The First Year

We firmly believe that a narrow university education is a poor one. Consequently we use 50% of the first year to teach you the fundamentals of CS. A further 25% is spent extending your mathematics and the final 25% is left for you to choose an option which most appeals to you.

The CS component of the first year is designed for students with a wide range of backgrounds and experience, bringing everyone up to the same standard by the end of the year. You'll be taught how computers work from top to bottom and get a grounding in digital electronics (theoretical and practical). You'll also meet at least two programming languages (don't worry if you haven't programmed before: many we teach haven't); get a grounding in the mathematical underpinnings of computing and the art of software design; and take a good look at how to evaluate and design algorithms (essentially puzzle solving).

Some of our students arrive with prior experience in a subset of the things we teach in the first year. However, we teach everything from scratch so prior knowledge or experience isn't a requirement. If you are experienced in some aspect of CS, don't worry—we manage to challenge everyone regardless of their incoming ability.

Getting hands-on with CS

In the first year, you will take practical classes. Each week we provide computer facilities and demonstrators to help you through a series of assessed exercises across a broad range of topics. This includes hands-on programming experience in ML and Java as well as building a series of electrical circuits in the hardware practicals. Each practical contains a core set of tasks that everyone completes as well as a few optional exercises to challenge you if you found the core task easy. In this way we cater for all levels of prior experience.

For the full course details for the current year, see the syllabus booklet

First Year Options

When you apply, we ask you to specify which option your would like to study in your first year from one of the following:

  • Computer Science with Mathematics
  • Computer Science with Psychology
  • Computer Science with Physics
  • Computer Science with Chemistry
  • Computer Science with Earth Sciences
  • Computer Science with Physiology
  • Computer Science with Evolution and Behaviour

Note that all of these courses carry the same UCAS course code, so there is potentially room to change your option when you arrive. However, it is important to think carefully about your option for the following reasons:

  • If you wish to do CS with Mathematics, you must specify it on your application. This option has different entry requirements (STEP in mathematics).
  • Some options have entry requirements (see the specific web pages for those courses for more details).
  • Colleges may use the specified option when selecting your interviewers so it is important to choose something appropriate.

If you go for CS with Mathematics but don't make your STEP offer, many Colleges will still admit you for CS with one of the other options. This is not true of all Colleges, however, so you may wish to ask this question by contacting the Admissions Tutors at your shortlisted Colleges.

Let's look at the options more closely:

CS with Natural Sciences or Psychology

With this option, 25% of your first year will be spent studying the mathematics course given to physical scientists as part of the Natural Sciences Tripos. This leaves 25% of the year that can be filled with any of these Natural Science options: Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Physiology and Evolution and Behaviour. Check out the Natural Sciences web page for more information.

There is also the opportunity to study the Introduction to Psychology paper from the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) Tripos. This is a new tripos starting in 2013 - see the PBS course structure pages for more details.

CS with Mathematics

This option means you complete 50% of the first year of the Mathematics Tripos, sitting Mathematics Papers 1 and 2. This is an ideal choice if you have a love of mathematics and gives a great grounding for the more theoretical aspects of CS. Depending on your choice of College, selecting this option may mean that you will also need to take STEP Mathematics exams. More information is available on the entry requirements page.