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Department of History of Art


Admissions image 7

Cambridge is an ideal place to study the History of Art. The city and university are home to some of the most important examples of art and architecture in the world, from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. These are housed in the amazing museums, libraries and college art collections where you’ll spend a lot of your time. Cambridge boasts internationally-renowned and dedicated academic staff with whom you’ll have close contact through the university’s world famous supervision system. In supervisions, you’ll be taught in groups of two or three, meaning that your lecturers, themselves world-leading researchers, will have a deep understanding of your individual needs and interests and you’ll be carefully supported throughout your studies. Cambridge students also have access to leading scholars from around the world through our visiting lecturer programmes such as the Slade Lecture series and weekly research seminars.


The Department forms part of the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art, situated at 1-5 Scroope Terrace in Trumpington Street, Cambridge, where it has a lecture room, seminar room and supervision rooms. It has additional accommodation in the building opposite, 4a Trumpington Street, the graduate centre of the Department, above the famous Hot Numbers café. The Faculty has a well-stocked library with over 35,000 volumes, including many rare books. As a History of Art student you will also be out working in one of Cambridge’s over 100 libraries , or analysing artworks and architecture at our seven museums, as well as our wide range of college art collections.

The Colleges

Every student is a member of a college. The college system is one of Cambridge’s greatest assets because it means that students live in relatively small, friendly communities, each with a wealth of resources for both academic and social life as well as for student support.

The colleges interview and admit undergraduates and have the primary responsibility for students’ welfare and academic progress once they are here. Colleges are made up of members of academic staff (called ‘fellows’) as well as undergraduate and graduate students from across the disciplines. They are a means of getting to know people from across the university well.

Each college is self-governing and has a wide range of resources to support you whilst you are here, including libraries, dining halls and cafeterias, common rooms and bars, computer officers, nurses, chaplains, counsellors, students societies and sports teams, and funds for travel or to support students who experience financial hardship. Your college will appoint a personal tutor for you, who is your first port of call for pastoral support.

Each college has its own character and it is worth looking at a number to see which most attracts you. More information on the colleges can be found here.

Most colleges (except Girton, Robinson and St. Catharine’s) accept History of Art students, and there is not one particular college for History of Art students. Instead, colleges will try to ensure that each year is made up of students from a range of different academic departments. As the Department of History of Art only accepts approx. 25 students per year, most colleges will only have one or two History of Art students in each year. This means that you’ll be living with people who are on a variety of different courses, and that you get to see lots of different colleges for your supervisions and to visit your course mates. It also means that there is a chance that you may find yourself receiving an offer from a college that is not the one you originally applied to, through a system called ‘the pool’. You can read more about this here:

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 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 via the following link:

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.