Clare College Cambridge

Choice of A-level subjects

The A-Level (or equivalent) subject choices made in Year 11 can have a major impact on your  course and university options. At the University of Cambridge, we generally prefer applicants to have taken certain subjects, or combinations of subjects, because we believe that they are more likely to provide an effective preparation for study at the University.

Please also note that whilst the number of course options (or Tripos subjects) may seem limited at Cambridge, each offers tremendous breadth, building from more general first and second year courses (Part IA and IB) to specialised courses in third (Part II) or fourth years (Part III). We feel that you can best prepare for these courses by studying certain A-level subjects that are considered either essential or desirable for a number of courses at Cambridge.    

For each subject we will normally expect you to pass with an A or A* grade at A-level or equivalent, and generally we do not specify the A* for a particular subject. Occasionally applicants may be asked to achieve an A* in a particular subject, depending on individual circumstances.

Students taking the IB take six subjects which are chosen from specific subject groups. Normally three subjects are taken at Higher Level and three are taken at Standard Level.. Many Cambridge courses require specific knowledge of certain subjects and we will expect you to achieve grade 6 or 7 in these subjects at Higher Level, with an overall score of 42.

IB applicants starting the new IB Mathematics syllabus are expected to take IB Higher Level 'Analysis and Approaches' for any course where Mathematics is a requirement. For students in the UK, the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme offers the opportunity to study Advanced Mathematics even if it is not offered by your school (https://amsp.org.uk/).

If you have already chosen a course, we recommend that you check the relevant subject page before you finalise your subject choices at school. For the university's general guidance booklet, see here. https://issuu.com/caowebeditor/docs/the_subject_matters_version_online?e=4058792/43337668 Please also look at the standard course requirements listed for each Tripos on the College website (which link to give here??)

Keeping Your Options Open

Choosing subject combinations that genuinely keep your options open is more difficult than you might think. If you do chose to study a mixture of essay subjects and maths / science subjects, such a subject combination does provide a suitable preparation for many arts and social sciences courses at the University. However, it can make you a less competitive applicant for Cambridge's broad-based sciences courses.

Certain A-level subjects are considered either essential or desirable for a number of courses at Cambridge. Choosing one or more of these will help you to keep your higher education options open. These subjects include:

  • a modern language
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English Literature
  • History
  • Mathematics (and Further Mathematics)
  • Physics

Even with the broad curriculum of the IB Diploma Programme, there are certain Higher Level subjects that are considered either essential or desirable for a number of courses at Cambridge. Choosing one or more of these to study at Higher Level will help to keep your higher education options open. These subjects include:

  • Group 1: Language A Literature
  • Group 2: a Language B option,Classical Languages
  • Group 3: History
  • Group 4: Chemistry, Physics
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: Consider taking a second option from groups 1-5.

Other Higher Level subjects that also facilitate course choice at Cambridge include Further Mathematics (normally taken in Group 6, in addition to Mathematics in group 5) and Biology (group 4 or 6).