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Huili hosts Cambridge University annual admissions interviews

17 Dec 2019

Wellington College International Shanghai and Huili School Shanghai had the honour of hosting Cambridge University academics recently as they conducted their annual admissions interviews. In my role as Director of Higher Education and Careers I was involved in helping to coordinate the process in consultation with the international admissions team at Cambridge and key colleagues across the two sites. Overall, it was with pride, and an element of relief, that the whole process operated so smoothly and successfully. Despite having prepared students for Oxbridge applications for over 16 years, having the interviews on our site certainly gave me a new and valuable insight into the admissions process. I was left with a glimpse into the world of Cambridge interviews, which is far from the horror stories that you often hear in the press.

The academics from the University of Cambridge at Huili School Shanghai

Cambridge University is incredibly committed to its international admissions policies and is almost unique in the way that it sends a group of world-leading academics to carry out admissions interviews overseas. As an alternative to attending Cambridge itself, candidates can request an interview at key locations around the world such as Singapore, India (Mumbai), Canada (Toronto) and the United States (New York). As the only interview centre in the People’s Republic of China, candidates travelled from as far afield as Thailand, Australia, and Saudi Arabia to Huili School and Wellington College to attend the Cambridge admissions interviews.  There were also candidates from within the PRC itself. As Executive Master Gerard MacMahon wrote in the Huili Week Ahead recently, this provided pupils with an inspiring preview of where they might be in a few short years’ time: “Huili School Shanghai was honoured to be asked to host the interviews and pleased that we have been able to offer our facilities to the admissions team from Cambridge. I hope that seeing such a prestigious university in the school’s familiar surroundings will inspire our older (and our younger) pupils to aim for the world's best colleges when they leave Huili. We would like this to be the start of a long-term relationship with Cambridge University. The presence of Cambridge University at Huili for so many days reflects their desire to recruit the best students from international and bilingual schools in China.  Parents in China used to think that access to the world’s top universities meant going to schools abroad first.  The growth in world-class schools in China, like Wellington and Huili, has made that perception obsolete.  Huili pupils will be able to progress to the best colleges, and they will return to China, or to Chinese businesses, with much stronger written, spoken and academic Chinese than compatriots who went to England or America at 11, 13 or 16. They will be just as successful at university, but better prepared to lead commercially, socially, culturally and politically in China." Overall, a team of seven interviewers operated over the two sites from Monday to Thursday, with over 100 pupils being seen on most days. A handful of candidates knew the interview sites better than most. Four of Wellington’s year 13 pupils had applied to study at Cambridge and they were all successful in gaining an interview. They took a 30-minute interview with an academic eager to uncover their skills in the relevant subject area.

There are many myths surrounding Cambridge Interviews. One common misconception about this process is that there is a set quota for each international location. Although these interviews take place in regional hubs, the admissions process for Cambridge and most UK universities is not assessed in regional pools. The outcomes of the interviews are combined with all other relevant data (assessment test results, predicted IB grades etc.) and compared to the candidates who are being interviewed in Cambridge. Therefore, there is no preferential treatment given to someone merely because they are applying from a UK school – regardless of the subject. Another common misconception involves the interview itself. Some people would have you believe that all interviews take place with an academic who aggressively interrogates the candidates or who spends the whole time ‘standing on their head’. The reality is very different from this rather grim perception. Each interviewer’s sole purpose throughout the week was to assess the candidate’s aptitude for studying their subject and their suitability for studying within the Cambridge supervision system (where learning takes places with an academic in small tutorial groups). Esther, a Wellington applicant for natural sciences summed it up nicely by stating that:“… rather than a serious interview, it felt more like a one-to-one learning session with the professor. The fact that the interview also happened in my school made it feel like merely an extension of my ordinary science classes.” As the interviews ended and the academics made plans to return to Cambridge, I was able to reflect on the privilege of seeing the interview process take place from such an intimate perspective. As well as making me appreciate the work that goes into such an enterprise, I also gained a new respect for the interviewers themselves. The positive enthusiasm with which the academics approached every interview was truly remarkable. They were genuinely willing each candidate to do well. This is no mean feat when they were conducting interviews from 9am to 5:30pm each day. Their genuine commitment to international admissions and to academic learning in general was truly inspirational. I, for one, look forward to hosting them once again in 12 months’ time. Mr. Steve Tippen will be hosting Wellington’s annual Introduction to Higher Education on 16th January. Look out for the update in the upcoming Huili Weekly Ahead as the event will also welcome the Huili parents.