Useful Information - Frequently Asked Questions

I've heard that the Cambridge Engineering course is all theory - is this true?
It is by no means all theory. There is a large amount of practical work and a strong emphasis on project work and design. However, a certain amount of theory is fundamental to the study of engineering, and we make sure our students have a good understanding of the basics.
Cambridge has a good academic reputation but does it have good links with industry?
The Department of Engineering has strong links with industry through collaborative research, student placements, fourth year projects, graduate recruitment, corporate training programmes, and knowledge transfer partnerships. The Department's close contact with industry ensures that its teaching and research address major challenges in the world and offer real solutions.

At any one time, a quarter to a third of our research funding comes directly from industry. A very high proportion of the companies involved fund sequences of projects over many years. For instance, the Department has a major collaboration with Rolls-Royce plc on the University Gas Turbine Partnership (UGTP). This provides an integrated approach to the fluid mechanics and thermodynamics of gas turbines, compressors and other systems critical to Rolls-Royce by linking research in the areas of turbomachinery, aerodynamics, noise and vibration, combustion, heat transfer and advanced cycles. Its research programme involves over 75 staff and graduate students in the Energy, Fluids and Turbomachinery Groups of the Department of Engineering. In another example, Alps Electric Company Limited, Dow Corning Corporation and Marconi Corporation plc have agreed to jointly fund a portfolio of strategic research and development work at the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE). The commitment of these strategic partners was essential for the creation of this multi-million pound facility.

In addition to working with industry, the Department plays a vital role in creating new companies. Cambridge Semiconductor is just one example. Its technology uniquely uses standard manufacturing processes to integrate ultra-high-speed high voltage power switches and complex control circuits in one chip. Having demonstrated feasibility of the technology, the company is now developing a new generation of high voltage power integrated circuits. These promise to reduce cost and improve energy efficiency in many power control applications.
I’m currently doing an Engineering course at another university. Is it possible to transfer into the Cambridge course?
No, it is not possible to transfer into our course. The only point of entry is to the first year, unless you have obtained a Bachelors degree in a related subject, e.g. Physics, in which case you may qualify for Affiliated student status, which allows entry to the second year.
I've already decided which branch of engineering I want to specialise in. Surely I will be wasting my time for two years at Cambridge before I can specialise in the field of my choice?
Engineering is a multidisciplinary subject and knowledge of the fundamentals of all the major engineering disciplines makes Cambridge graduates very versatile and able to work well in multidisciplinary teams. That is one reason why our graduates are much sought after by employers.

In addition, our experience shows that, as they learn more about what engineering actually involves, many students change their minds about the areas in which they wish to specialise. This also suggests that many students doing single-subject courses elsewhere have made the wrong choice (although they may never find this out!).
But how can graduates from such a broad-based course end up with the same depth of knowledge as from a single-subject course taken at another university?
Cambridge graduates are expected to achieve the same standard and depth in their final subject as graduates from narrower courses elsewhere for three reasons:
  • We start with some of the ablest students
  • We provide them with some of the best teaching and learning facilities
  • We work them very hard

Degree courses at Cambridge are challenging, which is why we have to select the students who will best be able to tackle them. We demand a lot, but we give a lot too:

  • Expert teachers and lecturers
  • Small group tuition (supervisions)
  • Excellent library and computing facilities
  • Involvement with cutting-edge research projects
Does all that hard work mean that I won't be able to take advantage of all the other opportunities that I know university life has to offer?
That's up to you. Have a look at some of the things our students find time to do. Remember that in the first two years most afternoons are deliberately left un-timetabled to provide you with the flexibility to organise your time to suit your own interests and needs.
I'm not doing Further Maths - is that a disadvantage for studying Engineering at Cambridge?
Not all schools offer Further Maths and typically about one third of our students will not have taken it as an A Level. The first year Maths course is therefore designed with an option that allows those without Further Maths to "catch up". However, a high ability in mathematics is required.

If your school does offer Further Maths you should seriously consider taking it. Opting not to take Further Maths when it is available at your school may well disadvantage your application.
I have been told that the Cambridge course is a general one and therefore not accredited by the Engineering Institutions - is this true?

This could not be further from the truth! The course is not "general" (all our students specialise), and it is accredited by all the major institutions. It has been said (by the professionals) that more Engineering courses should have a structure similar to ours - a broad-based foundation, covering the fundamentals any good engineer should know, before specialisation.

"I see the common first two years of the Cambridge Engineering course as a great strength. The additional knowledge and experience this gives students before they specialise can only make them better engineers."

Prof. Jon Tunnicliffe FREng
The Engineering Course at Cambridge seems very traditional - does that mean it is out-of-date?
Although the overall structure of the course changes little, its content changes every year to reflect advances in engineering. In particular, the modular nature of the third and fourth years provides the flexibility needed to teach this constantly evolving subject.
I'm thinking of taking a gap year between school and university, should I apply for direct or deferred entry?
If you apply before you leave school, it is easier for all concerned if you apply for deferred entry. Colleges are less willing than they used to be to allow students to apply for direct entry and then defer entry having been made an offer. If you are made an offer by a Cambridge College, you should have no problem finding a suitable work placement for your gap year (remember that Cambridge engineers are much sought after, even before they have done the course!). If you need help or advice, you are more than welcome to contact our Industrial Experience Co-ordinator who will help you to find a suitable employer.

If you are applying after completing your A Levels (or equivalent), then you will by definition be taking a gap year and everyone then knows where they stand!

Cambridge University has an elitist and exclusive image. Will I fit in?
The public perception of Cambridge is a long way from reality, no thanks to the popular press. It is true that we take students with the highest ability, but as for the rest of it - the best way to put your mind at ease is to see for yourself. Come along to one of our Open Days.

Open Days 2014: Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th July between 1.00 and 5.00pm.

How many people apply for a place on the course?
Numbers do fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, from year to year, but typically about 2000 students apply. About 320 are admitted, of whom a slowly increasing proportion (approaching 30%) are women.
Can you explain the structure of the Cambridge Engineering Degree course to me? In particular, I have seen the word 'Tripos' used and don't understand it.
All degree courses at Cambridge are referred to using the word 'Tripos' and you will come across this word in the University's Undergraduate Prospectus and other documentation. 'Tripos' is an historical term and the official names given to the courses at the Department of Engineering are:
  • Engineering Tripos
  • Manufacturing Engineering Tripos (MET)

The structure of the Engineering Tripos is thus:

  • Part IA (the first year course and examination)
  • Part IB (the second year course and examination)
  • Part IIA (the third year course and examination)
  • Part IIB (the fourth year course and examination)

The structure of the Manufacturing Engineering Tripos is:

  • MET Part IIA (the third year course and examination)
  • MET Part IIB (the fourth year course and examination)

To get an honours degree, a BA (Hons), at Cambridge you must be classed (i.e. pass) in both a Part I and a Part II examination (e.g. Engineering Part IB and MET Part IIA). In the cases of Engineering and MET, successful completion of the fourth year leads to the award of a Masters Degree in Engineering, the MEng.