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;

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.

Essentials

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.)

Maths for Engineering: Notes for School Teachers gives advice to help applicants choose a suitable A Level Maths course and options within that course.

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.

Vocational Qualifications

All Colleges, except Trinity, welcome applications from students taking A Level Mathematics and a suitable vocational qualification, e.g. a BTEC Higher National Diploma, in an engineering discipline. Applicants are expected to achieve the highest possible grades in A Level Mathematics and the vocational qualification. Those taking the Single Award Applied A Level in Engineering or the Principal Learning components of the Advanced Diploma in Engineering must also be taking A Levels in Mathematics and Physics. The Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Engineering is a suitable alternative to A Level Mathematics for these purposes.

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.