How to get into Natural Sciences at Cambridge

Natural Sciences is a competitive course at Cambridge University. 25% of applicants were successful in receiving an offer in 2023, so it’s important to ensure your application stands out to Cambridge’s admissions officers.

If you’re thinking of applying for Natural Sciences or you’re just curious about what it takes to get into a competitive course at Cambridge, this guide contains everything you need to know – from entry requirements to tips on how to prepare from our expert Natural Sciences tutors.

The Profs’ Natural Sciences tutors have first-hand experience of the admissions process and what is required to succeed at each stage. Thanks to our expert support, students who work with The Profs are more than three times more likely to receive an offer from Cambridge University. Reach out to our team today to maximise your chances of success.

What is Natural Sciences?

Natural Sciences is an interdisciplinary programme that explores the fundamental principles of various scientific disciplines. It offers a broad-based education, allowing students to study subjects across multiple scientific fields such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, and Earth Sciences. The course aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of the natural world and equips students with analytical, problem-solving, and research skills applicable to a range of scientific careers.

Ordinarily, undergraduate Science and/or Maths degrees are listed as Bachelor of Science (BSc) courses. However, all undergraduate courses at Cambridge are Bachelor of Arts (BA), including Natural Sciences.

Cambridge University is unique in that it does not offer Biology, Chemistry or Physics as a standalone course. Instead, you choose subject choices for your academic year one, two and three. The flexibility of the course allows you to solely take biological sciences or physical sciences or study a combination of both.

Year one: You must choose three subjects from the following:

  • Biology of Cells
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Evolution and Behaviour
  • Materials Science
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Psychology (subject to timetable restrictions)

Plus Mathematics (focusing on Physical Sciences) or Mathematical Biology (focusing on Biological Sciences).

Year two: You must choose three subjects from the following:

  • Animal Diversity
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Chemistry A: Physical & Theoretical Chemistry
  • Chemistry B: Organic & Inorganic Chemistry
  • Computational Biology
  • Conservation
  • Developmental Biology
  • Earth Sciences A: Earth Surface Environment Sciences
  • Earth Sciences B: Earth Subsurface Process Sciences
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Sciences: Quantitative Approaches
  • Evolution
  • Genetics
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Materials Science
  • Mathematics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurobiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics A: Waves, Quantum Mechanics, Condensed Matter Physics
  • Physics B: Dynamics, Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics
  • Physiology
  • Plant Sciences

Years three and four: You can follow a broad spectrum Part II subject in Biological or Physical Sciences, or you can choose to specialise in one area. These areas include:

  • Astrophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Genetics
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Materials Science
  • Neuroscience
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
  • Plant Sciences
  • Systems Biology (Part III only)
  • Zoology
  • Quantitative Climate and Environmental Science (Part III only)

Some of these subjects have competitive entry due to limited space, and some offer a fourth-year (part III) option, leading to an MSci degree.

Top tip: Many other competitive universities require students to essentially ‘specialise’ in Science from the moment they begin their degree. This is because each area is its own degree course; for example, you can apply for Chemistry, Biology or Physics etc. For this reason, Cambridge might be a great choice if you are achieving very highly at A-level (or equivalent) in multiple sciences but don’t necessarily know exactly which area you’d like to pursue. It’s always important to research the range of Science courses offered by various universities before making your final UCAS choices.

What are the entry requirements for Natural Sciences?

Like all courses at Cambridge, Natural Sciences is very competitive. The course requires applicants to achieve excellent grades and show a strong aptitude for Science and Maths subjects. The table below shows the entry requirements for Natural Sciences:

QualificationGrades
A-levelsA*A*A
International Baccalaureate (IB)40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level.

Are you an international student? See international grade and English language requirements here.

Please note that particular grade and subject requirements can vary depending on whether you are specialising in Biological or Physical Sciences, and depending on the college you are applying to. See the entry requirements per college for Natural Sciences (Biological) and Natural Sciences (Physical).

