Albrecht Dürer, Saint John Devouring the Book, Woodcut, c. 1496–1498. National Gallery of Art, Washington

English at Cambridge

As a Part I (years one and two) student, you would take six components over two years. Papers in Medieval Literature and Shakespeare are compulsory, but you can then select between papers covering a series of overlapping literary periods from 1500 onwards (a portfolio of essays and/or a dissertation can be offered for these), Practical Criticism and Critical Practice, and other papers on literatures in modern and ancient languages borrowable from the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, the Faculty of Classics, and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. The considerable choice available within each paper is an important aspect of studying English at Cambridge, so we would want you to take advantage of this.

The final-year course – Part II – consists of five components: Practical Criticism, Tragedy, a 7500-word dissertation, and two optional components, of which one can be another dissertation. Tragedy is a wide-ranging and highly stimulating paper based fundamentally in Greek, Shakespearean, and other tragic drama in any language, but augmented by the history of critical and theoretical writing on the tragic, as well as works in such media as film, music, painting, and sculpture. Current optional papers are: Medieval English Literature 1066–1500; Chaucer; Early Tudor Literature 1500–1547; Victorian Literature 1847–72; Literature, Culture, and Crisis 1631–71; Lyric; Modernism and the Short Story; Moralists (on the history and nature of moral thought); History and Theory of Literary Criticism; Postcolonial and Related Literatures; American Literature; Contemporary Writing in English; Literature and Visual Culture.

You can find full details about the English Tripos at Cambridge and core aspects of the learning experience (Faculty lectures and seminars, small-group classes, and paired or individual supervisions in College) on the Faculty of English website, and summarised in the University Undergraduate Prospectus.

English at Churchill College

English at Churchill College is a thriving and sociable literary community, to which we aim to admit 5 or 6 able and enthusiastic undergraduates each year. Much of the teaching and supervision is provided by the College’s Fellows. Other teaching is exchanged with Fellows of other colleges, or given by advanced doctoral students, so that your individual interests can be developed through working with subject specialists. Your Director of Studies would discuss with you the overall shape of your deepening intellectual and literary commitments.


If you have an avid and eclectic appetite for reading good literature and exploring what that means, we are looking for students like you. Moreover, you would write at least one essay each week, often two, so having a keen interest in developing persuasive, well-structured critical prose is also essential. We expect you to have or be taking A Level English Literature or its equivalent, but do not require specific supplementary subjects. We see no necessary disadvantage in having studied outside the humanities, so long as you show suitably high levels of potential, commitment, and ability in English. However, many applicants have studied modern or ancient languages, or another essay subject (such as History) at A Level or equivalent, and these complementary subjects can enrich your interpretation of literary works and language.

Subject pre-requisites

Essential Highly desirable/useful
A Level / IB Higher Level English Literature or English Language and Literature No specific subjects

For other qualifications, see our Typical Offers page.

Written assessments

Cambridge University uses a system of common format written assessments, specifically tailored to each subject. These give us valuable additional evidence of your academic ability, knowledge base, and potential to succeed at Cambridge. For more information about written assessments in this subject, click on:

Written assessments

Written work

We will ask you to submit two examples of teacher-marked written work (one preferably on Shakespeare), which we will read very carefully and may discuss with you at interview.

Interviews & interview preparation

If called, you will normally have two interviews. Directly before one of them, you will typically be required to write a short essay discussing the form, language, and style of one or two literary passages. A conversation about this normally forms part of the following interview. We are interested in the clarity of your thought and expression, your ability to develop ideas in response to your close reading of literary texts, and to defend or modify them when challenged. You will be able to refer to your essay and the passages in the interview.

The other interview will usually range over your wider reading and literary interests, and will focus more generally on your application. In this interview you may be invited to read and comment on a short piece of literary or critical writing.


Recent Churchill graduates have pursued careers in (amongst others) comedy script-writing and performance, law, teaching, social policy, international journalism, accountancy, the Civil Service, BBC radio, with others continuing to postgraduate studies in English, but also Psychology and Theology. In short, the highly developed powers of critical analysis, persuasive argument and stylish exposition acquired through studying English at Cambridge will provide an excellent basis for your next steps.


For more information and for all admissions enquiries, please contact the Admissions Office.

Admissions Office

College and Faculty of English prizes

Details on the The John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize and The Other Prize.

Find out more


Image: Albrecht Dürer, Saint John Devouring the Book, Woodcut, c. 1496–1498. National Gallery of Art, Washington

Fellows in English