University of Cambridge

Undergraduate

Study

Natural Sciences

Natural Sciences (NST) is the framework within which most science subjects are taught at Cambridge. If you want to study any of the biological and physical sciences, this is the course for you.

UCAS code BCF0 BA/NS

Duration Three years for the BA degree
Four years for the BA degree and MSci (only available in some subjects)

Colleges Available at all Colleges

2013 entry Applications per place: 5
Number accepted: 619

Open days and events 2014 College open days (sciences)
Cambridge Open Days - 3 July, 4 July 2014

Related courses
Contact details natsci@admin.cam.ac.uk
www.natsci.tripos.cam.ac.uk

Overview

About the course

Natural Sciences (NST) is the framework within which most science subjects are taught at Cambridge. If you want to study any of the biological and physical sciences, this is the course for you.


Explore familiar subjects, experience new ones

Natural Sciences (NST) offers a wide range of physical and biological science subjects from 16 departments in a unique and demanding course. A broad first year is combined with increasing specialisation in the second year, and the possibility of total specialisation in the third year.

The breadth of the course reflects the blurring of boundaries between the different sciences and before committing yourself to one department, you study a variety of subjects, some of which may be new to you. This is a huge advantage because it gives you the flexibility to change your mind about which subject to specialise in, and is extremely valuable in alerting you to the important issues in other branches of science.

Visit the Departments' websites for in-depth subject information, details about current research and suggested reading for prospective students.

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Flexibility and choice

The flexibility of the course makes it possible to take purely biological sciences, purely physical sciences or a combination of both, according to your interests.

You choose your subjects at the start of the first term in discussion with your Director of Studies, but you should indicate on your UCAS application whether your interests lie broadly in biological or physical sciences. The choice isn't absolute, and many students change direction before they start or as they progress.

In Year 1 (Part IA), you study three science subjects (from a choice of eight), plus one mathematics subject (from three options), chosen at the start of the first term.

Many students discover a passion for the new subjects that they start in the first year, such as Earth Sciences or Materials Science, and continue with these in subsequent years.

In Year 2 (Part IB), you choose three subjects from 19 options available.

Most students pursue a single advanced subject in Year 3 (Part II), concentrating on specific areas and undertaking a research project or dissertation in that field. Some subjects offer a fourth year (Part III) option, which leads to an MSci degree. Alternatively, in Year 3 you can take the broader Biological and Biomedical Sciences option or the Physical Sciences option.

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Biological Sciences options

If you're interested in biological sciences, three of the first year (Part IA) options cover biological subjects: Biology of Cells; Evolution and Behaviour; and Physiology of Organisms. Therefore, possible biological sciences combinations include:

You also take a mathematics paper; usually Mathematical Biology or Elementary Mathematics for Biologists.

In the second year (Part IB), 10 biological subjects are offered. Some of these develop topics covered in Part IA and others introduce new material. The flexibility of the courseagain means it's possible to take purely biological sciences, or to combine biological sciences with, for example, organic chemistry (Chemistry B), Geological Sciences A or History and Philosophy of Science.

Most students focus on a single subject in their third year (Part II), concentrating on specific areas of the discipline and undertaking a research project or dissertation. Alternatively, you can take the broader Biological and Biomedical Sciences option. Some options have a competitive entry due to restrictions of laboratory space, meaning you’re not guaranteed your Part II subject choice. However, more than 80 per cent of students are typically able to study their first choice of subject.

It's possible to take a Part III in Biochemistry, History and Philosophy of Science or Systems Biology, leading to an MSci degree.

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Physical Sciences options

In the first year (Part IA), those more interested in the physical sciences might choose:

A Level (or equivalent) Mathematics and the Part IA Mathematics option of the NST are essential for some physical sciences subjects.

In the second year (Part IB), eight physical science subjects are offered. Students who think of themselves as physicists usually choose Physics A and B, plus another science or Mathematics. Potential chemists generally take Chemistry A and B with a further physical or biological subject, or even Experimental Psychology or History and Philosophy of Science.

Many physical scientists discover a real enthusiasm for the new subjects that they start in the first year, such as Earth Sciences, Materials Science or a biological subject, and continue with these in subsequent years.

Most students focus on a single subject in their third year (Part II) and concentrate on specific areas of the discipline. Alternatively, you can take the broader Physical Sciences option.