You should also try to match or exceed averages. In the 2017, 2018 and 2019 entry, the majority of successful applicants (76-91%) from an A Level background achieved A*A*A* – one grade above the entry requirements. For the same period, the majority of IB entrants achieved at least 43 points overall and/or grades 777 at Higher Level. You should therefore be aiming for the highest possible grades in your A levels, IB or equivalent to maximise your chances of an offer.

We’ve compiled Cambridge’s courses, acceptance rates, and entry requirements in our undergraduate and postgraduate tables for clear comparison. Check them out!

Worried that you won’t achieve the necessary grades to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge? The Profs’ A level and IB tutors can help. We have extensive experience helping students excel in their coursework and final exams and achieve the entry grades for this competitive course. Reach out to our team for support.

Which subjects are recommended?

In order to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge, you must have studied Mathematics and two other Sciences at A Level/IB Higher Level (or equivalent). By Sciences, Cambridge means Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Further Mathematics – not Psychology. 

Here are some useful subject combinations suggested by Cambridge: 

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

Since Cambridge specifies that these are useful subject combinations, they will probably favour applicants who fulfil these combinations. So, it’s important to do this to make your Cambridge application as competitive as possible.

In 2017, 2018 and 20219, successful applicants to Natural Sciences (Biological) took Mathematics (99%), Further Mathematics (37%), Biology (98%), Chemistry (96%) and Physics (26%). Successful candidates for Natural Sciences (Physical) took Mathematics (100%), Further Mathematics (90%), Biology (8%), Chemistry (89%) and Physics (96%). So, it would boost your application to match these subject combinations.

Top tip for those missing Further Maths: It is definitely worth explaining to Cambridge why you have not studied Further Maths. If your school doesn’t offer this subject, you should flag this in your application. Similarly, if you tried to enrol to Further Maths and your school wouldn’t let you, you should note this in your application. If your referee can mention this for you, that is ideal, but if not, ensure that you do so yourself. Consider taking the TMUA, STEP, MOOCs, or UK Maths Challenge to prove your mathematical aptitude. 

If you’re missing a different subject, you can also try to find a related extra qualification or independent study, competition or society that you can complete/participate in which can stand in to demonstrate your academic ability in that subject and bolster your application. 

For more advice on what to do if you don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements, read our previous article. We’ve also got an article on how to get into Cambridge – packed full with insider information!

Which admissions test do you need for Natural Sciences?

All applicants to Natural Sciences at Cambridge are required to take the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA). You must register for this in advance and take it at a registered assessment centre. 

Cambridge also notes that your performance in the assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application. Hence, you must ensure that all parts of your application are as polished as possible. Moreover, if you don’t perform amazingly well in this admission assessment, you might be able to win them over in your interview (should you get one). 

Important notice: The NSAA is being discontinued and replaced with the Engineering and Science test (ESAT) as per this article. Read our article on how to prepare for the ESAT.

What does the NSAA involve?

The NSAA is a two-hour exam designed to assess your knowledge and abilities in Mathematics and Science. See the table below for a clear idea of the structure and content:

SectionContentTime allocated 
One4 parts – each containing 20 multiple-choice questions. You should answer 2 of the 4 parts (choosing one in Maths and one Science).60 minutes
Two3 parts – each containing 20 multiple-choice questions. 

You should answer 1 of the 3 parts (choosing one Science). No calculators allowed.


Note: Since 2022, section 2 Biology now assumes knowledge of advanced topics, bringing it in line with Section 2 Physics and Chemistry, which already assumed knowledge of advanced topics.

60 minutes

View the 2023 NSAA specification here.

For more tips and support on how to prepare for the NSAA, check out our helpful preparation guide via the button below. You can also reach out to our team of NSAA experts, who have insider knowledge on what admissions officers are looking for in Natural Sciences applicants and how to increase your chances of receiving an offer from this competitive Cambridge course.

Important notice: The NSAA is being discontinued and replaced with the Engineering and Science test (ESAT) as per this article. Read our article on how to prepare for the ESAT.

