The Student Room Group

A guide to pooling at Cambridge

Hello everyone! We get a lot of questions on here about the winter pool, the summer pool, and compulsory pooling. This post is designed to help applicants understand these terms.

The Winter Pool
The Winter Pool occurs after interviews and before decisions are released, in early January. The aim of the winter pool is to ensure that capable applicants are given a place regardless of the college they applied to.

The Process
After a college has completed its interviews for a subject, they need to make decisions. Applicants will either be accepted, rejected or pooled. When the winter pool takes place, colleges with remaining spaces will consider all pooled applicants and write a preference list for the applicants in the pool. Colleges then take turns 'fishing' applicants from the pool until colleges have filled their spaces for that subject. In a few cases each year, pooled applicants will be re-interviewed (in 2020, around 4,000 applicants were pooled and 89 were re-interviewed, with 34 of these receiving offers). Candidates are usually only re-interviewed if exceptional circumstances affected their first interview. You will not find out if you were pooled until decision day.

Compulsory Pooling
Some applicants meet the criteria for compulsory pooling and therefore have to be pooled. This started when all students sat AS levels, and so every candidate was eligible for compulsory pooling. When AS levels were no longer required, this criterion was dropped and there are now only two criteria for compulsory pooling:
1. For overseas applicants, a score of 8 or more in both interviews
2. For applicants who have already sat their A levels (or equivalent), results of A*A*A* (for details see the table here)

The Summer Pool
The summer pool takes place after A-level results day. Candidates who narrowly missed their offer and cannot be offered a place by their original college are put up for consideration by other colleges. If you have met the standard offer for your course you are very likely to be summer pooled. Candidates applying via adjustment are considered alongside these applications.

The summer pool is most important for Maths, where many students miss their STEP offers.
(edited 1 year ago)
Re Winter Pool, is it true that Director of Studies of various Colleges will get together to discuss applicants and therefore negotiate/recommend applicants to be pooled? Do offers get decided my Master of Colleges or is this role purely operational and therefore do not get involved in Admission decisions?
Original post by BubblesBB
Re Winter Pool, is it true that Director of Studies of various Colleges will get together to discuss applicants and therefore negotiate/recommend applicants to be pooled? Do offers get decided my Master of Colleges or is this role purely operational and therefore do not get involved in Admission decisions?

The director of studies is not (necessarily) the master/mistress/president/etc of the college. They are separate roles, and there is a DoS for each subject normally I think. Of course I suppose the master/etc of a college may also be a DoS and/or involved in admissions, although given the requirements of that role I suspect this might be less typical.

@Peterhouse Admissions might be able to give some insight into the internal structure of colleges and the admissions decisions. Although I don't think it really has much bearing on the outcome in any case :smile:
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by BubblesBB
Re Winter Pool, is it true that Director of Studies of various Colleges will get together to discuss applicants and therefore negotiate/recommend applicants to be pooled? Do offers get decided my Master of Colleges or is this role purely operational and therefore do not get involved in Admission decisions?


I expect DoSes will probably discuss applicant ability in general to inform their decisions but it's probably not a formal process, and I'd guess they don't discuss specific applicants but who knows. The college master(/mistress/president/provost) doesn't make admissions decisions, it's the director of admissions who gets the final say, though I expect they almost always defer to the judgement of the director of studies.
Hi there!

Sorry it's taken me so long to get to this.

Heads of House (Masters, Presidents, Mistresses, Wardens, Provosts - there's a lot of words for the same job!) don't get involved in Admissions decisions. Who to take from the Pool is a decision made by the Admissions Tutor and Director(s) of Studies. The way it usually works is that, depending on how many students the college is looking for and how big the pool is, the Director(s) of Studies and any Fellows helping them will spend anything up to a couple of days reading files of applicants who are in the Pool. Then before the poolside meeting, the Director of Studies and the Admissions Tutor will discuss the list. The Admissions Tutor will often be able to provide a steer (e.g. how the college is doing for numbers overall or in sciences vs arts, which might have an impact on how many offers they can make in a particular subject) and provide advice.

Groups of Directors of Studies might discuss Pool files together. Some might be looking for fewer students than others and might therefore recommend some to colleagues, if they know they won't have space ot make an offer. If they are looking for the same characteristics (some colleges might place more emphasis on certain parts of the application), then this porcess can work really well. Some Directors of Studies prefer to work alone, only speaking to colleagues when they have a question about a file. It's really just a question of preferred practice.

Hope this helps!
Reply 5
thanks for this info! i see on wikipedia (and a post by @Peterhouse Admissions last year) that if you have a pre interview test compulsory pooling no longer is a thing -- does compulsory pooling exist for english then? it didn't for 2022 but considering the ELAT has changed to the CELAT I'm not so sure.

thank you for your help :smile:
Will the compulsory pooling criteria be applicable for 2023 entry?
Original post by atd59
thanks for this info! i see on wikipedia (and a post by @Peterhouse Admissions last year) that if you have a pre interview test compulsory pooling no longer is a thing -- does compulsory pooling exist for english then? it didn't for 2022 but considering the ELAT has changed to the CELAT I'm not so sure.

thank you for your help :smile:

Hi there! Yes, compulsory pooling criteria will apply to English this year.
Original post by Peterhouse Admissions
Hi there! Yes, compulsory pooling criteria will apply to English this year.

@Peterhouse Admissions For subjects where some colleges require a test and others don’t (history with the HAA for example), is the compulsory pooling criteria applied to students who applied to colleges that don’t offer the test? Thank you!
Original post by Anonymous
@Peterhouse Admissions For subjects where some colleges require a test and others don’t (history with the HAA for example), is the compulsory pooling criteria applied to students who applied to colleges that don’t offer the test? Thank you!

Hi there! Compulsory pooling criteria apply to all subjects which have a Cambridge college-registered assessment or no assessment, except for Maths. History is covered by this, so compulsory pooling criteria apply to all history applicants, regardless of whether they've taken the HAA.
Original post by Peterhouse Admissions
Hi there! Yes, compulsory pooling criteria will apply to English this year.

Hi @Peterhouse Admissions Does compulsory pooling criteria apply to English this year too? Specifically for a post qualifications student with 3 A*s? Thank you!! 🙂

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