How to Get into Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is a particularly competitive course at Cambridge University. Just 17% of applicants were successful in receiving an offer to study HSPS in 2021, so making your application stand out is of the utmost importance.

If you’re thinking of applying for HSPS or just curious about what it takes to get into one of the most popular humanities courses at Cambridge, this guide contains everything you need to know – from entry requirements to tips on how to prepare from our expert HSPS tutors.

Don’t forget to check out our other articles on how to get into Cambridge and what to do if you don’t meet Cambridge’s entry requirements!

The Profs’ HSPS 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 Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)?

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is a flexible, interdisciplinary course offered by Cambridge University. The course consists of three disciplines: Politics and International Relations, Social Anthropology, and Sociology. Each of these branches bring a different set of theories and issues to explore, as well as unique skills to develop that lend themselves to a range of careers and topics of further study.

Politics and International Relations explores politics within and between countries, looking at issues ranging from human rights and democracy, to financial crises and international conflict. Social Anthropology involves the study of humans, including how people live, think and relate to each other around the world. Finally, Sociology looks at the nature of modern societies, including social institutions and topics such as power and inequality.

What are the entry requirements for HSPS?

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS), like all courses at Cambridge, is incredibly competitive. The course requires applicants to achieve excellent grades, ideally in a wide range of subjects, and show great academic potential. The table below shows the entry requirements for HSPS:

QualificationGrades
A-levelsA*AA
Scottish/Advanced HighersA1, A2, A2
International Baccalaureate (IB)40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level

Note that, for 2017, 2018 and 2019 entry, 71% of successful applicants from an A Level background achieved at least one grade higher than the entry requirements (A*A*A). For the same period, the majority of IB entrants achieved at least 44 points overall and/or grades 777 at Higher Level. You should therefore be aiming for at least one grade above those required for entry in order to maximise your chances of receiving an offer.

Worried that you won’t achieve the necessary grades to study Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) 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?

There are no specific required subjects for HSPS applicants to any college. However, Cambridge does recommend studying at least one essay-based subject at A-level or equivalent to help you prepare for the essay-based nature of the course. Some colleges require this.

84% of successful applicants coming from an A level background typically took at least one of English (Language, Language & Literature, or Literature), History, or a language. Cambridge deems these subjects “useful preparation” so studying them could make your application more competitive. If it’s too late to pursue one of these subjects as an A level (or equivalent) then consider pursuing one outside of school instead e.g. entering a competition (e.g. an essay competition), completing a project, MOOC, independent research or joining a society.

Which admissions test do you need for Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)?

There is no admissions assessment required for HSPS at most colleges at Cambridge. However, some colleges require 2022 applicants to take a written assessment – these are:

  • Hughes Hall
  • King’s
  • Murray Edwards
  • Newnham
  • Peterhouse
  • St Edmund’s
  • Wolfson

The exact content of the HSPS admissions assessment may vary from college to college. Typically, applicants will be asked to choose one essay to write from a range of titles. The admissions assessment will test the necessary skills required to succeed on the HSPS course, rather than any specific subject knowledge, but it’s important to know what to expect, prepare, and practice. Our expert admissions tutors can offer inside knowledge and tips on how to prepare for this written test.

How hard is it to get into HSPS at Cambridge?

Getting into Cambridge to study Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is no mean feat. Not only do you need to achieve the grade requirements and score highly in the admissions assessment (if required), but you also need to perform well in the interview. Just 17% of applicants – less than 1 in 5 – were successful in receiving an offer in 2021, and with the course only growing in popularity, HSPS remains extremely competitive.

Thankfully, The Profs’ Oxbridge admissions tutors can help you triple your chances of getting into Oxford to study Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS). 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 top HSPS 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 HSPS at Cambridge?

The table below shows the fees for Cambridge’s Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) course for both home (UK) and overseas students:

Student statusCourse fees (per year)
Home£9,250
Overseas£23,340

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 Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge

1. Prepare thoroughly for each stage of the admissions process

When applying to study HSPS 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 HSPS application really starts from the moment you begin your GCSEs and A-levels (or equivalent). An excellent academic track record is 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) – one grade above the minimum entry requirements – for the best chance of receiving an offer.
  • Your UCAS application – the first official stage of your HSPS application is completing your UCAS application online. As well as your grades, this includes your personal statement, which is the first chance you’ll get to showcase your suitability for HSPS and prove to Cambridge that you are interested and committed to the subject areas. Your personal statement needs to stand out from the crowd and be as specific as possible to HSPS and Cambridge itself. Why are you the perfect fit for this course at Cambridge? Check out our previous article on how to write a winning personal statement.
  • Your MyCapp application – the MyCapp is another application form that’s unique to Cambridge which asks for some extra academic and personal information. It also offers the opportunity for you to submit a second personal statement which specific and unique to the HSPS course at Cambridge University. You should NOT copy/paste your UCAS personal statement into this box; in fact, it would be better to write nothing. You should write directly to Cambridge. Yes, there’s more effort and work involved in writing a whole new statement but the MyCapp is an invaluable chance to stand out and sell yourself as the perfect candidate. A lot of students overlook the MyCapp application and waste or misuse their second personal statement, don’t make the same mistake! Read out previous article on the MyCapp and reach out to our expert admission tutors.
  • The written test, if required – some colleges require a written test and it’s important that you prepare for this in advance with an expert who knows what the examiners will be looking for. Reach out to The Profs’ admissions consultants for more information on this.
  • The interview – if your UCAS application and performance in the admissions test (if required) are 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 even a mark scheme your interviewers will be scoring you against, so it’s important to seek professional help to prepare effectively. We have a guide on completing Oxbridge interviews here. Oxbridge interviews are far different from most other university interviews and require a very specific approach, we have a lot of experience and inside information on exactly what Oxbridge interviewers are looking for.