It's possible to take a Part III in Astrophysics, Chemistry, Geological Sciences, History and Philosophy of Science, Materials Science, Physics or Systems Biology, leading to an MSci degree.

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Learning and assessment

The course is both intensive and challenging, but the excellent learning environment enables you to rise to this challenge. Your timetable is full and structured and you'll encounter new ways of learning and studying.

Each subject approaches teaching in different ways but a combination of lectures, practical classes (where relevant), example classes, supervisions and seminars provides core subject knowledge and develops your transferable skills – support from supervisors and your Director of Studies helps you to develop the most suitable way of working for you.

For each option in Year 1, you usually have three hours of lectures, some practical work and one supervision per week.

Assessment varies depending on the option taken but always includes written examinations. There may also be practical examinations or continuous assessment of practical work.

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Preparatory reading

No preparatory reading is required for the course but a list of interesting and informative books for prospective students is available on the Natural Sciences website.

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Changing course

In the first year, a number of students take Computer Science or Mathematics with Physics and then change to Natural Sciences to continue with Physics from their second year.

In contrast, some students take Part IA Natural Sciences and change to the Computer Science course or Chemical Engineering in their second year. It's also possible (with your College's agreement) to take Part I Natural Sciences and then transfer to another subject such as Management Studies, or another arts or social science subject for Part II.

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Accreditation

Some routes through the course are accredited by a professional body, including, for example, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry. An appropriate combination of subjects and Part II papers is required in each case.

After Natural Sciences?

Almost half of our graduates continue with further study and research; in Cambridge or at other universities, in the chemical industry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, environmental management or nanotechnology. Natural Sciences prepares you well for the challenges of research, especially in emerging interdisciplinary areas.

Other graduates follow a wide range of careers, from banking or accountancy to law, and from consultancy to media-related work. Skills which Natural Sciences graduates develop are highly valued by employers.

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Course outline

The teaching of material is approached in different ways but each subject option will typically include a combination of lectures, seminars, practical classes and supervisions.

Lectures, seminars and practicals are arranged by the University and take place in the departments in various locations throughout Cambridge, while supervisions often (though not always) take place in the Colleges. You will also undertake research projects and field trips (where relevant).

Entry requirements

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

Course requirements

Please note that in the following 'science/mathematics subjects' refers to Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics. It does not include Psychology.

Essential At least two science/mathematics A Levels/IB Higher Levels
Highly desirable A third science/mathematics subject to at least AS Level/IB Standard Level

To make full use of the flexibility of the Natural Sciences course, you'll find it helpful to have a strong knowledge base across a wide range of science/mathematics subjects.

A Levels

Most applicants have at least three science/mathematics subjects at A Level. The minimum requirement is two, but this will restrict your choice of Part IA subjects. In these circumstances you'll normally be expected to achieve A* in one of the two science/mathematics subjects and encouraged to take an additional science/mathematics AS Level. The more useful combinations are:

  • A Level Biology, A Level Chemistry and AS Mathematics or Physics
  • A Level Chemistry, A Level Mathematics and AS Physics
  • A Level Physics, A Level Mathematics and AS Further Mathematics

See Part IA paper descriptions for further specific requirements.

International Baccalaureate

The advice above about A Level subject combinations also applies to the IB. For these purposes:

  • Standard Level subjects will satisfy AS Levels subject requirements
  • Higher Level subjects will satisfy A Levels subject requirements

Other examination systems

We expect applicants taking other recognised examinations to have a level of understanding in science and mathematics roughly equivalent to those applying with A Levels.

Refer to our main Entrance requirements pages and consult a College Admissions Tutor for further advice.

Consult a College Admissions Tutor for further advice.

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.


Biological Sciences

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's Interview only
Churchill Interview only
Clare Interview only
Corpus Christi Interview only
Downing Mathematical test at interview (only for students taking A Level Mathematics or equivalent)
Emmanuel Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Fitzwilliam Test at interview
Girton Preparatory study at interview
Gonville & Caius Interview only
Homerton Preparatory study at interview
Hughes Hall Test at interview
Jesus Interview only
King's Test at interview
Lucy Cavendish Test at interview
Magdalene Test at interview
Murray Edwards Interview only
Newnham Interview only
Pembroke Interview only
Peterhouse School/college essays
Queens' Interview only
Robinson Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
St Catharine's Interview only
St Edmund's Test at interview; Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
St John's Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Selwyn Interview only
Sidney Sussex Interview only
Trinity Test at interview
Trinity Hall Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Wolfson Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

