Clare College Cambridge

Natural Sciences

Claire Harwell

Comprehensive School, West Sussex


I have always loved biology as a subject and am fascinated by its diversity. Leaving school, I wanted to understand everything from how evolution shapes the natural world right down to the molecular workings of enzymes. This made choosing a specific subject to apply for at university surprisingly difficult, as most courses are either whole organism/ecology focused or entirely molecular in nature. This is what really drove me to want to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where the broad and flexible nature of the course would allow me to sample contrasting areas of biology before specialising later. The interviews, of which I had two, were academically rigorous, but surprisingly enjoyable, as they gave me a chance to talk about my favourite subjects with experts in the field. There were no tricks, mind games or secret handshakes; the interviewers were incredibly welcoming and infectiously enthusiastic about their subjects.

So far, the Natural Sciences course has been everything I had hoped and more. In first year I chose to study Evolution and Behaviour, Physiology of Organisms, Biology of Cells and Biological Mathematics. (Everyone has to do a maths course, with different options available to suit different levels of interest and ability. Don’t be put off by this if you’re not a keen mathematician- it is actually a very useful base for later study, and is not equally weighted in your end of year exams. ) I really enjoyed this combination of subjects and the mix of lectures, practicals, field trips and supervisions that came with them. 

In second year you can specialise further, choosing three subjects from a wide range of options. I chose to study Neurobiology, Physiology and Pathology, all of which I have really enjoyed. Some lectures are shared with Medics and Vets at this time, which is great as you get to meet new people and also get a chance to understand the clinical applications of your subject.  Having particularly enjoyed Neurobiology in second year, I am specialising in Neuroscience for my final year with a view to undertaking a PhD after graduation. Only with a course as broad and as flexible as natural sciences could I have studied such a wide range of subjects in such depth. I really feel like I will leave Cambridge with a wide understanding of biology, its context in society, as well as being able to really focus on the subject I love in my final year.

So why study at Clare? I chose Clare College for many reasons: (but not because we share a name- I lost count of the number of times I was asked that in Fresher’s week!)

  • Its reputation as being a friendly college. Having been here for two years I can assure you that this reputation is well deserved- Clareites really are lovely people!
  • Its beautiful buildings and garden. The gardens in spring are unbeatable- daffodils, ducklings and dragonflies- what more could you want?! Clare also has the impressive style and character that comes with being an older college without being imposing- walking through the gates at the end of a long day really does feel like coming home.
  • Close to town and lectures. If you cycle- nothing (not even the Chemistry department) is ever more than 10 minutes away; perfect if you, like me, are fond of your sleep!
  • The lifestyle. There is so much going on at Clare- everything from music, rowing, punting (we have our own), excellent food and an underground bar! In my opinion, Clare really does offer everything.

I hope that I have given you a useful insight into what it is like to study Natural Sciences at Clare. Cambridge can be hard at times, but I will never regret applying-I have had an incredible time here.  I wish you all the best with your application!