Applying for Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge University

Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge can be tailored from the start. This means it’s suited both to students with specific subject interests and to students looking for a multidisciplinary degree. 

The course comprises three core disciplines, taught by globally respected departments:

(1) Politics and International Relations explores politics within and between countries, covering issues from human rights and democracy, to financial crises and international conflict.

(2) Social anthropologists address ‘what it is to be human’ by studying social and cultural diversity – how people live, think and relate to each other around the world.

(3) Sociology focuses on the nature of modern societies and the processes that shape social life, by examining social institutions and topics such as power and inequality.

Depending on the subject(s) you choose, there may  be options to take individual papers in the other HSPS subjects or from other courses as well.

Academic Requirements:
- A-levels: A*AA
- IB: 40-42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

Only Cambridge did a political course encompassing sociology (Profile 213)

It was more that i chose between PPE and SPS, and not being very interested in econmics or philospohy, i applied to Cambridge (Profile 215)

Oxford only do Experimental Psychology (not my interest). I didn't get a good feeling from Oxford, but did from Cambridge. (Profile 216)

Cambridge do SPS, oxford do PPE, I prefer SPS (Profile 976)

Do you have any advice for future applicants in terms of preparation?

I would suggest you do not waste time talking about your non-academic activites. Concentrate on your subject and also make sure everything is related to your subject. For instance I have a rather unusual hobby called Graphology. If you look up the dictionary definition then you will see how it is easily related to the psychology aspect of my course. Although they like to know if you are human or not, at the end of the day, you are going to Cambridge to study not to play. By relating everything to your subject additionally demonstrates your enthusiasm and passion which your interviewers will share. (Profile 213)

Don't worry too much if you don't know everything, just make sure you have a sound base of knowledge that you can apply to the questions asked. I think that is more impressive, to see you thinking of your feet, then you knowing everything. Make it obvious you're using knowledge and applying it by saying things like "I haven’t studied that area much, but I know this... and that might mean..." (Profile 976)

Don't bother filling in the extra personal statement bit at the end unless you have something very important to say. (Profile 215)

Did you have to submit any written work prior to the interview? 

I had to submit 3 essays. I really did not have many essays to choose from but thankfully had 3 good ones. I submited one on the impact of the euro on UK businesses, one on British foreign policy between 1932-36 (I think), and another on why Lloyd George was not to blame for the disastrous treaty of versailles. It's best to submit essays which relate to your subjects again. (Profile 213)

Two essays that I had done for my A-Levels. The ones I submitted weren't really the best of my ability and didn't come up in interview, so don't worry too much. Make sure you post them in plenty of time. I left it to the day before and had to pay for special postage. (Profile 976)

3 essays - I sent 2 politics, and 1 english essay. (Profile 215)

How were your interview(s), in general?

I had 2 interviews - one general, one subject-orientated. The general interview still asks you subject-related questions here and there.

Advice to everyone: try and be as friendly as possible to the interviewers. They are partly there to assess your intelligence, but also to ascertain whether they would enjoy teaching you. They aren't going to enjoy teaching someone who is aloof and unapproachable.

It does partly depend on the personality of your interviewer, plus the atmosphere of the college. Applying to an informal college they probably enjoyed interviewing someone who is informal themselves. (Profile 213)

First one was amazing. Had to read an article then discuss that for a bit. Had a good raport with the interviews and they were really cool. Quite informal and went really quickly.

Second one was pretty dodgy. I couldn't answer a pretty basic question - "What does 'Social Construction' mean?", even though I knew the answer, I just couldn't express it well. They seemed disinterested and bored. I came across as pretty average and someone you would reject, but I think my first one swung it for me. (Profile 976)

What questions were you asked during your interview(s)?

I was asked questions related vaguely to what I had written on my UCAS forms. The hardest question actually sounds like the easiest: 'Why does America want to go to war with Iraq?'. It threw me because I wasn't expecting such an obviously topical question. The other problem was at the time I was slightly pro-war and they were blatantly anti-war. Because I hadn't thought much about any possible response I decided to go throw the reasons it wasn't. I pointed out it cannot possibly be about oil since over 2/3 of Iraqi oil goes to Russia. If America took the oil it would start another cold war. So if you don't know what an answer soundly vaguely correct might be, go through the process of elimination. I never got to the answer because we got side-tracked down a comment I made about the situation in Israel. (Profile 213)

Interviewer made me defend a view on a single topic for almost the entirety of the interview. It was extremely tough and she was intent on making me change my mind. These people are experts and unless you are hard as nails you will feel completely humiliated by the end of it. It was extremely enjoyable and stimulating though and I'd never been shouted down in such a way before. (Profile 717)

What sociological methods could you use to assess the problems of the rioting in France? Why SPS? Define a Nation-state. Do you agree with the view that the Nation-state is in decline and why? Why are you doing 4 A levels? (Profile 542)

Can't really remember but roughly:
- Discussed article
- Answered a few questions relating to content on A-Levels
- Discussed some more complex topics that I wouldn't have studied before and had the interviewer playing devil's advocate. (Profile 976)

Non-academic interview - he asked me those obvious questions that you're always told to prepare for, but don't because you're convinced they won't come up. I thought it went atrociously: 'How are you suited to this course?' - i mumbled something ridiculous about my analytical skills. Academic interview - much better - mostly politics orientated. He asked me about the interests i had highlighted in my personal statement - constitutional reform, liberalism, etc. Asked for a couple of definitions - HRA, EU, etc. Asked some questions based on the essays i'd submitted - (making sure i wrote them?) (Profile 215)