How hard is it to get into Natural Sciences at Cambridge?

Natural Sciences is a popular course at Cambridge (an already competitive university) with 2,436 applications in 2023. 

Getting into the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge University is highly competitive, as Cambridge is one of the most prestigious and sought-after universities in the world. Not only are the grade requirements extremely high (and the average grades of successful students even higher), students are also expected to submit an outstanding personal statement with excellent references, a high NSAA score, and perform exceptionally in their interview. 

The admissions process is rigorous, and applicants are expected to demonstrate exceptional academic achievements, a strong passion for the sciences, and the ability to think critically and analytically. 

Thankfully, The Profs’ Oxbridge admissions tutors can help you triple your chances of getting into Cambridge to study Natural Sciences. Many of our experienced tutors are Oxbridge graduates and ex-admissions officers themselves, with the very latest and best knowledge on what Cambridge is looking for in top Natural Sciences applicants. Get in touch with us today to chat with a member of our team about how we can help you.

What are the fees for Natural Sciences at Cambridge?

The table below shows the fees for Cambridge’s Natural Sciences course for both home (UK) and overseas students:

Student statusCourse fees (per year)
Home£9,250
Overseas£35,517

You can find out more information about what fees you will pay on Cambridge’s fee status page. You can also use Cambridge’s fees, funding and financial assistance page to see the funding options available to you.

4 tips on how to get into Natural Sciences at Cambridge

1. Don’t slack on any part of the admissions process

When applying to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge, there are many stages of the admissions process to consider, and you should prepare for each one thoroughly.

  • Your grades: Preparation for your Natural Sciences application really starts from the moment you start secondary school. Cambridge is looking for a long track record of academic success so make sure that your GCSEs and A levels (or equivalent) are as polished as possible. Excellent grades are essential in order to be considered for a place at Cambridge, so you should be aiming for A*A*A in your A-levels (or equivalent) as a minimum and A*A*A* for the best chance of an offer.
  • Your UCAS and MyCapp application: The first official stage of your Natural Sciences application is completing your UCAS application online. As well as your grades, this includes your personal statement. This is the first chance you’ll get to showcase your suitability for this course and prove to Cambridge that you are interested and committed to the subject areas. You will also need to complete a MyCapp, ensure that you read our previous article on this as it holds more importance than students often think. It will allow you the opportunity to write a second personal statement unique to Cambridge University about why you want to study Natural Sciences in particular.
  • The admissions test: It’s important that you prepare for the ESAT just as you would for any other exam. Successful applicants invest the same amount of time and practice into this test as their A levels. Read our article on how to prepare for the ESAT.
  • The interview: If your application is impressive enough, you may be invited for an interview at Cambridge. This is your last chance to impress the university and prove that you are an excellent candidate for the course. Oxbridge interviews are like oral admissions tests and there is often an interview mark scheme your interviewers will be scoring you against, so it’s important to seek professional help from our expert interview coaches to prepare effectively. Check out our video by our founder and our previous article on how to smash an Oxbridge interview!

2. Demonstrate your knowledge

It’s particularly important to do your research when it comes to applying for Natural Sciences at Cambridge, as there are many Maths and Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) options available that you can specialise in. You’ll also need to choose between Biological or Physical Natural Sciences. It’s good to indicate what areas within Natural Science you excel at and are enthusiastic about.

You should show awareness of what module options you have in year 1, 2 and 3, as well as what ones you’re interested in choosing. It’s a good idea to have specific modules in mind, for example, that you are particularly interested in studying. 

You might also offer some insight into what you’d like to go on to specialise in by demonstrating that you have researched the third and fourth-year modules (for example, Ecology or Astrophysics) and done some additional reading around those areas in your free time.

As most universities ask that you choose one Science and stick to it for your undergraduate course, it’s great to explain why you are going against the norm by choosing Cambridge. Acknowledge the opportunities of freedom and exploration that Cambridge’s Natural Sciences course offers and why this appeals to you. 

