Skip to main content
Study Classics at the University of Cambridge


Fact File

Magdalene Campus code: M
UCAS code: Q800 (3 year), Q801 (4 year)
Course duration: Three or four years - BA (Hons)
Typical offer: A-level: A*AA, IB: 41-42 points
Essential subjects: Latin
Useful subjects: Classics, English, History, Languages

Classics is the study of ancient Greece and Rome in its broadest sense: Greek and Latin language, literature, philosophy, ancient history, art and archaeology, and linguistics.

There are two versions of the Cambridge Classics course: the four-year course is intended for those applicants who have not had the opportunity to study Latin to A-level (or equivalent) at school, while the three-year course is for those who will have A-level Latin (or equivalent) on entry. If you have (or are working towards) an A-level in Greek but not Latin, please contact the College for advice.


At Cambridge
At Magdalene
What we are looking for
Subject Requirements
Teaching Staff

The three-year course in Classics consists of a two-year Part I and a one-year Part II. In Part IA (year one), as well as working on their ancient languages, students are also introduced to the other disciplines within Classics, with lectures and supervisions on philosophy, ancient history, art and archaeology, and philology and linguistics. In Part IB (year two), students continue with work in Greek and Latin language and literature, and choose from a range of options in the other disciplines.

In Part II (year three), a very flexible series of options allows students virtually to create their own course, with the opportunity to choose four papers from a long list on offer in literature, philosophy, history, art and archaeology, philology and linguistics, and interdisciplinary studies. Each paper focuses in considerable detail on a particular author or theme, allowing students to use the skills they have learnt in Parts IA and IB in a thorough investigation of one aspect of the ancient world. It is also possible to 'borrow' papers from some other Triposes (e.g. 'Tragedy' from the English Tripos); and to submit a dissertation on a subject of your choice in place of one of the papers.

Students taking the four-year course spend their first year in Cambridge (leading to the Preliminary examination) studying Latin language and literature, and classical culture more broadly; they also make a start on Greek. They then join the students on the three-year course (see above), preparing for Classics Part IA. Part IB is taken in their third year and Part II in their fourth year.

The courses are taught with a mixture of language classes, lectures (almost always held in the Classics Faculty Building in Sidgwick Avenue) and supervisions. The latter might involve translation of a Greek or Latin text, "critical discussion" of a piece of literature, or be based on students' essay work, and provide an opportunity for in-depth investigation of an author or topic with a specialist in the discipline. In the first two years of the three-year course (years 2 and 3 of the four-year course) students can normally expect to attend about 10 lectures per week, and will typically have one weekly supervision based on an essay or a piece of criticism, and also one on each of their ancient languages. Teaching for the first year of the four-year course is primarily in the form of Faculty classes, though students also have College-based supervisions.

More details of both courses can be found on the website of the Faculty of Classics.

At Magdalene, we normally receive between 4 and 9 applications for Classics each year and expect to admit two or three students.

Dr Patterson, whose research interests lie in the field of Roman history, generally teaches ancient history for those Magdalene students taking that option. Other subjects are taught by specialists in the appropriate disciplines, both Fellows and postgraduate students.

Magdalene's College Library has a good stock of Classics books, to complement the holdings of the Classics Faculty Library and the University Library. After the exams are over, the annual Classics dinner provides a convivial end to the academic year for students and supervisors alike.

College Prizes are awarded to those who excel in University exams, and there is an annual Classical essay prize competition; the Classics Faculty is able to provide financial support for those planning to visit Mediterranean lands in connection with their studies, and students can also apply for College travel grants.

Magdalene Classics graduates have in the past few years gone on to an impressively wide variety of careers, reflecting the wealth of different intellectual skills taught in the Classics course. Some have made direct use of their classical training, teaching the subject in schools or pursuing postgraduate research; others are now working in Accountancy, Advertising, the Church, the Civil Service, Computers, Entertainment, Journalism, the Law, Librarianship and Surveying. 

We are very happy to consider candidates for either the four-year or the three-year versions of the Classics course.  Essentially, what we are looking for are students with an enthusiastic interest in the Greek and Roman worlds, and the ability and commitment to learn the ancient languages effectively.

