Cambridge HSPS: Tips & Questions for Interview

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This article guides candidates on how to best prepare for the Cambridge Human, Social, and Political Sciences interview, with guides on past HSPS Cambridge interview questions, interview tips, mock examples and real experiences from students who have sat the Cambridge HSPS panel interview.

This article has been made from a collection of accounts from Oxbridge applicants.

Cambridge interview questions HSPS

The Cambridge University Youtube channel has a video in which various successful applicants share their advice and experience, including a Human Social and Political Sciences Cambridge student talking about how to answer Cambridge HSPS interview questions. This may be useful to watch, to get an idea of what to expect at interviews:

What is the Cambridge Human, Social, and Political Sciences interview structure?

At Cambridge, each college organises its own interviews for HSPS, so there is not a universal structure that the interview process will follow and there will likely be different HSPS Cambridge interview questions. It is most likely that candidates will have to submit a short piece of written work in advance of the interview (which they will be informed of in their invitation to interview). This will not be assessed in itself, but is simply to be used as the basis for discussion during the interview. It is also highly likely that they will meet interviews from multiple of the subjects offered in the range of HSPS. 

To find out about the interview arrangements at a particular college, candidates can see that college’s website, where they will detail how their admissions process for HSPS works. 

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What are the Cambridge Human, Social, and Political Sciences interview dates?

Majority of HSPS interviews at Cambridge will take place sometime in the first 3 weeks of December. The exact dates of the interview will depend on the college that candidates are interviewed at. They will be informed of the dates of their interview when they receive an invite to interview, but once again, they can check colleges’ websites to see what dates they will be holding HSPS interviews.

Some of the HSPS interviews will take place virtually this year, though specific information will be emailed to successful applicants. One exception is Trinity College, for which all applicants based in the UK will be interviewed in-person.

Example HSPS Cambridge interview questions

General Cambridge HSPS interview questions:

  • What interests you the most about HSPS?
  • Is there any particular reason you applied to study at Cambridge?
  • Why have you applied for HSPS at Cambridge specifically?
  • Questions based around content in your personal statement, such as books you mentioned, or concepts you stated your interest in.

Specific Cambridge HSPS interview questions

  • Privacy: Do you believe there is a tradeoff between privacy and security?
  • Time in office: Should we limit the amount of time an elected leader can serve in office?
  • Questions concerning current affairs – such as asking you to talk about a current affair you find particularly interesting, or one that tells us about a certain aspect of the world
  • Free speech: What, do you believe, is the greatest threat to free speech in Britain today?
  • Voting: Do you think the voting age should be lowered to 16? Why do you think we see lower numbers of young people voting compared to older generations?
  • Religion: Should religion have a role in the state?
  • Freedom: How would you define freedom?
  • Humanity: What makes someone a human?
HSPS Cambridge interview questions

Further Cambridge interview questions HSPS:

  • Nature vs. nurture: Do you have an opinion on the nature vs. nurture debate? How would you justify your view?
  • Questions based around pre-interview reading – they may give you a short piece to read in the 10 minutes before your interview, and then lead discussion based on the reading.
  • Aliens: An alien has come to visit Earth, and you are tasked with explaining human culture to them. How would you do this?
  • Democracy: Does democracy allow for the majority to impose its will on the minority?
  • Language: Do you think that social interaction is important to language acquisition?
  • Politicians: Why should we have politicians running the country, rather than the CEO of Apple?
  • Elgin marbles: What do you know about the debate surrounding the repatriation of the Elgin marbles? What is your opinion on the issue?
  • Questions where they show you an image (such as an image of indigenous people next to a highway) and ask you what it tells you about the world.
  • Museums: Do you think it is good for a museum to be free? Should this be the standard?
  • Christmas: What is Christmas?
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Insider Guides: Cambridge Human, Social, and Political Sciences Interview

What happens on the day of your Cambridge HSPS interview? 

My interviews were in person – yours may be online, but much of our experience will be the same. I had two HSPS interviews, 30 minutes each, in different parts of the college. These interviews were back to back. 

The first interview was with two sociology academics, the other with politics and anthropology professors. There was a small gap between the interviews, which gave me enough time to get to the second interview on time. I arrived at the college at about 10am and finished by 11.30am. The process was very quick with not much waiting.