Tailor your personal statement to Natural Sciences and Cambridge as much as possible. But don’t worry if your UCAS personal statement needs to be a little generic as you’ll have the chance to speak about this specific course at Cambridge in your MyCapp statement.

Also, research the Natural Science department at Cambridge itself. What research have they done that you find interesting? What achievements/awards have inspired you? What resources or facilities are you excited about? Reach out to professors and academic staff in the department and build a rapport with them so that you can mention their names in your application. 

3. Talk end goals

Cambridge wants students with a real interest in the chosen subject, and it’s a bonus if they will also maintain their employability rankings. 

You should also consider how a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge will help you achieve your future ambitions, whether educational or career-related. Demonstrating that you have a long-term plan will show the admissions team that you are motivated, driven and committed to studying Natural Sciences. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to stick to it and the university will expect your interests and ambitions to shift as you expand your knowledge and gain experience on the course, but that initial drive is what is really important.

Top tip 1: To help you formulate a plan or generate ideas on what you might like to do with your Natural Sciences degree, you should do your research into Natural Sciences as an industry and the many different areas that you could pursue for your career. You could also speak to people you admire or who have worked in the field you are interested in on LinkedIn, as well as look into Natural Sciences alumni from Cambridge and other top institutions to see where they are now for inspiration.

Top tip 2: Cambridge is a very competitive university, especially for undergraduate entry, and it’s best to do all you can to stand out to maximise your chances. Work experience in a relevant industry to your chosen discipline can demonstrate your drive and commitment to the subject e.g. shadowing at a pharmacy or working at a space museum. Remember, context is important. Remain as relevant to Science as possible. Expressing what skills you have learned from this experience and how they will help you with your course will also make you a more attractive candidate.

3. Prove your aptitude and passion for Natural Sciences

Places on Cambridge’s Natural Sciences course are incredibly competitive and most successful applicants achieve three A*s in their A levels (or equivalent). It’s therefore important that, as well as excelling academically, you demonstrate strong mathematical and scientific ability and a genuine passion for Natural Sciences both in and outside of school. 

If you’ve consistently performed exceptionally well in your science subjects then include evidence of this in your personal statement. 

Extracurriculars can be a great opportunity to boost your application. If the activities are related to Natural Sciences, they can demonstrate genuine passion and interest in the subject. If you have any accomplishments within your extracurriculars, they can be evidence that you have talent, capability, and skills that will equip you for your degree. 

That said, don’t write ‘fluff’, check that your extracurriculars genuinely relate to your chosen course, demonstrate relevant skills, and strengthen your application. Ensure you add new experiences to your repertoire if you’re falling short in any areas of your application.

If you have competed in the UKROC competition, Biology Olympiad, CREST awards or Special Species competition, you should include these in your statement. Activities like these are a great way of proving your abilities and passions and make your application stand out from other strong applicants.

Top tip: Ask your referee to vouch for your talent in Science and Maths. Ideally, they will highlight your skills and qualities that are relevant to your chosen degree, or any achievements and extracurriculars you couldn’t fit into your personal statement. Choose a referee who teaches Science or Maths. It is also a good idea to choose a referee who knows you well enough to write you something of quality. 

4. Get 1-to-1 help from a Natural Sciences expert

Natural Sciences is a competitive course at the prestigious University of Cambridge. It requires you to perform well in multiple stages to be in with a chance of securing an offer. 

Unfortunately, schools and colleges are oftentimes not equipped to provide specialist Oxbridge preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. As a result, we advise seeking a professional Oxbridge admissions tutor to help you through the process.

The Profs’ Natural Sciences tutors have many years of experience helping students develop their academic profiles, prepare for the NSAA, and excel in the admissions interview. If you work with one of The Profs’ tutors, you are over three times more likely to get into Cambridge. You’ll also gain invaluable independent study skills that will prepare you for study at an elite UK university, as well as a deeper and broader understanding of a wide range of fundamental concepts within Natural Sciences and more specialised areas. 

Reach out to our experienced team today to get started.