Prospective Undergraduate Students
Applying to Cambridge to study Politics and International Relations
If you want to study Politics and International Relations at Cambridge you need to apply through the Human, Social and Political Sciences course. In the first year students can spend up to 50 per cent of their time on Politics and International Relations. In the second and third-years, students, if they wish, can concentrate exclusively on Politics and International Relations. Students in the second and third-years can also do joint Politics and Sociology or Politics and Social Anthropology.
The Politics and International Relations Course at Cambridge
The course in Politics and International Relations at Cambridge rests on the conviction that the political and international worlds need to be understood together and historically. We seek to explain how the political and international worlds in which we live came to be. In the first year, we look at the foundations of modern politics and international relations. In politics we examine the nature of the state and democracy, and consider how far there are alternatives in the modern world to these practices and the political ideas and arguments that lie behind them. In international relations we examine the nature of international society, the state system, the tides of war and peace, and the ethical questions that living in the international world generate..
First year: Four papers
- Politics (for a detailed description of the paper please see our webpage on first year papers)
- International Relations (for a detailed description of the paper please see our webpage on first year papers)
- Plus two options from Sociology, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Psychology, Cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt, Akkadian, and Egyptian
Second year: Four papers
- History of Political Thought (either the ancient Greeks to the 17th century or the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Ethics and World Politics.
- Comparative Politics (including modules on the politics of the USA, Africa, the Middle East, China, and western and eastern Europe).
- Plus an optional essay paper in Politics and International Relations or a paper from another department.
Third year: EITHER a dissertation and three papers OR four papers
- An optional 10,000 word dissertation on a topic of their choice. Students who do this take three other papers. Otherwise students take four papers.
- A general paper in Politics and International Relations. This paper gives students an opportunity to show what they have learned about politics over three years of study.
- Students can then choose their remaining two or three papers from a long list of options. There are two courses in political thought one of which includes political philosophy. Courses in the politics of particular regions of the world are on offer, including Europe, East Asia, Africa and South Asia and there are options in the study of international politics, particularly in the politics of the international economy and the politics of security and international development. Students can opt to take a paper from another subject, such as Sociology or Social Anthropology. If students are not doing a dissertation it is also possible for one of these papers to be assessed by two submitted essays (this is only available for some papers) instead of an exam.
What our students think
Alexa Zeitz (Third year undergraduate)
"The supervision system is what teaches you the "Cambridge" approach to Politics and International Studies - be sceptical about the assumption, challenge the fundamental concepts. Equipped from your lectures and reading, you'll arrive at a supervision thinking you know exactly what the issues are. Then, your supervisor will turn the whole picture around as they begin to illuminate ways that the political realities don't conform to the neat picture presented, or how a more critical engagement reveals consequences, interests or influences that were overlooked. Soon you learn to do it yourself: seeing the bias, challenging the underlying theories and recognizing the frameworks, and having to defend those ideas to your supervisor makes you really good at it. I haven't looked at the news the same way since."
Ahir Shah (Third year undergraduate)
"Studying Politics and International Relations at Cambridge has been a continually challenging, occasionally stressful but always hugely rewarding experience. The course is initially broad - during my first year I studied Politics, Sociology, Psychology and Biological Anthropology - giving you the time and the options to realise for yourself where your interests and strengths lie. As a third-year specialising in the Politics and International Relations stream, I am taking papers in Political Philosophy and Social Theory as well as writing a dissertation, but the options exist to study a wide range of subjects, from political economy to the politics of a particular country or region. I think that this combination of initial breath followed by the potential to undertake in-depth study means the course provides a fantastically well-rounded, yet still targeted, education in politics and international relations. "
Careers and afterwards
Students taking Politics and International Relations have gone on to careers in the media, law, the civil service including the Foreign Office, teaching, consultancy and finance, advocacy with non-governmental organisations, and energy management. Many have also gone on to take postgraduate degrees.
If you are interested in applying for this course please visit our webpage which answers the Frequently Asked Questions about applying and details where you might find out more about our outreach events and admissions.