Language-learning is fundamental to both courses: in the four-year course, students begin to learn (or extend their knowledge of) Latin in the first year, and also make a start on Greek; in the three-year course, students who arrive with A-level Latin -or equivalent- similarly begin (or extend their knowledge of) Greek in their first year, as well as enhancing their knowledge of Latin. Language remains central in the second year of the three year course/third year of the four year course as well. So having the linguistic skills and capacity for hard work that language learning involves is crucial.

The study of Greek and Latin Literature is another central component of the course, so we’re interested in how candidates engage with literary texts: we’d encourage applicants to pursue their own interests and read (in translation) classical literature beyond the specific passages they might have covered in exam syllabuses.

The Classics course however deals with a wide range of aspects of classical antiquity beyond language and literature: undergraduates taking the subject also study philosophy, history, art and archaeology, and linguistics.  So we’re keen to find out about candidates’ broader engagement with the classical world.  Do you enjoy reading about the history of Greece and Rome, visiting archaeological sites, looking at classical sculpture or vases in museum collections, thinking about philosophical issues, or are you interested in how different languages work? Would you like to explore these disciplines further? If so, we’d like to hear from you!

Nearly all students beginning the three-year Classics course have a good A-level (or equivalent) in Latin - typically an A* grade. Some of our applicants have A-level in both Greek and Latin, but the majority of undergraduates beginning the course have not studied Greek to A-level standard; the Faculty's Intensive Greek course caters both for those who have taken GCSE in Greek, and those without any qualification in the subject.

Candidates for the four-year course need not have studied Latin or Greek before, but clearly experience of and a qualification in one or more of the classical languages (at GCSE for example), and/or Classical Civilization at A-level, would be advantageous. A high level of achievement in one or more Modern Languages would also be valuable.

A typical offer will be A*AA, though candidates should note that offers are tailored to individual circumstances, based on academic record and potential. For the three year course, candidates without an A-level in Greek will be required to carry out preparatory work in that language before beginning their Cambridge course: normally this is done by attending a Summer School. Four year candidates will be required to carry out preparatory work in Latin before beginning their Cambridge course: normally this is done by attending a Summer School.

Typical grades in the IB are 41-42 points overall, with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.

Interviews, Written Work and Assessments

We ask candidates to send us a copy of two writing samples. At least one should be in essay format and ideally be on classical subjects (normally this just involves photocopying pieces of work written as part of their A-level studies, including teachers' comments). At the same time we normally send candidates a passage from a Latin (or, where appropriate, a Greek) author, which we ask them to read and think about. (In the case of four-year candidates the passage is supplied in the form of an English translation).

Candidates invited for interview will normally have a subject interview at Magdalene with the Director of Studies in Classics and another Classicist, and may have a second 'general' interview with two Fellows in other disciplines. The interviews usually involve discussion of the essays and the passage, as well as more general questions about the candidate's studies so far and their interests in the field of Classics.

The Classics Faculty also organises a scheme whereby all candidates in the subject have an additional classical interview organised by a second College. This enables us to give the fullest possible consideration to applications.

Applicants invited for interview will also take a written assessment. The assessment for Classics is a Cambridge College-registered assessment. This means you will not need to register for this assessment in advance and the College will provide details directly to you. More information about the assessment (along with some sample questions) is available here. The assessment will be different depending on whether you are applying for the 3-year or the 4-year course.

Applicants for the three-year course will be asked to complete a one-hour written translation exercise. 

The assessment for applicants for the four-year course will take the form of a special language aptitude interview, adapted to your own personal language learning background, with one of the Classics Faculty’s Language Teaching team.

Please note that your performance in the written assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

Dr John Patterson

College positions: Official Fellow, Director of Studies in Classics, Praelector

Dr John Patterson is Director of Studies in Classics and a specialist on ancient Roman history.  His research interests include the history and archaeology of Roman Italy and the City of Rome itself in antiquity.

Read more

Dr Philippa Steele

College positions: Senior Research Fellow, Harassment Officer

Dr Philippa Steele is a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, and a specialist in ancient languages, literacy, and writing systems. Dr Steele runs the ERC-funded project Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS), based in the Faculty of Classics to develop our understanding of how and why writing systems change over time and can be passed on from one society to another.

Read more