Student Blog

Picked from the pool

12 Feb 2015 | Kayla | Admissions

(Note: The pooling system at Cambridge now works a little differently – most students who have been pooled will now know whether they are being made an offer or invited for additional interviews when the first decision letters are sent in January, rather than having to wait a little longer to find out. See the dates and deadlines page. However, we thought Kayla’s account of the process was a great read, and we’d definitely agree with her points about not worrying!)

When I opened my letter from Cambridge, I was fervently hoping for a ‘yes’, and definitely expecting a ‘no’; what I forgot about is the third option – maybe. The letter that I received told me that I’d been pooled.

Being pooled is a quirk of the college system – it means that the College that interviewed you thought that you were ‘Cambridge material’, but they weren’t able to offer you a place themselves because they were so oversubscribed with great applicants that year. I heard nothing for over a week after getting my initial letter telling me I’d been pooled, and so I was sure that meant I wasn’t going to be fished out.

One week and four days after my letter came, my mother picked up the phone, went absolutely white, and threw the phone at me hissing “It’s Cambridge, it’s Cambridge!” I was completely stunned and all I could think was that I had better sound clever, otherwise they might not take me. (I was later assured that that was a ridiculous thing to think). A very friendly voice told me that I was being offered a place to read English at Downing College. I couldn’t remember hearing about that college at all, and was so shocked I couldn’t say anything other than “Oh. Thanks,” but more than anything I was relieved the waiting was over.

Downing as a College was incredibly supportive and were keen to make sure that I was just as happy as if I’d applied there first. Kate Flint, the delightful Admissions Officer, was helpful via email, and even offered to show me around the college before I came. I would recommend that anyone who’s been pooled goes to visit their college well before starting – otherwise you feel a bit like you’re going on a blind date for three or four years!

When I visited Downing I fell in love with it, although to be honest it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with most colleges; it sounds clichéd, but all of them are beautiful (or at least interesting-looking) and welcoming. However the most reassuring aspect of my visit was talking to Kate. What most pooled applicants don’t realise is that if a college is under no obligation to take the students who apply directly to them. If they prefer, they can go fishing in the pool to check out strong applicants from other Colleges before making their offers. In my subject in my year, I was one of two applicants made an offer from the pool by Downing.  The important thing to understand about being pooled is that it doesn’t mean that you were inferior or second choice, and having that explained to me reassured me and made me a lot less nervous about starting at Cambridge.

My advice to anyone pooled is to stay calm, research your college, and definitely go and visit if you can! And, of course, remember that being pooled means that you were hand-picked, not second choice.



I'm Kayla, I'm in my final year studying English, and am originally from London. I did A-Levels in English, German, and Theatre Studies, and have continued doing theatre at Cambridge, as well as getting involved with loads of other societies.