Undergraduate Admissions: FAQ

What A-level subjects do I need to apply for History at Cambridge?

We normally require an A-level or equivalent in History, but beyond that, there are no specific requirements; students have come to us having studied a whole range of subjects, from Drama to Further Maths. Specifics about admission requirements may be found on College websites, which may set further requirements. Take a look at the central University page for History to learn more.


Why do there seem to be different entry requirements for studying History at Cambridge?

This is because while the Faculty of History provides the teaching and lectures to history undergraduates, it does not handle admission assessments and interviews. Those are handled by individual Colleges, which specify their own entry requirements. In short, when you apply to read History at Cambridge, you are actually applying to read History at one of the Cambridge colleges. Therefore, for specific questions, you should contact the Admissions Tutor of the college(s) you are interested in applying to. You can find their details here.


If my application goes to a College rather than the Faculty, does that mean that my application won’t be assessed by historians? 

No, your application will be assessed by the historians who are members, or “Fellows”, of your intended College. These historians will also be members of the Faculty of History. 


So if I am accepted at a College, does that mean I will only be taught by Fellows of that College?

No, the Faculty of History provides teaching to all students irrespective of College. The vast majority of lectures and seminars are offered centrally by the Faculty, and are given by historians from different Colleges; you may also be supervised by historians at a different College to your own. However, some forms of teaching under the new Tripos will be entirely based at your College: for example, the first-year paper Introduction to Historical Thinking. 


How does the history admissions assessment work at Cambridge? 

The History Admissions Assessment (HAA) is a source-based assessment designed to test your ability to think critically and historically about a set of primary sources. You will usually be given a pair of historical sources and asked to compare and contrast them in a short essay. The sources can be about anything -- from slavery in West Africa to early modern kitchens in Europe (two examples from recent years) and you will not be expected to have studied the time period, region, or topic before. Rather, you will be asked to comment on the tone of the source, the type of source it is (a diary entry or newspaper article, for example), its origin and reliability , imagery, source bias, and  so on. The good news is you can practice doing this yourself or with your friends; check out our resources here or look around you for a historical source you can use: an old newspaper, a political speech you found online, or even a story told by a grandparent.

Not all colleges use this assessment, but those that do will take your score into account when they consider your application. You can see some specimen HAA papers at this website.


Will there be an assessment during the interview as well?

Some colleges will also conduct an at-interview assessment. This may take the form of a primary or secondary document provided to you in advance of your interview, which will form the basis of a subject-specific interview. Different Colleges will run this differently: some provide this document to you on the day of the interview, while others might send it to you several days in advance. As suggested above, queries about this are therefore best directed to individual Colleges:


How important is the HAA in the admissions process?

The Colleges are all, in their various ways, aiming to gather information about whether an applicant will be a good fit for the Cambridge course. Each College therefore chooses the most informative aspects for their own applications process. This means that some may lay greater emphasis on the coursework essays you submit with your UCAS application, while others will pay closer attention to the HAA, and still others might value the interviews most highly. In general, the admissions process at Cambridge is a holistic one, and all elements of your application, from your UCAS personal statement to the HAA, will be taken into account in order to give the College the best chance at figuring out whether you are a good fit for them, and whether you are likely to thrive and be successful in your Cambridge History degree. 


What is the difference between History, History/Politics (HP) and History/MML (HML)? Is it better to do single honours History or the joint degrees? 

This is a decision that only you can make, and will depend on your priorities and particular interests. The Single Honours History programme of learning is not subject to the same kinds of constraints as the Joint Degrees. HP and HML students can take classes from different faculties -- POLIS (the Department of Politics and International Relations) or MML (Medieval and Modern Languages), respectively -- but must choose their History options from among a smaller subset of History papers than are available to single Honours students. So if you are interested in learning about history across many different time periods and places, the Single Honours History degree offers you the widest range of options. 

However, there is more overlap than you may think. For instance, many of the papers offered as part of the HP degree which feature political theory -- Hobbes, Locke, Marx, Wollstonecraft and so forth -- are, in fact, originally History papers. Single honours History students are free to take these papers in Political Thought and Intellectual History, alongside a broad range of History papers in US History, World History and others. Where HP differs from Single Honours History is the provision of options from POLIS, which offers more contemporary topics, like the study of international organisations or comparative politics of the present. 


Further information on how History papers feature in the Joint Degrees is available from the respective degree websites --

History and Modern Languages.

History and Politics.

More information about being an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge can be found on the central Undergraduate Study website