Cambridge Courses

Which one to choose?

When applying to university, choosing the degree you wish to study is the most important decision to make; you’ll be engrossed in that subject for at least three years. If you’ve already narrowed down your selection to a shortlist of two or three courses or subject areas, but are still feeling torn between them, we have some advice to help you make your final decision.  

Remember, you can apply for up to five courses on your UCAS application but for only one course at Cambridge (or Oxford). At Cambridge we have 30 courses covering more than 65 subject areas and we know it can be a little overwhelming.  

If you’re just starting your research, and need advice on where to start when choosing a course, check out our other article first, and then come back to this when you have your shortlist. 

Super-curricular activities  

Super-curricular exploration of each subject area you're considering can really help you to decide which course you are best suited to. This could include reading books, visiting museums, watching documentaries, or listening to podcasts. You may find that one topic is much more enjoyable, and this can help you make a decision. 

You could also write down all the super-curricular experience you already have related to each course on your shortlist. If one list is much longer, it’s probably a sign that you are naturally more interested in that subject. 

Find out more about the importance of super-curricular activities. 

Entry requirements 

Make sure you thoroughly check and understand the entry requirements and typical offers for each course you are considering.  

Some courses require you to achieve certain grades in specific subjects. We ask this so that you are academically prepared for the course and able to get the most out of it. For example, an essential requirement for the Mathematics course at Cambridge is that you have A Levels in Maths and Further Maths.  

The subject requirements may also help you to choose between two courses. For example, if your best A Level subject is an essential requirement for a course and you know you can achieve a very high grade, then you may be swayed to choose that course.  

Also, at Cambridge the subject requirements at each of our Colleges may differ slightly. Some subjects are essential for applying to all Colleges and others for only some of the Colleges, so make sure to check our course pages and the individual College websites for details of the courses and Colleges you’re interested in. 

You may also need to take a written admissions assessment as part of the application process. Make sure you check dates and deadlines as you must register for some assessments before the UCAS application deadline. 

Did you know...

Courses at Cambridge are also referred to as Triposes. For example, you might hear the Linguistics course referred to as the Linguistics Tripos. 

Career options 

If you already have an idea of the type of job you’d like in the future, this may affect your course choice.  

Some Cambridge courses are vocational and lead to specific careers. For example, most people who study Medicine, Veterinary Medicine or Architecture will find jobs in those same fields. 

If you have a very clear idea of your future career, you could consider asking those already working in the field what course they studied at university, or you could ask potential employers what they look for in an ideal candidate. 

Arts and humanities degrees are valued by many employers for the broad range of transferable skills you will gain and can lead you to a huge variety of careers. A science degree can also lead to a many different careers but may steer you towards more specialised science-related jobs. 

A Cambridge degree in any subject is highly valued by employers, so as a general rule, you should choose a subject that you have a deep personal interest in and can excel at, rather than a course that you think will lead to a certain career. 

Also remember that even if you do have a career path in mind, you can always specialise at postgraduate level after your undergraduate degree. For example, if you are interested in a legal profession, you don't necessarily have to study a Law degree. Many students who go on to practice Law choose a different undergraduate course, and then achieve a professional postgraduate qualification later.

Course content

The most important thing you can do when making your decisions is to be thorough in your research, especially if you are undecided between two options. 

You should look in depth at the detailed course content. First, find out about the compulsory topics in each year of study. If the core subjects in the first year are ones you enjoy or particularly like the sound of, then you will likely settle into your studies and thrive in the early stages of the course. 

Also look at the optional subjects offered in later years of the course. If you know what you want to specialise in, or have an interest in a specific area, make sure it is offered as part of the course. For example, you can study Earth Sciences or Astrophysics as part of the Natural Sciences course, and you can study Philosophy of Art or Experimental Psychology as part of the Philosophy course. 

Did you know...

Individual modules, units or topics at Cambridge are called papers. You will take a number of compulsory papers and some papers chosen from several options. 

Open Days 

Open Days allow you to get a real feel for the courses on offer and give you an insight into university life. Make sure you read the Open Day programme and take advantage of what is on offer. You can watch course presentations, taster sessions, Q&As, take departmental tours, meet the academics who will be teaching you, and students who are already on the course. 

Be open and ask questions. Does the course you are experiencing excite you? Can you see yourself studying that course, with those academics, in that environment? If the answer is yes, you’ll know you’ve found the perfect course for you! 

This year our Open Days will take place on 6 and 7 July and will include online and in person elements. Bookings for the Open Days will open in May. You can also access our virtual tour all year round.

Other ways to find out about a particular course are to search for vloggers or bloggers that study the course, or to read forums such as The Student Room

In summary...

Be thorough in comparing the courses on your shortlist. You’ll have peace of mind that you’ve weighed up your choices and found the best option. If you’ve considered everything we’ve suggested and are still torn between two courses, try writing a list of the pros and cons of each; what do you like, what don’t you like? 

Remember to also listen to your gut feeling. If one option makes you excited for the future, go with it! 

Most students stay on the same degree course, but each year a very small number of students change to a different course. Course changes at Cambridge need agreement from your College, though there is no guarantee that the change will be permitted, so it’s particularly important to spend plenty of time making sure you choose the right course for you. You’ll find the more common changes on the course pages of our website, and you can contact College admissions offices for advice if you’d like to find out more. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing. Last reviewed April 2023.