What do you have to bring to your Cambridge HSPS interview?

I didn’t bring anything with me. And there was no dress code – when they say they don’t mind what you wear, they really don’t mind! If your interviews are online, then definitely have a pen and some paper handy, in case you want to make notes or think anything through on paper.

What is the interview setting and how long is it?

One of my interviews was in a meeting room, and the other was in an office. Both in very old parts of the college, so wood panels and big arched windows. They were 30 minutes each.

Cambridge HSPS interview questions

What are the Cambridge HSPS interviewers like? 

The HSPS interviewers were friendly to begin with. They made sure I felt comfortable, and made an effort to ease my nerves initially. However, once the interview started they were quite cold and serious. They were not afraid to challenge everything that I said, pushing each answer I gave, to see how well I could defend my views. They did not have a generic list of HSPS Cambridge interview questions at all! The discussion was very much based around what I had said, with them asking lots of follow up questions off of my previous answers.

What are the best tips for planning my trip for my Cambridge HSPS Interview?

I would give yourself lots of time before and after the interview to prepare and relax. If your interviews are in person, you can even try to go to Cambridge the day before ,and try to stay in college if you can. I would make sure to have a print out of your personal statement on hand, as well as any notes you have made to prepare. In particular, make sure you have made notes on readings that you mentioned in your personal statement, so that you can easily revise this information. During the interview, perhaps bring a water-bottle and wear a watch. I would wear clothes you feel confident and comfortable in like jeans and a jumper.

Are there any academic or challenging HSPS interview questions at the Cambridge Interview?

All of the Cambridge interview questions HSPS ones were very tough. My big tip would be to make sure you think about your answer before you speak. Even repeat the question to give yourself more thinking time, and to make sure you are clear on what is being asked. I would try to draw on real-world examples that you know about. If you ground your answer in examples, then it will help to guide your thinking and give a better answer. If the questions are very challenging this means that you are probably doing well – so don’t panic!

Are there any personality, work experience or extracurricular based HSPS questions at the Cambridge Interview? 

I was not asked about personality, work experience, or extracurriculars. I was asked a lot of questions about my personal statement in my Cambridge HSPS interviews – most of the questions I was asked were based on things I had mentioned in my personal statement. The first interview asked about the first half of my personal statement. The second interview asked about the second half. In my personal statement I had talked about ideas of networks and hierarchies, nationalism and class and empires. They asked initial questions about my personal statement, and then follow-up questions depending on what I had said. 

Although the questions were based around content from my personal statement, I feel as though they were keen to get away from the exact contents – to try and ask questions you had not pre-prepared to answer. I had considered answers to some of the initial questions they asked, but the later questioning often took me by surprise.

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Top Tips for the Cambridge HSPS Interview

  1. Make sure to review your personal statement! See if you have expressed any opinions within it, and make sure you can defend these. Also, think about how someone may argue against you – try to understand both sides of the argument.
  2. Also, make sure you can define any key words or phrases such as ‘the foundations of culture’ or ’emetic’ that you have mentioned within your personal statement for HSPS.
  3. Make a summary of the arguments in any of the books or articles you have talked about within your personal statement – they will ask you about these!
  4. Read widely – try to read as much as possible in relation to HSPS. Look for reading that will give you easy and adaptable examples to use in the interview. 
  5. Listen to the news everyday – this is very important, as it will give you examples to talk about in the interview, and shows your continued engagement and interest in the subject.

Top Tips for the “Why Cambridge” interview question

  1. You should think about the HSPS course in particular at Cambridge – why do you want to study HSPS at Cambridge University specifically? Is it because of a certain module/option that is offered as part of the course? Is it because of certain academics who inspire you who are based in Cambridge? Research HSPS at Cambridge and find aspects of the course that genuinely appeal to you, and are reasons why you want to study there.
  2. Of course, you also want to consider the university itself – why do you want to study at Cambridge? There are many unique or rare things about the university, such as the supervision/tutorial system, the collegiate system, and the long and rich history of both the university and the city. You should think about why you believe you would thrive as a student at the university, both academically and personally.

My Favourite Things about Studying HSPS at Cambridge University

I love the people. There are so many interesting and different people who all love talking about ideas and their subjects. It is amazing to be surrounded by people who all have different specialties, but all share their passion for their subject and drive to excel in their degrees.

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