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Natural Sciences Tripos


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.

Entrance Requirements

The standard offer for entry for natural Sciences is A*A*A at A Level or equivalent.

What are the best A Levels to take? What about other qualifications?

Number of subjects

You must A Level Mathematics and two other 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).

In exceptional circumstances, applicants with only two science/mathematics subjects and Biological Sciences applicants without Mathematics may be considered.

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 an A* grade in one or two 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.

IA Course Subject Requirements
Biology of Cells Highly desirable: A Level Chemistry
Useful preparation: A Level Biology
Chemistry Essential: A Level Chemistry (A Level Mathematics is essential to continue to Chemistry A in Part IB)
Highly desirable: AS/A Level Mathematics
Earth Sciences Essential: A Levels in at least two mathematics/ science subjects. 
Note: No previous subject knowledge is necessary
Evolution & Behaviour Highly desirable: A Level Biology
Materials Science Essential: A Level Mathematics and either Chemistry or Physics
Note: No previous subject knowledge is necessary
Physics Essential: A Level Mathematics and Physics or Mathematics and Further Mathematics, including the section on Mechanics
Useful preparation: AS/A Level Further Mathematics
Physiology of Organisms Useful: AS/A Level Biology and/or Physics
Mathematics Essential: A Level Mathematics
Mathematical Biology Highly desirable: A Level Mathematics

For information on the structure of Maths teaching at Cambridge, particularly for those without A Level Maths, please look at our Maths in the First Year information

Please note that Biology of Cells, Evolution and Behaviour and Physiology of Organisms, do not require any specific A Level subjects.

International Baccalaureate
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. The standard offer for IB is 40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level.

Other qualifications

If you are taking other qualifications (eg Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers, Access to HE Diploma, international qualifications), please refer to the Undergraduate Study website 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 the 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.

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.

Enquiries and further information

For information about how to apply, interviews, admissions tests, and more, please consult the undergraduate admissions webpages.

Please direct any admissions enquiries to your preferred College or to the Cambridge Admissions Office.