Please note that admissions to the University are handled by the Colleges. This information is taken from the University's Undergraduate Prospectus and offers a guide to the typical requirements for Natural Sciences at Cambridge. You should also refer to individual College websites for any specific requirements and subject preferences, and contact College admissions offices for further advice.
In the following, 'science/mathematics subjects' refers to Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics. It does not include Psychology.
What are the best A Levels to take? What about other qualifications?
Number of subjects
You must have at least two science/mathematics A Levels (or equivalent) and you will find it helpful to have a strong knowledge base across a wide range of science and mathematics subjects. Most applicants have at least three of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics to A Level (some Colleges require this, see College websites for details).
If you have only two science/mathematics A Levels (or equivalent), your choice of Part IA subject options will be restricted. In these circumstances, you will normally be expected to achieve the A* grade in one of the two science/mathematics subjects.
Taking an additional AS Level would be encouraged and may strengthen your application, as well as increase the choice of subjects you would be able to study. The more useful combinations are:
- A Level Biology, A Level Chemistry1 and AS Mathematics or Physics
- A Level Chemistry1, A Level Mathematics2 and AS Physics
- A Level Physics, A Level Mathematics2 and AS Further Mathematics
1 A Level Chemistry will enable a greater choice of biological subjects in the second and third years.
2 A Level Mathematics is generally required for the study of physical sciences.
Which subjects are required?
The specific subject requirements will depend a lot on which subjects you wish to study as many of the first-year (Part IA) options require particular preparation.
- Biology of Cells - Highly desirable: A Level Chemistry; Useful: A Level Biology.
- Chemistry - Essential: A Level Chemistry (A Level Mathematics is also essential to continue to Chemistry A in Part IB); Highly desirable: AS/A Level Mathematics.
- Computer Science - Essential: A Level Mathematics; Useful: AS/A Level Further Mathematics and/or Physics. No previous subject knowledge is necessary but some understanding of programming may be helpful.
- Earth Sciences - No previous subject knowledge is necessary.
- Evolution and Behaviour - Highly desirable: A Level Biology.
- Materials Science - Highly desirable: A Level Mathematics and either Chemistry or Physics. No previous subject knowledge is necessary.
- Physics - Essential: A Level Mathematics, and either Physics or Further Mathematics (with three units of mechanics); Useful: AS/A Level Further Mathematics.
- Physiology of Organisms - Useful: AS/A Level Biology and/or Physics.
- Mathematics - Essential: A Level Mathematics.
- Mathematical Biology - Essential: A Level Mathematics.
- Elementary Mathematics for Biologists - Essential: GCSE Mathematics.
Please note that Biology of Cells, Earth Sciences, Evolution and Behaviour, Physiology of Organisms, and Elementary Mathematics for Biologists do not require any specific A Level subjects.
The A Level subject advice above also applies to the IB. Standard Level subjects are broadly comparable to AS Levels, and Higher Level subjects are broadly comparable to A Levels.
If you are taking other qualifications (eg Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers, Access to HE Diploma), please refer to the Undergraduate Study website (http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/requirements/) and consult a College Admissions Tutor for further advice.
Are any of the Colleges better for Natural Sciences?
The short answer is no.
The University (through its faculties and departments) determines course content and all students on the same course, regardless of their College, attend the same lectures, seminars and practicals, and sit the same exams. Therefore, it is not that case that some College are better for particular courses - the differences that do exist between the Colleges lie in the ambiance rather than the educational opportunities.
All Cambridge Colleges accept applications for Natural Sciences and the Colleges are more similar than they are different. You can find guidance on how to choose (and how not to choose) a College on the Undergraduate Study website at: http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/colleges/choosing.html.
After a bit of research, we suggest that you try to visit some Colleges (on an open day or informally at another time) so you can see for yourself what it might be like to live and study there - remember, you'll be here for three years at least! Try and speak to a Director of Studies or a Tutor to find out what the College can offer you in particular.
Please direct any admissions enquiries to your preferred College or to the Cambridge Admissions Office: firstname.lastname@example.org