, normal people. (Profile 247)

- Tutors: Well, I only met my two interviewers and then only during the interview, but my impression from there was that they were nice and friendly people.

- Students: Just like any all other university students, I guess. None of the stereotypes I've heard about Trinity students proved true. (Profile 624)

- Tutors: Well, I only met one, my interviewer! e seemed like a real thinker and I remember saying to myself, I wish I could have him teaching me. 

- Students: Very academic, seemed a bit like me! (Profile 01)

- Tutors: Generally very helpful, some really go out of their way to assist you.

- Students: Didn't see any at the time of my interview, but now I'm here, we are great! (Profile 235)

- Tutors: They put me at ease and were very friendly. They even offered me tea and cake when I came in (but I declined)!!

- Students: Helpful, friendly, everything they should be. (Profile 503)

How was your interview, in general?

[Economics] I had two interviews for Economics. The first one involved reading and analysing an article which I received an hour prior to my interview. The article was largely concerned with an analysis of the impact of price listing websites e.g. Kelkoo on consumption patterns. The article contained a screen shot of a list of prices and a graph. Although no prior knowledge was assumed, the questions did give you the opportunity to use any economic knowledge that you might have had. 

However, the questions that my interviewer posed were very searching. One of the questions I was initially asked was "What factors do you think influence consumption patterns?" I began by listing the typical factors which affect demand e.g. income, tastes and fashions and the prices of substitute and complementary goods. However, my interviewer, a PhD student, did not appear particularly interested and so I decided to move away from the mundane and discuss some other factors that perhaps would not appear on the first page of a textbook. At this point I received several vigorous nods. At numerous points, my interviewer threw maths questions at me which were related to the article, but which required a more novel approach. I was asked at one point "How much do you think that consumers would save by using such websites?" My initial response was "200 pounds", since this was the difference between the highest and lowest prices listed. I argued that consumers, who would now have access to such websites, would be aware of the high prices that some firms placed upon identical products. I went on to say that price-listing websites would provide consumers with greater knowledge, thereby helping to reduced market imperfections. However, I also stated that perhaps the figure consumers could save would be even higher since they would no longer have to pay for transport, e.g. from the high street shop to their home, and would instead be able to carry out their purchases online. This led my interviewer to comment very favourably, which set an enormous grin on my face!!

I was then asked a question about whether or not I felt it would be correct to state that the existence of such websites led to greater competition in the market. I replied in the negative, citing the article which stated that only 7% of consumers used such websites. I commented that 93% of the market either had no access to such websites or were not interested in using them. By the end of the interview, my interviewer was grinning like a Cheshire Cat, and appeared pleased!!

The interview concluded with an opportunity for me to ask questions. I declined. However, there was a VERY embarrassing final moment, when I failed miserably to open the door, and succeeded in locking myself in!! Nonetheless, I was very pleased and I remember being quite dazed.

However, my second interviewer had something nasty in store for me. This supposedly general interview was with one of the teaching Fellows at the College. He was young-ish. This interview was an utter nightmare, mainly because the interviewer chose to grill me for the full 25 minutes. No questions were asked about my personal statement. I had anticipated a discussion on general economic issues, as Trinity had informed me before hand that this was to be the case. However, my interview was far more technical. I'm not sure why this was, but it could have been because I had specified I was doing AEA Economics on my UCAS form and my interviewer wanted to stretch me. I was first asked "Why Economics?", a question I had anticipated would come up and consequently had prepared a good answer for. This was followed by some questions relating to efficiency and equity, the main microeconomic objectives of the government.

We then went on to discuss whether government intervention was beneficial in the economy. He asked me to cite examples. I decided to talk about whether it would be beneficial to split up a natural monopoly, e.g. coal company owned and operated by the government, given that productive efficiency would not be achieved since a natural monopoly would already be producing at the lowest point on its Long Run Average Cost Curve. In the vast majority of the questions he posed, however, my interviewer seemed far more interested in the "how and why" rather than he what. He asked me what I thought were the main reasons for the market failure caused by monopolies. I replied that I thought it was mainly a problem of information, but he didn't let me stop there, replying "a problem of information on the part of whom?", a rather tricky question since under pressure one may be tempted to say "consumers", when in fact the problem lies, I think, with the government as it possesses inadequate knowledge about consumer tastes. It would therefore fail to achieve allocative efficiency. 

