How to get into the University of Cambridge for English Literature

Cambridge is renowned as one of the best universities in the world, especially for its faculty of English Literature. Times Higher Education’s UK university rankings place Cambridge as the top institution for Arts and Humanities and the Complete University Guide lists Cambridge as the 2nd best UK university for English Literature (2024).

Not only is it generally competitive to gain a place at Cambridge, but the English Literature course is especially difficult to get into. In 2022, Cambridge’s Annual Admissions Statistical Report revealed that the acceptance rate for English Literature is 23.8%. This is a little higher than Cambridge’s average acceptance rate: 18%, however, don’t let that mislead you into thinking that English Literature is not a competitive course! Cambridge is a prestigious, competitive university with high entry requirements, hence you will be compared to peers of a high calibre. Moreover, some colleges have tighter acceptance rates than others. So, stay tuned to learn how to master the application process and stand out from the crowd. Read more on Cambridge’s acceptance rates here.

If you’d like to get into Cambridge University for English Literature or you’re just curious about what it takes to get into one of the most globally acclaimed universities in the UK, then read on. This guide contains everything you need to know – from entry requirements to tips on what you need to do to get into English Literature Cambridge.

The Profs’ English Literature tutors have first-hand experience with the admissions process and what is required to succeed at each stage. Thanks to our expert support, students who work with The Profs are over 3x more likely to receive an offer from Cambridge University. Reach out to our team today to maximise your chances of success!

Also, check out our previous blogs on how to get into Cambridge, Cambridge’s courses and entry requirements and what to do if you don’t meet Cambridge’s requirements.

What is the English Literature course at Cambridge like?

Cambridge’s English department boasts famous writers as alumni like Sylvia Plath, William Wordsworth, John Milton etc. Cambridge’s literary societies, such as the Cambridge English Literature Society, provide platforms for students to engage deeply with their literary passion and connect with like-minded peers. Cambridge hosts regular literary events, ranging from author talks to poetry readings. 

The English Faculty building at Cambridge houses the Faculty of English library, equipped with 80,000 books and computer facilities for skills training. Additionally, it features a drama studio hosting plays and poetry readings. Students at Cambridge enjoy access to the prestigious Cambridge University Library, one of the world’s oldest university libraries. A great way to check out everything for yourself is to attend one of Cambridge University’s open days.

Cambridge’s English course is characterised by innovation, progress and academic excellence. Hence students who adore literature and enjoy asking probing questions are described as ideal candidates. Literature students at Cambridge receive a comprehensive education in English literary works, encompassing both British classics and literature from American and post-colonial contexts. Students are given the opportunity to specialise and explore interdisciplinary connections with other art forms such as music and film, as well as other fields of study like philosophy, art history, and politics.

Students are taught via lectures, seminars, and small-group supervision and classes. One of two short essays will be required per week, which you’ll discuss with your supervisor.

When considering applicants for its English Literature programme, Cambridge looks for creative students with astute skills in critical thinking, analysis, and written and oral communication. These abilities will be further developed and honed throughout the course and can be applied to a range of career paths, including roles in publishing, media, marketing, academia, teaching and journalism.

Cambridge’s English Literature graduates have the opportunity to graduate with one or more of the following degree titles: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of English Literature (MSt) and/or a postgraduate research degree (MPhil or PhD).

What are the entry requirements?

The entry requirements to study English Literature as an undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge are high, as Cambridge is one of the most competitive universities to get into. 

If you’re considering Cambridge, take a look at the table below detailing the Cambridge English Literature entry requirements:

QualificationGrades required
A levelsA*AA (62% of applicants have A*A*A*). Note that if you apply to Churchill, King’s or Lucy Cavendish, you’ll need an A*/7 in English Literature or English Language and Literature. This may also be a condition at other colleges. 
IB41-42 points, with 776 at Higher Level.
Other UK qualificationsCheck the full list of qualifications accepted by Cambridge.
Other international qualificationsCheck the full list of international qualifications accepted by Cambridge.

