The Winter Pool or inter-College Pool is an important part of the undergraduate application process for Cambridge University in England, intended to ensure that the best applicants are offered places if they are not selected by the college to which they applied. Just under 20% of undergraduate places are awarded through the Pool.
Any strong applicant who cannot be offered a place by their first choice college will be placed in the Pool and other colleges will be recommended to consider them. All applicants, except those for Mathematics and Medicine, who meet a minimum academic standard of an average of 93% or more across their three best subjects at AS level will be automatically pooled even if they did not perform well at interview.
Applicants in the Pool are graded according to four criteria:
- A — strongly recommended
- B — looked weaker on paper but impressed at interview
- P — very good on paper but less impressive at interview (this is the default for automatically pooled applicants)
- S — in special need of reassessment
The Pool takes place over two days in early January. Pooled applicants who are "fished" by a college may be offered a place immediately or they may be invited for interview.
Each year about 3,000 applicants receive offers from their preference college and a further 600 to 700 applicants are made an offer by another college through the Pool. On average one in five applicants is pooled and around one in four pooled applicants receives an offer of a place.
Statistics released by the University show that some of the more popular and oversubscribed colleges such as Clare College, Pembroke College, King's College and Trinity College rarely take applicants from the Pool while others such as Girton College, Murray Edwards College (New Hall) and Newnham College draw a substantial proportion of their undergraduate intake from the Pool. The Pool thus provides a means of transferring strong applicants from oversubscribed colleges to undersubscribed ones.