There was also quite an in-depth discussion on the theory of the firm (price/profit maximization, the goals of firms, divorce of ownership from control - manager and behavioural theories - William Baumol). We then moved on to discuss the US current account and fiscal deficits. However rather than allowing me to regurgitate information I might have heard on TV or read in a text book, he proceeded to ask a number of strange questions: "You have just stated that a fiscal deficit is undesirable because it is unsustainable, but people often take loans to finance their education, thereby creating a deficit for themselves; why is that not considered to be a negative thing?" I was stumped here, and proceeded to give a very daft answer "If a person obtains a good university education, then they can get a good job and pay back the deficits that they have created for themselves." This was a VERY stupid thing to say, especially since the interviewer seemed to want to stifle a laugh. (In hindsight I should have seized the opportunity to talk about the importance of savings, consumption and expenditure in the economy.) He then stated that my theory would collapse if he were to cite another example. However, I retorted emphatically, citing my own examples. Strangely, here my interviewer seemed pleased.

The final part of my interview concerned a discussion on externalities. I got the distinct feeling, however, that at this time, he had already reached his decision about me, but didn't want to send me out early in case I took that as a sign of failure and burst into tears. (Profile 01)

What Questions Were Asked During Your Interview?

[Mathematics] Graph sketching, relationships between primes and other number, integrating things like 1/(1-lnx) (Profile 511)

[Medicine] Something about hyperventilating affecting the pH of blood, I was asked to give proof of semi-conservative replication of DNA in an experiment, whose results were drawn out for me by my interviewer. Another question on bacteria and a bowl of soup (sort of weird). Something about furry animals on islands in the pacific, and how would I investigate if there was any relationship between them, and how they might have got from one island to another.(the other weird question). Then my next interviewer asked me something on membranes and the passage of substances across, and an experiment to measure the speed of transmission of nervous impulses along a nerve. Then I was asked something about the HIV virus, in response to something I wrote in my personal statement. Throughout all of this I was actually very much at ease(which surprised me and continues to do so, especially because I was worried they might not understand my accent, but they did), the interviewers were very nice and actually guided me along and got me out if I got a little blank. It was invigorating when it was all over. (Profile 350)

[Medicine] I see you've written a paper on xxx (in my personal statement), tell me more about it. What ways do we have of looking inside the body? (I waffle incoherently so she moves on). Here's a graph of rates of two forms of an illness in a certain area. Describe them. How would you tell if this point was significant? (More incoherent waffling). Why might the rate of this form have increased while the other stays constant? How would you test this? What genetic diseases can you name? What would be the chances of you getting xxxx if your dad had it? Here's a drawing of a microbe, what's this? What does it need it for? When someone's hyperventilating, what do you get them to do? Why? What would happen to blood pH then? Asked to describe the experiment which proves that DNA replicates semi-conservatively. If you were an explorer and you found the same animal on two islands, what might you conclude? Any questions you would like to ask us? (Profile 247)

Do you have any advice for future applicants in terms of preparation?

[Mathematics] I think it is a good idea to rather focus on get an idea on how to solve all the questions on the test, rather than write out perfect solutions to a few of them. The reason being, that unless you really mess up the questions you think you have solved on the test, you'll be asked on the questions you didn't solve. And, no matter how nervous you are during the test, you'll be much more nervous during the actual interview (okay, that might be too broad a generalisation to make, it depends on what kind of person you are I guess, but at least it was so for me), so it will be much harder to think properly during the interview, and thus it will be better if you have at least looked through the question during the test when your mind was reasonably clear. Just my two cents! (Profile 624)

[Mathematics] Make sure you're comfortable with the applications procedure, it makes everything easier if you know what you've got to do when. Also, interview-wise, practice a bit of maths (STEP, AEA, whatever) in the few days before, to get your brain into gear. (Profile 339)

[Medicine] Pay attention in year 12 - make sure you know your AS syllabuses inside out. Look up what the BMAT involves and have a little practice before you take it. Also, before the BMAT I think it's advisable to get a GCSE science revision guide covering all the exam boards, because there are topics included in one course but not in others, etc. (Profile 247)

[Mathematics] Practise doing tests and talking someone through it. This can be daunting so the more practise the better!! If you come across something you haven't covered in school; tell them. They won't expect you to know everything! (Profile 503)