Need some help with any of the steps above? We have experts for each niche: GCSE tutors, A level tutors, personal statement tutors, and interview tutors. We can help you smash each and every step.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), 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. Stay up to date with current affairs and relevant news

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is all about understanding the world around us. It’s therefore really important that you keep up to date with the latest news and developments happening globally. You can do this primarily by reading quality newspapers such as the Financial Times, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Economist and more.

However, you don’t have to limit yourself to just newspapers – watching reliable news on television, listening to news round-up podcasts, and watching topical documentaries and YouTube videos are all great ways to expand your knowledge of the world around you.

You should also think carefully and critically about the news you read and consume, reflecting on what it means for the economy, people, the environment, and the world as a whole. This will help you to develop the thinking skills necessary to succeed on the HSPS degree course and give you insightful points to include in your personal statement and to raise in your interview.

Take theory and apply it to current events and global affairs. Show that you have the independent faculties to use this knowledge to process the world around you and that you want to. Appearing curious, stimulated and enthusiastic will present you as the type of student Cambridge’s HSPS course wants. After all, they only want to invest in students who are hungry and will stay motivated throughout an undergraduate degree. Potential is the key thing, so your academic intelligence isn’t enough on its own. It’s how you use it.

3. Do some introductory reading

Although having studied Politics or Sociology at A level (or equivalent) is not necessary to apply for HSPS, it is a good idea to have an interest and understanding of these two subjects and related disciplines. A good way to do this is to do some introductory reading on the subjects you will study. Not only will this give you ideas of topics to include in your personal statement, but it may also help you build a rapport with your interviewer if you are interested in similar areas of study.

Immerse yourself in relevant subjects as much as possible through podcasts, open lectures, online courses, documentaries, and reading. Mention your independent study in your personal statement. Linking Political Science with Human and Social theories together in your analyses of a real-world event could also show good student potential.

The lists below show some introductory readings, as suggested by Cambridge, to help you prepare for your Human, Social and Political Sciences application and degree course.

Politics:

  • Democracy for Realists by C. H. Achen, and L.M. Bartels (2016)
  • Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by M. Blyth (2013)
  • Novels such as Yvonne by Adhiambo Owuor, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
  • The Making of Black Lives Matter by C. J. Lebron (2017)
  • The Last Utopia by S. Moyn (2010)
  • How Democracy Ends by D. Runciman (2018)
  • Podcasts such as Talking Politics

Social anthropology:

  • Eating Soup without a Spoon: Anthropological Theory and Method in the Real World by J. Cohen (2015)
  • Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States by S. Holmes (2013)
  • Think Like an Anthropologist by M. Engelke (2017)
  • Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas by A. Shah (2018)
  • Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Anthropology
  • The Cambridge Anthropology Podcast

Sociology:

  • Thinking sociologically (2nd edition) by Z. Bauman (2001)
  • Connected sociologies by G. Bhambra (2014)
  • Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment by P. H. Collins (2000)
  • Together: The rituals, pleasures and politics of cooperation by R. Sennett (2012)
  • Nationalism (2nd edition) by A. Smith (2013)
  • The spirit level: Why equality is better for everyone by R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett (2010)
  • Books that have won prizes by the American Sociological Association

You can appear like a keen and dedicated student by referencing a couple of these books to show that you’ve read Cambridge’s suggested reading list. But it’s best if you can go beyond their reading list and demonstrate independent thought by linking one or two of these texts to some more niche texts that you found yourself.

4. Seek help from a Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) expert

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is a competitive course at Cambridge and 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 HSPS or Cambridge admissions preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. As a result, we advise seeking a professional HSPS or Cambridge admissions tutor to help you through the process.

The Profs’ Human, Social and Political Sciences tutors have many years of experience helping students develop their academic profiles, prepare for the admissions test, and excel in the admissions interview. Many of our Cambridge admissions tutors have studied at Cambridge or worked in Cambridge admissions. If you work with one of The Profs’ tutors, you are more than three times more likely to get into Cambridge. 

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 range of political, anthropological and sociological concepts and critical thinking approaches. Reach out to our experienced team today to get started.