skip to content

User login

Cambridge Admissions Office

Dr Geoff Parks, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges
Tuesday, 18 January, 2011

Q. Do Cambridge Admissions Tutors prefer some A Level subjects to others?

A. Cambridge offers academically-focussed undergraduate degree courses, which are mainly assessed by end-of-year written examinations taken each year. As any Cambridge student will tell you, we expect them to work very hard. It is therefore essential that they have the necessary technical skills and knowledge, as well as the academic ability and motivation, to cope with the demands of their course.

To a great extent the academic ability and motivation required come from within, while the technical skills and knowledge come from the A Level (or equivalent) subjects studied at school/college.

Each A Level imparts specific subject knowledge and develops certain skills. Inevitably subject knowledge is only relevant to certain degree courses, and certain A Levels are therefore essential preparation for some courses. Similarly, the skills developed by an individual A Level will not necessarily be needed on all courses.

If an A Level subject neither imparts relevant subject knowledge nor develops useful skills for a particular degree, it is not going to be helpful in preparing a student for the demands of that course. It is in no one’s interests to pretend otherwise.

However, this does not mean that any A Level subjects are not worth studying in their own right!

Q. What subjects and combinations of subjects are preferred?

A. When considering applicants, we want to ensure that the combination of A Level (or equivalent) subjects being studied will provide the skills and knowledge needed to hit the ground running if they become Cambridge undergraduates.

Realistically, for our broad-based science courses this generally means that students need to be taking three relevant subjects; details of which subjects are relevant for which programme are provided in our Undergraduate Prospectus and on our website at: For our Arts and Social Sciences courses there is often more flexibility in requirements.

Q. What advice would you offer to students looking to keep their options open?

A. To help prospective applicants decide which A Level subjects to choose, we publish a Subject Matters leaflet.

This gives advice about what to choose to keep your options open and which subjects naturally combine well together. There is also advice about the other subjects that provide a useful preparation for some of our courses. Several of these subjects may come as a surprise: Citizenship, Design & Technology and Sociology are hardly ‘traditional’ A Level subjects!

In addition the University runs a series of The Subject Matters events in partnership with the Sutton Trust to advise Year 11 students about A Level subject choices.

Q. Will Cambridge reject applicants for studying certain A Levels?

A. Absolutely not! No applicant would be rejected because they were taking one particular A Level; however, their A Level combination might rule them out for some, or even all, of our courses.

There are many A Level subjects which are not mentioned in our Undergraduate Prospectus or Subject Matters leaflet. This does not mean that they are not individually worth taking. They may, however, be specialised in focus and therefore not a good choice for students looking to keep their options open, or the way in which they are taught and assessed may mean that they do not provide a good preparation for the courses that the University of Cambridge offers.

Our advice to students thinking of applying to Cambridge is to ensure that they are doing no more than one of these other subjects among their three or four A Levels.

Contact Us

Cambridge Admissions Office
Student Services Centre
New Museums Site
CB2 3PT [ Map ]

Undergraduate Study:

Postgraduate Study:



If you have any comments or questions on these articles, please contact us.