Please note: 62% of Cambridge’s English Literature students (2017-2019) achieved at least A*A*A and the majority of IB students achieved 43 points overall. 

Worried that you won’t qualify with the necessary grades for Oxbridge English Literature? The Profs’ A level and IB tutors can help. We have extensive experience helping students excel in their coursework, final exams and entry tests for this competitive course. Reach out to our team for support. 

What subjects are recommended?

Cambridge requires English Literature applicants to have studied English Literature or English Literature and Language for A level or IB Higher Levels. 

Corpus Christi, Queen’s and Robinson College only accept English Literature. Also, 97% of English Literature students at Cambridge (2017-2019) studied English Literature. So, English Literature is clearly preferred by Cambridge and studying this subject rather than Literature and Language could make your application more competitive. 

The University of Cambridge does not require or recommend any further subjects. However, it states that most of its English Literature students in 2017-2019 also studied History, languages, Maths and/or Drama and Theatre Studies alongside English. Studying one of these subjects or pursuing it in your free time as an extracurricular could be a bonus, but that’s definitely not to say you won’t have a fighting chance without doing so. 

What admissions tests are there?

You might need to take a written assessment if you are shortlisted for an interview. If this is the case, you will not need to register in advance and your college will provide you with details.

Last year, English Literature applicants for all Cambridge colleges were asked to complete a written assessment in November 2023. So, keep an eye on Cambridge’s college admission assessments page for clear information on whether this will be the case for your application cycle.

The written assessment is an exam lasting 90 minutes. Students are asked to select two passages and prepare a text response. You can view an example paper here.

Applicants to all colleges must submit 2 pieces of written work before their interview. Guidance on written work is available here.

Don’t forget our expert Oxbridge admissions team is here to help you craft a winning application for English Literature at Cambridge. We also have experienced admissions test and English Literature tutors on hand, ready to support you through the assessment process.

How hard is it to get into English Literature at Cambridge?

Applying for English Literature at Cambridge is no easy feat. 

If you’re thinking about applying to Cambridge, take a look at the table below to get an idea of the competitiveness surrounding this undergraduate degree: 

ApplicationsOffersAcceptances
776201185

The table is based on the 2021/2022 academic year.

The Profs’ Oxbridge admissions tutors can help you triple your chances of getting into Cambridge to study English Literature. Thanks to our network of experienced tutors, many of whom are Oxbridge graduates and ex-admissions officers themselves, we have the very latest and best knowledge on what Cambridge is looking for in their English Literature applications. Get in touch with us today to chat with a member of our team about how we can help with your application to Cambridge.

What are the fees for English Literature at Cambridge?

Tuition fees vary depending on whether you’re a national student or not. The table below shows the annual course fees for Cambridge’s English Literature students:

Home StudentsInternational Students
£9,250£24,507

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 English Literature at Cambridge

1. Prepare thoroughly for each stage of the admissions process

When applying to study English Literature at Cambridge, there are many stages of the admissions process to consider. You should prepare for each one thoroughly if you’re set on being offered a place.

  • Your grades – preparation for your Cambridge application starts from secondary school. Excellent A level grades (or equivalent) are essential to be considered for a place at Cambridge, so you should be aiming for A*AA in your A levels (or equivalent) as a minimum. Also, ensure that your GCSEs don’t let you down. Again, high grades are important – especially in subjects relevant to English. Here at The Profs, we have excellent A level tutors who can help you attain your goal grades!
  • Your UCAS application – the first official stage of your Cambridge 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 English Literature at Cambridge and prove that you are interested and committed to the subject areas. Find out how to write a stand-out personal statement in this helpful guide.
  • Your written assessment – If you’re shortlisted for an interview, it’s likely that you’ll have to submit 2 pieces of written work as well as complete a written assessment. You can’t afford to hand in anything subpar; this is your chance to shine! Enlist the support of our excellent writing or admissions test tutors. 
  • The interview – if your application is impressive enough, you may be invited to an interview at Cambridge. This is your last chance to impress the university and prove that you are an excellent candidate for English Literature. The Cambridge English Literature interview assesses your academic ability and potential. 