Physical Sciences

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's Interview only
Churchill Interview only
Clare Interview only
Corpus Christi Test at interview
Downing Mathematical test at interview
Emmanuel Preparatory study at interview for Chemists only; Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Fitzwilliam Test at interview
Girton Interview only
Gonville & Caius Interview only
Homerton Preparatory study at interview
Hughes Hall Test at interview
Jesus Interview only
King's Test at interview
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene Test at interview
Murray Edwards Interview only
Newnham Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Pembroke Interview only
Peterhouse Preparatory study at interview
Queens' Test at interview
Robinson Test at interview
St Catharine's Interview only
St Edmund's Test at interview
St John's Written test and informal test at interview
Selwyn Interview only
Sidney Sussex Interview only
Trinity Test at interview
Trinity Hall Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Wolfson Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

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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 Natural Sciences at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore Natural Sciences in more detail on the course website.
  • Course introduction - An introduction to the Natural Sciences degree.
  • Course FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about the Natural Sciences course.
  • Teaching style - Information about the styles of teaching used in the Natural Sciences degree course.

Improve your knowledge of Natural Sciences

  • Preparatory reading - Guidance on preparatory reading for applicants interested in Natural Sciences, broken down by subject area.

Tools to help you with your Natural Sciences application

Natural Sciences and your future

  • Transferable skills - A guide to the transferable skills you can develop during the course of a Natural Sciences degree.

Check out the specific resources for each of the subjects that make up Natural Sciences

Astrophysics-specific resources

Astrophysics-specific resources

  • Studying Astrophysics - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Astrophysics.

  • Subject FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about studying Astrophysics at Cambridge.

  • Student comments - At the bottom of the page, there are some comments by current and recently graduated Astrophysics students.

Biology and Biochemistry-specific resources

Biology and Biochemistry-specific resources

Chemistry-specific resources

Chemistry-specific resources

  • chemNRICH - Mathematical conundrums with a chemistry twist...

  • Studying Chemistry - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Chemistry.

  • Subject FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about studying Chemistry at Cambridge

Computer Science-specific resources

Computer Science-specific resources

  • Studying Computer Science - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to take the first year Computer Science option.

Earth Sciences-specific resources

Earth Sciences-specific resources

  • Course guide - A pdf guide to studying Earth Sciences at Cambridge.

  • Student profiles - Profiles of current and recently graduated Earth Sciences students.

  • Staff profiles - Profiles of the Earth Sciences staff.

  • Field trips - Information about field trips undertaken by Earth Sciences students.

  • Subject Overview - Information about the Earth Sciences course.

  • Application information - Information on the entry requirements for studying Earth Sciences at Cambridge.

  • Graduate profiles - Some recent graduates reflect on their experience studying Earth Sciences at Cambridge and on their subsequent careers.

Genetics-specific resources

Genetics-specific resources

  • Studying Genetics - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Genetics.

  • Genetics papers - Detailed information on the papers offered by the Department of Genetics.

History and Philosophy of Science-specific resources

History and Philosophy of Science-specific resources

Experimental Psychology-specific resources

Experimental Psychology-specific resources

Mathematics for Natural Sciences-specific resources

Mathematics for Natural Sciences-specific resources

Material Sciences and Metallurgy-specific resources

Material Sciences and Metallurgy-specific resources

Pathology-specific resources

Pathology-specific resources

  • Studying Pathology - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Pathology.

Pharmacology-specific resources

Pharmacology-specific resources

Physics-specific resources

Physics-specific resources

  • Studying Physics - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Physics.

  • Physics papers - Detailed information on the papers offered by the Department of Physics.

  • physNRICH - Mathematical conundrums with a physics twist...

Physiology-specific resources

Physiology-specific resources

  • Studying Physiology - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Physiology.

  • Subject FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about studying Physiology at Cambridge

  • Why study Physiology? - Find out more about Physiology, and why it is an interesting subject to study

Plant Sciences-specific resources

Plant Sciences-specific resources

Zoology-specific resources

Zoology-specific resources

  • Studying Zoology - Information for Natural Sciences applicants who wish to study Zoology.

  • Transferable Skills - A guide to the transferable skills you can develop while studying Zoology at Cambridge.

  • rEvolution - A site full of resources to help you explore biology and the history of life.

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.