University of Cambridge



Human, Social, and Political Sciences

If you want to study politics, sociology, anthropology, or archaeology at Cambridge, this is the course for you. It offers several popular subject combinations as well as specialist options, including Assyriology and Egyptology.

UCAS code L000 BA/HSPS

Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges except Peterhouse

2013 entry Applications per place: 4
Number accepted: 198

Open days and events 2014 Track-specific open days are available – see the Faculty website for details and booking
College open days
Cambridge Open Days - 3 July, 4 July 2014

Related courses
Contact details 01223 334520


Explore the subjects you like and experience new ones

The flexibility of Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge allows you to explore a variety of subjects, many of which may be new to you (such as international relations or biological anthropology), before pursuing advanced study in one or two specific subjects in your second and third years. Alternatively, if you already know the subject(s) in which you want to specialise, you can tailor the course to suit your interests right from the start while retaining the option to take individual papers in other subjects as well.

You'll graduate from Cambridge having specialised in one or two subjects but will also have the advantage of a broad background across the human, social, and political sciences.

Why choose Cambridge?

Cambridge offers a world class undergraduate education. We have excellent teachers and learning facilities. The course is supported by two dedicated subject libraries and superb teaching resources including the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, computing facilities, multimedia-equipped teaching rooms, purpose-built laboratories and a rare collection of ethnographic films.

And after Cambridge?

The analytical and critical skills, intellectual versatility, multicultural sensitivity and international outlook you develop through this course are widely sought after by employers. Recent graduates have pursued careers in research (both academic and policy research), the Civil Service (including the Foreign Office), journalism, management consultancy, museums, conservation and heritage management, national and international NGOs and development agencies, the Law, teaching, publishing, health management, and public relations.

Course outline

Teaching is provided through lectures, supervisions and seminars. Some subjects also include practical or laboratory classes and fieldwork. In the first year, you have around eight lectures and one or two supervisions a week.

Assessment takes place at the end of each year. In most cases this takes the form of a three-hour written examination for each paper, though some are assessed by coursework. In the final year, you can choose to substitute one paper for a dissertation of up to 10,000 words.

Year 1 (Part I)

In the first year, you choose four subjects from:

  • Politics
  • International Relations
  • Sociology
  • Social Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
  • Egyptian language
  • Akkadian language
  • Psychology

Many combinations of subjects are possible, including for example:

  • Politics, Sociology, International Relations, Social Anthropology
  • Social Anthropology, Sociology, Archaeology, Politics
  • Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, Psychology, Social Anthropology
  • Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, Social Anthropology
  • Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, Akkadian language, Egyptian language, Archaeology
Years 2 and 3 (Part II)

For your second and third years, you can either choose one of five single-subject tracks, each of which enables you to take optional papers from other subjects; or you can choose one of seven two-subject tracks.

The single-subject tracks are:

  • Politics and International Relations
  • Sociology
  • Social Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Archaeology, Assyriology or Egyptology

You take four papers in both Years 2 and 3. If you choose a single subject you can replace one optional paper with a paper from another HSPS subject, an interdisciplinary research methods paper, or a paper borrowed from another degree course.

The two-subject tracks are:

  • Politics and Sociology
  • Sociology and Social Anthropology
  • Social and Biological Anthropology
  • Social Anthropology and Politics
  • Archaeology and Social Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology and Archaeology
  • Assyriology and Egyptology

You take four papers in both Years 2 and 3, choosing two from a number of options available in each subject in each year. In Year 3, you can offer a dissertation as your fourth paper.

Please note that it's not possible to change track between Years 2 and 3, unless you're switching from a two-subject track to one of the subjects within it. Some Year 3 papers may only be available if you've taken the relevant paper in your second year.

Single-subject tracks

Politics and International Relations

Politics and International Relations

Politics and International Relations engages with the nature of the political world within countries and between them. It asks questions about how and why national and international politics have developed as they have, and how people have imagined that they might be changed. It explores issues from human rights and democracy, to financial crisis and international conflict.

Year 2

You take the following three papers:

  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • The History of Political Thought

Plus one of the following options:

  • two 5,000 word essays on an aspect of politics and/or international relations
  • a paper offered in another HSPS subject
  • a paper in History or History and Philosophy of Science

Year 3

You study a general paper in politics and international relations, plus:

  • three optional papers chosen from a range of politics and international relations subjects, one of which can be a dissertation
  • or two optional politics and international relations papers plus one chosen from the other HSPS subjects


Sociology focuses on the nature of modern societies, how they're organised and how they're changing. It examines social institutions and the changing forms of power and inequality among other topics, and develops theories and conducts empirical research in order to deepen our understanding of the processes that shape social life.

Year 2

You take the following three papers:

  • Social Theory
  • Modern Societies II, Global Transformations
  • Concepts and Arguments in Sociology or a paper in statistics and research methods

Your fourth paper can be in sociology or can be chosen from a range available in the other HSPS subjects, History and Philosophy of Science, Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, or History.

Year 3

  • You choose three papers from a range of subjects in sociology and social theory (eg Advanced Social Theory, Media and Culture, Gender, War and Revolution, Modern Capitalism, Health and Medicine, Education, Criminology). If you wish, you can offer a dissertation in place of one of these.
  • Your final paper can be another in sociology, one from another HSPS subject, or from Psychological and Behavioural Sciences.
Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology

Anthropologists address 'what it is to be human' by doing in-depth participatory studies (fieldwork) on the amazingly varied ways people live, think and relate to each other in every part of the modern world: from love and intimacy in online worlds, to how Amazonian communities respond to deforestation; how globalisation affects factory workers in India, to experiences of citizenship and democracy in African cities.

