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Department of History of Art


Admissions image 9

The most important thing to know is that you do not need to have studied History of Art before. Previous experience of the subject is not expected or required among applicants. We are looking for enthusiastic, hard-working students with a good visual memory, and who are intelligent, intellectually curious, and motivated to study art objects in any medium (including architecture). You might also want to consult the admissions information on the central undergraduate admissions site.

You will submit your application through UCAS, and the deadline for all applications is the 15th October. At Cambridge, you apply to your chosen college, rather than to the University, and it is the college who will manage all of the application process.

What are we looking for in our prospective students?

We don’t expect any specialised knowledge of the History of Art, but we do want enthusiasm and motivation to find out more. You need a good visual memory and a curiosity about art objects in any medium, including architecture. You also have to be able to express yourself clearly in written English as essay writing is an important part of the course. The University of Cambridge is looking for the brightest and the best students, irrespective of social, cultural, religious, school or financial background.

Recommended A Levels or equivalent

The typical offer for History of Art in the English A-Level system is A*AA, with the A* to be in an essay-based subject (and not, for example, in Art and Design). Colleges have power to vary this if particular circumstances merit it, and will also be able to give advice to potential applicants in case of uncertainty as to what comprises an essay-based subject.

There are no set subjects that we are looking for, but generally we would like students to be taking some (but not necessarily all) essay-based subjects (such as History, English, Languages, Philosophy and Ethics or Classics). The candidate's full academic profile, which includes GCSE or other exam results and school references as well as performance at interview for those who are shortlisted, will all form part of the assessment process for admission for the subject. Extenuating Circumstances will also be taken into consideration as appropriate.

Details of requirements for other school systems can be found here.

Writing your personal statement

  • This is your chance to show your enthusiasm and motivation and should largely focus on explaining why you want to study History of Art, though you may wish to mention other significant activities or achievements.
  • This might include your enjoyment of exhibitions you have seen, books you have read, art works that have fascinated you, work experience (NB this is not essential), or places you have visited.
  • Don’t waste words on poetic autobiography – this isn’t a creative writing test. Your statement will be looked at closely for your interview, and we will use it to come up with questions to ask you, so be prepared to talk about everything you’ve written about. If you don’t want to talk about it- don’t put it in!

Extra requirements after submitting the UCAS form

  • After submitting your UCAS form you will also be asked to submit an SAQ (Supplementary Application Questionnaire). This is used to give us a few extra bits of information not included on the UCAS form- such as the modules you’re taking in your A Levels, and is used to help us ask you the right questions at interview.
  • Most colleges ask you to submit one or two marked school essays a few weeks before the interview. This will show us that you can write in English clearly, and structure an argument. It doesn’t need to be about art.
  • You can find out more about what specific colleges ask for here.

Admissions Assessment

The University of Cambridge has introduced written admissions tests alongside the interview process. All History of Art students will be required to sit a one hour visual analysis test in which you will be ask to write two visual comparisons of pairs of artworks chosen from a selection of five sets provided in the test paper. These artworks are chosen with the expectation that you will never have seen them before. We’re not looking for you to identify them and their artist or architect, but rather to be able to analyse their content and construction without prior knowledge. You can find more information about the assessment, and a practice paper here.

The interview

  • This isn’t intended to be a terrifying inquisition. We simply want to get to know you better and learn more about how you think about visual artefacts.
  • Don’t worry if you are nervous – so is everyone else (even some interviewers).
  • You will usually be asked to talk about a few images at some point in the interview. This isn’t a test of knowledge, but a way of finding out whether you are interested in images and responsive to them.
  • We are looking for enthusiasm and vitality, open-mindedness and motivation.
  • You can watch a short film about the Cambridge interview system here.