Oxbridge interviews are like oral admissions tests and there is often even a mark scheme your interviewers will be scoring you against, so it’s important to seek professional help to prepare effectively. At The Profs, we have excellent interview training experts who can help you prepare specifically for your Cambridge English Literature interview.

Note that all students applying for university in 2023 for courses beginning in 2024 will be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from 2024/25 onwards, there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

2. Show evidence of your love for English Literature

With such a low success rate, it’s important that you do everything you can to make your application stand out from the crowd. Your academic ability might get you on the shortlist, but it’s not what secures your place. Cambridge particularly looks for applicants with academic ability, potential, and genuine enthusiasm for English Literature. There are many ways you can show this, such as:

  • Conduct wider reading, beyond your school syllabus – Self-learning demonstrates a desire to learn about English Literature at a higher level. To stand out, explore obscure theoretical articles and essay anthologies, and read niche novels from genres or countries that your syllabus has not explored. This will allow you to draw from a wider bank of knowledge than your standard curriculum which will demonstrate excellent capability and genuine interest in English Literature.
  • Take on relevant extracurricular activities – With the competition so high, academic excellence is not enough. Stand out by showing initiative and interest beyond your curriculum. For English Literature, this could mean performing spoken word poetry, being part of a debate team, writing for your school newspaper or completing a summer school course in a related subject. Maybe you’ve built a creative writing blog you’d like to reference during your interview. It’s also a good idea to express an interest in joining or leading one of Cambridge’s societies that relates to English Literature e.g. The Ancient Literature Society.
  • Find relevant work experience – Relevant work experience will help you to demonstrate your ambitions and genuine fascination for English Literature, as well as your commitment to it. If you know someone who works for a magazine or at a publishing house etc, ask them whether you could help out or shadow for a week or two. Even if you don’t know anyone, have a look online for local opportunities and reach out. Penguin offers a pretty exciting work experience package. If this isn’t possible, something as simple as a research project could prove your interest and dedication to English Literature. Show that you’re enthusiastic about being an English Literature student.

3. Have a 5-year plan

  • Another factor that can set you aside from other applicants is having a 5-year plan. This doesn’t have to be a plan that you necessarily stick to – in fact, it is expected that your interests and ambitions change as your knowledge and experience grow. Having a plan is simply a great way of demonstrating to Cambridge that you are committed to the subject and that you are motivated to succeed at your degree, and thus would be a valuable Cambridge student.
  • The first step to having a plan is to develop an understanding of the industries an English Literature degree can lead to e.g. editing, publishing, marketing, education and research. Make sure you outline your future intentions with a Cambridge English Literature degree, whether that includes embarking on a PhD in Gothic Literature or becoming an acclaimed author or a broadcast journalist. 
  • It is good to share your goals and motivations to prove you are a forward-thinking candidate who is serious about your career. Relating your areas of study, activities and personal passions to potential careers is essential to presenting a targeted, future-focused candidate profile in just a few sentences. 

4. Seek help from an expert Oxbridge admissions tutor

If you have your sights on Cambridge it’s important to consider how competitive it is. Meeting the entry requirements for English Literature will not guarantee you an invitation to an interview. You must stand out!

Your application requires you to perform well in multiple stages to be in with a chance of securing an offer. Shortlisted candidates can often fall at the last hurdle of admissions. Unfortunately, schools and colleges are oftentimes not equipped to provide specialist Cambridge and Oxford preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. As a result, we advise seeking a professional Cambridge admissions tutor to help you through the process.

55% of our students applying for Oxbridge get an offer! That’s 3x the national average. The Profs’ Oxbridge admissions tutors have many years of experience helping students develop their academic profiles, tailor their application to Cambridge’s admissions criteria, ace written assessments, and excel in their admissions interviews. 

At The Profs, you’ll gain invaluable independent study skills along with a deeper, broader understanding of the knowledge needed to study English Literature as a degree at a prestigious UK university. Reach out to our experienced team today to get started.