Natural Sciences at Cambridge University

The Natural Sciences (often known as NatSci among the students) course at Cambridge is great, I
will give a short overview but there is much more information on the website.
The best thing about it, at least for indecisive people like me, is that you are essentially applying for
a general science degree; typically people will have an idea of what they may end up studying but
there is a large proportion who end up studying something completely different. For example,
someone may apply thinking they want to do physics and could end up doing earth sciences or even
philosophy of science!

As standard, everyone takes three experimental courses in first year plus one maths option. The
experimental courses include all the major physical and biological science options like physics,
chemistry and cell biology, as well as a few you may not have come across before such as materials
science. This then narrows down to two or three options in second year, to finally specialise in one
subject for third year. Some third year subjects have the option to stay for a fourth year and get a n
integrated masters degree, and since this is a space-focused website, I should mention that one of
these choices is astrophysics (which can be taken from third year onwards)!

Personally I took physics, chemistry and materials in first year, and am now going into third year
physics, but will take some of the astro courses too. I have really enjoyed gaining a uni-level
understanding of a wide range of subjects, especially as it allows you to see beyond all the
simplifications of courses like A levels! My subject choices also led me to gain a wide variety of
practical skills due to frequent labs as well as programming, since we learned MATLAB in first
year and had a C++ course in second year. Trying out a little bit of programming (there are loads of
free online resources to get started) is something I would recommend to anyone interested in
pursuing a technical career, since you never know when it could come in handy, and it is behind
almost everything we use in our daily lives.

While not everyone studying NatSci will come across much space-related content, there is plenty of
opportunity for this for those who seek it. The main way to pursue professional interests outside
your degree is to try and get a summer project/internship in an area that interests you. This isn’t
required as part of the course but it is strongly encouraged and Cambridge has a great careers
service to help if you don’t know where to start. Another way is to read around the subject and take
part in student projects or societies (of which there are loads to choose from) – some space-related
examples include the astronomical society and CU Spaceflight (which sounds really exciting but
I’m not sure if it is still active).

Of course everything doesn’t always go smoothly, and anyone going into a degree needs to know
that it will be hard at times, and that it isn’t for everyone. And that’s fine! But for anyone who has
decided that uni is what they want to do, then my main piece of advice is don’t be put off applying
to a place like Cambridge because of what you’ve heard about it, or what your background is. I
never thought I would actually end up studying here but I just applied as one of my 5 UCAS
choices and here I am. At the end of the day, they are after people who are willing to learn, and
genuinely have an interest in the subject they’ve applied for; they don’t want people who know
everything already!