Year 2

You take the following three papers:

  • Kinship and Economic Anthropology
  • The Anthropology of Politics and Religion
  • Theory, Methods and Enquiry in Social Anthropology

Your fourth is an optional paper.

Year 3

You take three core papers in advanced social anthropology:

  • Thought, Belief and Ethics
  • Political Economy and Social Transformation
  • an ethnographic area paper (eg Latin America, South Asia, Africa, Europe)

You may also choose an optional paper or opt to write a dissertation, which can be based on your own ethnographic fieldwork.

Optional paper topics in both years include the anthropology of city life, gender, colonialism, law, development, medicine and health, and film and the arts; as well as choices from the other HSPS subjects.

Biological Anthropology

Biological Anthropology

Biological Anthropology explores human biology and evolution, with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture. It includes the study of the place of humans in nature and the pattern of human diversity, and investigates our evolutionary history, adaptations, genetics, behaviour, and health and disease throughout the past and among modern societies.

Year 2

The second year includes three papers which explore broad themes within biological anthropology: humans in a comparative perspective, human evolution, and life history and health. Your remaining paper is chosen from a range offered in the other HSPS subjects or History and Philosophy of Science.

Year 3

The third year emphasises current issues and advanced methods within the different branches of the subject. You take:

  • a theory and practice paper
  • two further biological anthropology papers, one of which may be substituted for a dissertation
  • either a fourth biological anthropology paper, or one chosen from a selection offered in the other HSPS subjects


Archaeology uses material culture to explore the diversities and commonalities of the human past. It is geared equally to students with humanities, social science and science backgrounds. You may gain field experience by joining staff research projects in all parts of the world.

Year 2

You take one or two core papers in archaeological theory and practice, and two or three papers from a range of options in the archaeology of a particular period (eg early Prehistory, the Roman Empire, medieval Europe), or region (eg Europe, Egypt, Africa, South Asia), or in Archaeological Science.

One of these papers can be substituted for one chosen from the other HSPS subjects, History and Philosophy of Science, or Classics.

Year 3

You take an advanced paper in archaeological thought and either three additional papers from a range of specialist options, or two additional papers and a dissertation. The additional papers are similar to those offered in Year 2, allowing specialisation in one period or region, or greater breadth. One paper may be chosen from a range available in the other HSPS subjects.



Assyriology is the study of the languages (Akkadian and Sumerian), literature, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia - the location of the world's first urban and literate society and some of the earliest empires. Each year you take one paper in Akkadian language together with two papers in Mesopotamian prehistoric and historic archaeology, political history and/or culture, or Sumerian plus:

Year 2

  • one additional paper chosen from Archaeological Thought, Archaeology in Action or a further archaeology paper

Year 3

  • a paper chosen from Archaeological Thought, Sumarian, a further archaeology paper, or a dissertation


Egyptology is the study of the languages, literature, history, archaeology and religion of ancient Egypt. You study written sources, architecture, art and material culture. In each year you take one Egyptian language paper together with two papers in Egyptian archaeology, plus:

Year 2

  • one additional paper chosen from Archaeological Thought, Archaeology in Action or a further archaeology paper

Year 3

  • a paper chosen from Archaeological Thought, a further archaeology paper, or a dissertation

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential No specific subjects

No particular subjects at A Level (or equivalent) are required. HSPS is a broad course, therefore a range of subjects provide a good background: from Mathematics to social sciences (eg Psychology, Politics and Geography) to arts (eg English, History and modern languages).

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.

Admissions tests and written work

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 essays
Churchill School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview
Clare Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA); School/college essays
Corpus Christi School/college essay
Downing School/college essay
Emmanuel School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview
Fitzwilliam School/college essays; Test at interview
Girton School/college essays
Gonville & Caius School/college essay
Homerton School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview
Hughes Hall Written test in advance
Jesus School/college essay, Test at interview
King's School/college essays; Test at interview
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene School/college essays
Murray Edwards School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview
Newnham School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview
Pembroke School/college essays
Peterhouse Not available at this College
Queens' School/college essay
Robinson School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview
St Catharine's School/college essay
St Edmund's Test at interview
St John's School/College essays; Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA); Test at interview
Selwyn School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview
Sidney Sussex School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Trinity School/college essay
Trinity Hall School/college essays
Wolfson School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Human, Social, and Political Sciences at Cambridge

Improve your knowledge of Human, Social, and Political Sciences

  • Preparatory reading - Short lists of some important books in the individual subjects on offer in the HSPS degree.

Human, Social, and Political Sciences and your future

  • Career opportunities - Information about career opportunities available following the HSPS course can be found towards the bottom of the page.

Check out the specific resources for each of the HSPS subject options:

Archaeology(including Assyriology and Egyptology)-specific resources

Archaeology(including Assyriology and Egyptology)-specific resources

Biological Anthropology-specific resources

Biological Anthropology-specific resources

Politics and International Relations-specific resources

Politics and International Relations-specific resources

Social Anthropology-specific resources

Social Anthropology-specific resources

Sociology-specific resources

Sociology-specific resources

Unistats info

Contextual Information

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.