skip to primary navigation skip to content

Department of Geography


Common questions and some answers

How much work is involved in studying Geography at Cambridge?

Terms at Cambridge are much shorter than at other universities, but are used intensively. Each academic year consists of three terms of eight teaching weeks. You can expect to have 7 or 8 one-hour lectures each week, though this is only a rough guide: much depends on which papers you are taking and how they are timetabled.

In the first two years you will also have laboratory, practical classes or workshops each week. Depending on your choice of papers, you may also have lab classes and practicals in your third year. In the summer vacation after your second year you will work on your dissertation. This usually involves collection of data over a period of about three weeks, but the amount of time varies according to your chosen dissertation topic. In all three years you will normally have three one-hour supervisions per fortnight, but again this varies according to your paper choices.

Work for your degree is therefore a mixture of contact time (lectures, etc.) and self-directed time in which you are reading for your course. This will involve reading both for essays and to strengthen and broaden your understanding of geography.

While it is difficult to quantify how many hours a student works each week, as it varies between people, you can think of your studies as being equivalent to working full time. However, how you apportion that time through the week is more or less up to you and it’s important to balance work with finding time to pursue other interests and activities. This means that some students will continue their academic work in the evenings and/or at weekends in order to fit everything in.

You can also expect to have to dedicate some part of each vacation to academic work. This might be to catch up on reading to consolidate your term-time work, or to complete coursework assignments which are due for submission at the start of the next term.

Is the course arts-based or science-based?

All first degrees awarded by Cambridge are Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees – even to students studying Natural Science, Engineering or Medicine – so the name itself doesn’t mean very much. In practice, Geography is what you make it: the teaching programme is broad enough to include those whose primary interests are in humanities, social sciences or natural sciences; or all three. There are also no rigid pathways within the Tripos, so not taking a paper in a particular topic in one year does not preclude you from taking a paper in a similar topic the following year.

Which school subjects are most useful?

It really doesn’t matter which subjects you studied at school. It isn’t even essential to have studied Geography (although most students will have done so). If you are particularly interested in Contemporary Human or Historical Geography, then Economics, English Literature, History and Sociology are useful supporting subjects; if you are interested in Physical Geography, then Biology, Geology, Mathematics and Physics are useful.

Is fieldwork an important part of the course?

Yes. Field trips form part of some practical exercises in years one and two, with day trips, for example, to the North Norfolk coast, to Wicken Fen, and to important Quaternary sites in East Anglia. Some specialist field courses are also associated with second or third year lecture courses. In addition, there are second year residential field courses held during the Easter and summer vacations. Students make a small contribution towards the cost of residential fieldwork, which is also heavily subsidised by the Department. A number of University and College travel awards are also available to Geographers.

Some photo galleries of recent local field trips are available.

Balancing Geography and other activities

Being a student at Cambridge comes with so much more than just a degree! I’ve loved being involved with my College JCR (stands for Junior Common Room but is basically the equivalent of a Student Council). I was elected Events Officer in my first year, and President in my second. Taking on this position was the most challenging yet empowering thing I’ve done at Cambridge, and I had so much fun working with the committee. We pioneered a Covid-friendly Freshers’ Week. I’ve also explored career options while at Cambridge, and took on a role as Vice President of the Cambridge Consulting Network, which is the largest student consultancy in the UK. I got to work with students across the university, from Judge Business School MBAs, to biotechnology PHDs. I’m really excited about starting my graduate role in consulting next year. And finally – the best bit about University has been the incredible friendships I’ve made. From going out clubbing to sitting on the kitchen floor together all evening, to improvising in an all-female comedy troupe to punting on the River Cam, student life at Cambridge isn’t complete with all the amazing memories with your friends! Third year student

There are so many activities and extra curricular activities that you can get involved with. Obviously these were a lot more interactive before the pandemic, but most societies have made a huge effort to adapt to the changes and to continue to host a multitude of online events. It is also a lot easier to get involved in more societies with everything online as you don’t have to travel around Cambridge to attend. In terms of student life, there are lots of restaurants, bars and pubs in Cambridge as well as some nice nature spots and parks. Whilst there isn’t a lot to do in terms of nights out, colleges tend to host several events (pre COVID-19) which definitely makes up for it from what I’ve heard! First year student

My life in Cambridge consists of church, Christian Union, Geography, football and rowing, probably in that order! There’s so much on at Cambridge; I often think that I would struggle to manage my time even if I cut out my degree! For me, that’s one of my favourite things about life in Cambridge though – I just love the busy-ness of life and the fact that there’s always something happening or something new to try out. Second year student