Guide to Admissions - Academic requirements
Admission to the Engineering course at Cambridge is highly competitive, both in terms of the numbers and quality of applicants. To maximise his or her chances of success in gaining admission it is therefore in an applicant's interests:
- to maximise their understanding of Physics and Mathematics and the links between them (with an emphasis on Mechanics) - prospective applicants in England and Wales should be aware of the support for the study of Mathematics available through the Further Mathematics Support Programme;
- to have a wider engagement with Engineering and extra-curricular applications of Mathematics and Physics, as can be demonstrated by, for instance, participation in Mathematics and Physics Challenges and Olympiads or in courses and programmes offered by the Engineering Development Trust, the Smallpeice Trust, the Arkwright Scholarships Trust, Young Engineers and other organisations with similar aims.
It can also be helpful to obtain some work experience with a technical content. Such experiences should increase an applicant's appreciation of why Engineering, Mathematics and Physics are so important in the modern world.
Table 1 summarises the views and preferences of individual Colleges concerning academic requirements for admission to read Engineering. The issues involved are discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.
Although academic requirements are expressed here in terms of A Levels, equivalent qualifications in other school, national and international examinations are acceptable to all Colleges and offers of places are regularly made to applicants sitting such examinations. Some equivalences are given in the Other Examination Systems section below.
If you are taking examinations other than A Levels or the ones detailed in the Other Examination Systems section below, you should check our Country-specific Information to establish whether the qualifications you are taking are acceptable. If you have further questions about the acceptability of your qualifications, contact the Cambridge Admissions Office.
There are four Colleges (Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund’s and Wolfson) that admit only mature students (those over the age of 21). These Colleges tend to be more flexible about admissions requirements, so unconventional educational profiles are not necessarily discounted. They aim to make a careful assessment to ensure that the mathematical ability and vocational goals of their applicants give them the opportunity to do well in the Engineering Tripos.
All Colleges require Maths and Physics A Levels for admission to read Engineering. Chemistry is also required for admission to read Chemical Engineering via the Engineering route. (There is an alternative route to Chemical Engineering via Natural Sciences.)
The document Maths for Engineering: Notes for School Teachers gives advice to help applicants choose a suitable A Level Maths course and options within that course. This is available on-line or from the Teaching Office (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Third A Levels
As you can see in Table 1, all Colleges prefer applicants to be studying three Science/Maths A Levels. Suitable subjects for your third A Level include (in alphabetical order) Chemistry, Computing, Electronics, Design & Technology and Further Maths. Special comments are required about Further Maths and Design & Technology A Levels.
Table 1 might seem to indicate that if you are not doing Further Maths there are very few Colleges that might admit you. This is far from the truth. In practice, about a third of the students admitted to study Engineering at Cambridge have not done Further Maths A Level. What Colleges are looking for is high ability in mathematics. Colleges are aware that not all schools offer Further Maths A Level, and will not discriminate against applicants who have not had the opportunity to take it. However, if your school or college is able to offer Further Maths or you can access it through the Further Mathematics Support Programme, you are strongly encouraged to study this. If Further Maths is not available or you have recognised its desirability too late, we would advise you to do as much additional pure maths and mechanics as possible, e.g. by taking standalone modules or Further Maths AS Level. If offered by your school/college, you might also consider taking STEP or AEA Maths.
The recent experience of Colleges is that some Design & Technology A Level courses are excellent and provide engineering students with a very worthwhile introduction to the subject, while other courses are of very limited benefit. Potential applicants doing Design & Technology are advised to consult with their prospective College about the acceptability of the course they are doing.
Contrasting AS Levels
The broadening of the curriculum in Year 12 under the AS examination system may give applicants the opportunity to study a contrasting subject. The views of individual Colleges as to which, if any, possible contrasting subjects are beneficial for aspiring engineers are indicated in Table 1. Please note that none of the preferences expressed here are strong. You should not be deterred from applying to a given College because you do not have an AS Level in the appropriate subject. No College will discriminate against an applicant because they have chosen not to study a contrasting subject.
Other Examinations Systems
For students studying in the Scottish system, Advanced Highers can be regarded as equivalent to A Levels and Highers as equivalent to AS Levels for the purposes of our academic requirements.
For students studying the International Baccalaureate, Higher Level subjects can be regarded as equivalent to A Levels and Standard Level subjects as equivalent to AS Levels for the purposes of our academic requirements.
For students studying the Cambridge Pre-U, Principal Subjects can be regarded as equivalent to A Levels for the purposes of our academic requirements.
Information on typical offer levels in these and other examination systems can be found in the Entrance Requirements section of the University's Undergraduate Study website.
Information on typical offer levels in international qualifications can be found in the Country-specific Information section of the University's Undergraduate Study website.
The Advanced Diplomas in Engineering or Manufacturing & Product Design (Level 3) are acceptable for entry, provided applicants also obtain both an A Level in Physics and the Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Engineering. These qualifications can be presented as the additional specialist learning component of the Diploma. It is anticipated that offers will usually be formulated itemising performance in A Level Physics, the Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Engineering, the Extended Project and the Principal Learning of the Diploma on an equivalent basis with existing Level 3 qualifications.
The Diploma is a new qualification which differs significantly from other qualifications we accept. The proportion of examined content is lower and there is great freedom in the exact nature of the topics that can be studied in the Extended Project and the Principal Learning units. This will lead to a wide variation in exactly what the qualification covers. Students should bear in mind that topics and projects that include a strong component of analysis and the application of mathematics to engineering problems will provide a better preparation for our courses than the routine application of design rules and the demonstration of high technical manufacturing skill on their own.
All Colleges except Trinity College welcome applications from students taking Maths A Level and a suitable vocational qualification in an Engineering discipline. The latter could be any of:
- a BTEC Higher National Diploma
- a BTEC National Diploma
- a BTEC Foundation Degree
- a Double Award Advanced VCE
Applicants should be expecting to achieve or have achieved the highest possible grades in their Maths A Level and these qualifications.
The Single Award Applied A Level in Engineering is suitable as a relevant third A Level, but applicants would need to be taking A Levels in Maths and Physics as well to be qualified for our course.