If you have a passion for literature, we have a challenging course that will inspire your reading, and develop your critical and imaginative abilities.
English at Cambridge
Over the centuries, many writers have studied in Cambridge: Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Tennyson, Forster, Plath, Hughes, Byatt and Zadie Smith. When established, the Cambridge course was considered daringly innovative and this ethos continues to shape teaching and research.
Today's course balances a strong grounding in the core of English literature with the chance to explore or specialise in literature from around the world, other art forms, the English language and related intellectual traditions.
Teaching and resources
You're taught by some of the most eminent writers, teachers and visiting Fellows who, between them, teach and research almost every aspect of literature. We have no set approach beyond instilling the valuable skills of critical thinking, scholarly rigour and good writing.
You have access to the University Library and the Faculty library, which houses around 80,000 books, and provides computer facilities, courses and welcoming features such as 'tea at three'. Our modern Faculty building also includes a drama studio and garden.
Socially, many English students pursue interests in creative writing, journalism and the performing arts.
What we're looking for
English students need an intellectual curiosity which drives them to try new things and to question in depth. We look for independent reading beyond the syllabus, and for independent, well-informed critical thinking.
Our students develop the skills of critical thinking, close reading and effective communication. Many draw directly on their subject and pursue careers in arts management or information management, or go into academia or teaching.
Those same skills are valued by employers in many other professions too, such as law, the Civil Service, industry, accountancy and social work. And, unsurprisingly, many graduates go on to work in the media, theatre and film - such as Jeremy Paxman, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Sam Mendes - or become poets, novelists and playwrights.
Teaching is provided through lectures, seminars, and small-group supervisions and classes.
You typically attend at least six hours of lectures or seminars, and two to three hours of individual, paired or small-group supervision each week. You normally write a short essay for each supervision, which you then discuss with your supervisor.
As well as exams, there's a compulsory dissertation and over the three years you can replace three more of the written exams with coursework. Prizes are awarded for the best work. Although the course isn't focused on creative writing, it's possible to submit an original composition of your own, which would then be assessed.
A broad range, a solid grounding
You're introduced to the full range of English literature from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are few set texts, so that while you must study widely, you can also focus on topics of interest. Over the first two years, you take two compulsory papers:
- English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550
And you choose four from the following:
- Practical Criticism and Critical Practice
- Early Medieval Literature and its Contexts 1066-1350
- English Literature and its Contexts 1500-1700
- English Literature and its Contexts 1660-1870
- English Literature and its Contexts 1830-1945, or English Literature and its Contexts 1870-Present
One or two of the last three optional papers can be replaced with coursework (one dissertation and one portfolio of essays).
Subject to certain restrictions, you are also able to 'borrow' papers from the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Classics; or Modern and Medieval Languages courses. Further details of these papers are available on the Faculty website.
Deeper questions, new areas
You take two compulsory papers:
- Practical Criticism
- Tragedy, which ranges from ancient Greek drama to contemporary writing
You also write a compulsory dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and either submit a second dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and take one optional paper, or choose two optional papers. The optional papers change regularly the following papers are available in 2012-13:
- Dreams and Visions 1066-1500
- Shakespeare in Performance
- Literature, Culture and Crisis 1631-71
- Modernism and the Short Story
- English Moralists
- American Literature
- Postcolonial and Related Literature
- History and Theory of Literary Criticism
- Literature and Visual Culture
- Contemporary Writing in English
- Special Period of English Literature 1500-47
- Special Period of English Literature 1847-72
Subject to certain restrictions, it's also possible to 'borrow' papers from the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Classics; or Modern and Medieval Languages courses. Further details of these papers are available on the Faculty website.
Typical offers require
A Level: A*AA
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.
Essential A Level/IB Higher Level English Literature or English Language and Literature
It is essential that applicants should have English Literature as one of their A Level (or equivalent) subjects. Where straight English Literature is not offered at an applicant's school/college, the combined English Language and Literature A Level is acceptable.
Modern/Classical Languages and History are also useful subjects, though not essential, and many successful applicants have studied Mathematics and science subjects.
Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.
The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work page.
|College||Assessment of applicant for this subject|
|Christ's||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Churchill||School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview|
|Clare||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Corpus Christi||School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview|
|Downing||Test at interview|
|Emmanuel||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Fitzwilliam||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Girton||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Gonville & Caius||School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview|
|Homerton||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Hughes Hall||Test at interview|
|Jesus||School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview|
|King's||School/college essay; Test at interview; Small class at interview|
|Lucy Cavendish||School/college essays; Pre-interview reading; Test at interview|
|Magdalene||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Murray Edwards||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Newnham||School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview|
|Pembroke||School/college essays; Written test at interview; Preparatory reading at interview|
|Peterhouse||School/college essays; Test at interview; Preparatory reading at interview|
|Queens'||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Robinson||School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview|
|St Catharine's||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|St Edmund's||Test at interview|
|St John's||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Selwyn||School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview|
|Sidney Sussex||School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview|
|Trinity||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Trinity Hall||School/college essay; Test at interview|
|Wolfson||School/college essay; Test at interview|
Find out more about English at Cambridge
- Course website - Explore English in more detail on the course website.
- Teaching style - Information about the styles of teaching used in the English degree course.
Improve your knowledge of English
- Virtual classroom - Get a taste of what it's like to study English at Cambridge and improve your skills too in the Virtual Classroom.
- Cambridge Authors - A great website for A-level students and anyone interested in English. Find out more about the lives and literature of ten famous Cambridge-educated authors, from A. S. Byatt to Zadie Smith.
Tools to help you with your English application
- Application information - Information about applying to study English at Cambridge.
From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.
However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.
We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.
You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.
- The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.
Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.
- Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.
- The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.
- Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.
- Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.
The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.