Frequently Asked Questions

Choosing a University course can be a daunting task. Hopefully this site has helped you to make a decision about your application to Cambridge, but inevitably we won’t have answered every question. Here are a selection of questions we’ve been asked by prospective students recently. If you have any others, please drop us a line at [Javascript required] and we’ll post your question and its answer here (anonymously of course).

What programming languages does the course teach?

There are many different languages using many different programming paradigms out there. We aim to teach you the core principles so that you can quickly grasp any new language that comes along. Of course, we have to teach using something and we currently use Java as the main Object-Oriented programming language, ML for functional programming and Prolog for logic. We also look at other languages such as C and C++, although in less detail. We do not expect any of our students to be able to program in any of these languages when they first arrive.

Can you recommend a college?

The main University website offers further advice on choosing a college.

Do you place any value on the Computing A-Level?

Yes, we value good marks in all subjects, albeit not always equally. We focus primarily on Mathematics because there is a statistical correlation between those who score well in mathematics and who do well on our course. The newer Computing A-Levels resemble much of what we teach in our first year, so it is worth remembering that studying the A-Level will currently result in repetition of material at University. Some students (and Directors of Studies) therefore prefer to broaden their horizons and study related subjects such as an extra science. You may wish to contact the Director of Studies for the College you are interested in to see how they weight the Computing A-Level at admission.

Will I have to take STEP papers?

If you apply to read the Computer Science with Mathematics option then you will probably be asked to take STEP. For the other options, it depends on the college. Some declare that they will definitely not ask for STEP. The Undergraduate Prospectus contains the gory details for the current year. The other colleges may or may not ask for STEP depending on the admissions committee’s decision when they make you your offer.

What are the requirements for those doing Scottish Highers or overseas qualifications?

It depends on the college. You will need to email or ring a college and ask the admissions secretary or an admissions tutor.

Can you recommend any books or activities to do that would help my application and/or studies?

At the admissions stage we look for two major things: academic ability and passion for the subject. Whilst the course itself does not have any pre-requisites other than mathematics, it is difficult to discern a passion for the subject if a candidate has never tried any form of Computer Science. Therefore, from an admissions perspective, it would be wise to do something that shows your independent interest in the area. Examples of this include reading around the subject, learning a programming language, contributing to open-source projects, releasing a phone app, or building hardware (robots etc). Any one of these, when done well, would be sufficient to demonstrate your passion.

If you choose to learn a new language, it may be a good idea to learn one that is not explicitly taught in the Tripos. Doing so obviously helps to avoid repetition, but also gives you a wider perspective on languages that can be useful later in the degree and in employment. A popular choice is python, for which there are many tutorials available.

We recommend getting hold of a Raspberry Pi and following one of the many hardware and software tutorials for it on the web. An additional advantage of this route is that you will gain familiarity with the UNIX command line: a very valuable skill to have in the Tripos!