skip to primary navigation skip to content

Department of Geography


Undergraduate course guide — Geography at Cambridge

See also Cambridge University Undergraduate Pages


Department of Geography

Scott Polar Research Institute

Cambridge is an outstanding place to study geography. The Department of Geography is a flourishing academic community committed to high standards of teaching and research across the expansive range of issues covered by this discipline.

From polar studies to poverty reduction, we focus on delivering high quality, research-led teaching that is stimulating and challenging. This commitment to teaching has consistently been recognised by external league tables and accolades.

The department thrives through the high quality of students that come to study with us. The traditions, teaching and research endure on the basis of the undergraduate students that study in the Department. Join us: and be part of this community and shape its future.

Undergraduate studies: the Tripos

Each year about 100 undergraduates are admitted to the University of Cambridge to read Geography. Teaching is through lectures, supervisions, practical classes and field courses, organised around a three-year course — called the Geographical Tripos. There is an emphasis on examinations at the end of each year, but also submission of assessed practical classes and written coursework.

First year work does not contribute to a student’s final year degree class. Second year results contribute 30% and third year results 70% towards the final degree class.

First year

Geographical research

Geographical research

Geographical research

Geographical research

All first year geographers take the same two core papers which introduce key themes and issues in Geography. Irrespective of students’ school subject backgrounds, by the end of the first year students will have the foundations to make choices for the rest of their degree. Both courses include lectures, supervisions and may include field trips (day or half-day).

In addition, there is a series of lectures introducing students to what Geography is, how we should practise it and why it matters.

People, Place and Politics of Difference

Topics vary from year to years but may include:

  • Geopolitics and political geography
  • Globalisation
  • Cultural geographies
  • Society and environment
  • Sustainable development
  • Health and diseases
  • Uneven economies and inequality
  • Urban geographies

Environmental Processes and Change

Topics vary from year to years but may include:

  • Tectonic process and volcanism
  • Glacial processes
  • Atmospheric processes and climate
  • Quaternary climate changes
  • Biogeography
  • Nature-based solutions for climate change

Geographical Skills and Methods

Students also follow a course in Geographical Skills and Methods which involves lectures, laboratory and computer practical classes and fieldwork, and covers the following areas:

  • Statistical methods
  • Presenting geographical data
  • GIS and cartography
  • Human geography methods
  • Physical geography methods

These are assessed by means of coursework.

Study Skills

Students are supported in making the transition from studying at school to studying at university through a range of taught sessions and online material. These cover topics such as:

  • Getting the most out of your lectures
  • Making the most of your supervisions
  • Reading for essays
  • Essay writing
  • Time management
  • How to prepare for exams
  • How to balance your work and other activities

Second year

Geographical research

Geographical research

Geographical research

All second year students take a core paper, Living with Global Change, which examines key themes in environmental history relating to global change including, for example, hazards associated with volcanoes, health and climate change.

In addition, students can begin to specialise and choose three option papers. These very from year to year but might include:

  • Inequality
  • Development Theories, Policies and Practices
  • Citizenship, Cities, and Civil Society
  • Quaternary Climates and Environment
  • Glacial Processes
  • Biogeography

Geographical Skills and Methods

There are further lectures in Geographical Skills and Methods, for example, Quantitative Spatial Data Analysis, and more advanced geographical techniques, such as discourse analysis, participatory observation, environmental modelling (e.g. of glacier melt), analysis of tree rings and/or sediment cores, analysis of remotely sensed (e.g. satellite) data.


All students are expected to take part in residential or multi-day field classes during the second year. Fieldwork provides the practical experience and training in geographical skills and methods that cannot be taught in the classroom. Destinations vary from year to year. Recent destinations have included Spain, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Morocco as well as the UK. We take seriously the environmental impact of fieldwork and its carbon footprint. We therefore do not run fieldtrips to long-haul destinations and seek to offer low carbon fieldtrips. We are aiming to reduce the carbon impact of our fieldtrips over time. Each student contributes towards the cost of residential fieldtrips, in the region of £150-200, but there are funds available to support students if need be.


During the second year, students start to plant their Dissertations . They derive their on topic based on their interests developed from the themes introduced in lectures, skills acquired on fieldtrips and in the courses on Geographical skills and methods. Every student has a dissertation supervisor who guides them through this process. By the end of the second year, students are well placed to collect data over the summer break before the start of the third year.

Third year

Geographical research

Geographical research

Geographical research

In the third year, students study four papers from a choice of twelve. There is no requirement to balance human and physical options; it is common for students to take a mixture of both. The precise papers on offer vary from year to year but current and recent papers include:

  • The Geographies of work and employment
  • Geographies of the Arctic
  • Political Ecology in the Global South
  • Demographic Continuity and Change
  • Political Appetites: Geographies of Food and Power
  • Geographies of Postcolonialism and Decoloniality
  • Legal Geographies
  • The Geographies of Global Urbanism
  • From Earth Observations to the Climate System
  • Glaciology
  • Volcanology
  • Life within Limits: Science for climate and ecological futures
  • Biogeography: Biological Processes and Environmental Change


As part of the third-year examination, students also submit a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject of their choice. Dissertation planning starts in the second year. Data are usually collected in the summer between the second and third years and in the third year students continue to work with a dissertation supervisor.
Dissertations are a chance to put into practice what has been taught in lectures, supervisions and practical classes. The subjects and locations of dissertations vary widely, as a few titles from recent years indicate:

  • A Lost Community? Migration and Community on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
  • Saviour or Stealth Tax? Pay-by-use Domestic Waste Charging in Dublin, Ireland
  • Food Access in Malawi: An Island Perspective
  • Living in the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Management and Risk Perception of Volcanic Hazards near Mt Rainier, WA
  • Sulphur Dioxide and Hydrogen Sulphide Emissions from Mutnovsky Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia
  • Recent Temporal Changes and Spatial Trends in the Dynamics of a Shrinking Valley Glacier: Haut Glacier D’Arolla, Switzerland

Some students choose to do the research for their dissertations abroad, whilst others stay in the British Isles. Some funding is available via the Department and there are University travel awards for which there is open competition. Many Colleges also provide generous financial support for travelling during the vacations.

See some examples from our students.Cambridge colleges

Further information

If you have any questions or require more information, please do contact us.

The University of Cambridge Prospectus is available online.