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Frequently Asked Questions

The following are answers to some frequently asked questions. They are in three sections: 

Questions relating to applying for the course:

  1. Which College should I apply to?
  2. I'm not doing A-levels. What are the entry requirements for my examination system?
  3. Should I apply via the Natural Sciences route or via the Engineering route?
  4. Do I need A-level Physics in order to read Chemical Engineering?
  5. Do I need A-level Further Maths in order to read Chemical Engineering?
  6. Do you encourage students to take a year out before they start University?
  7. Can I visit the Department before I apply?
  8. What happens at interviews?
  9. What are the arrangements for applying from overseas as a foreign student?
  10. Is there any background reading that you recommend before applying for the course?

Questions relating to the course itself:

  1. I intend to do first-year Natural Sciences - which options are best for Chemical Engineers?
  2. I'm not absolutely certain I want to do Chemical Engineering. Will I be able to change my mind?
  3. How many students do the course?
  4. Does the course contain lots of chemistry/engineerings/maths/computing?
  5. What is a typical week like for a Chemical Engineering student?
  6. Tell me about industrial placements for Chemical Engineering students
  7. Does the course give Chartered Engineer status?

Questions from existing undergraduates:

  1. I'm a student at Cambridge but I didn't apply to read Chemical Engineering. Can I join the course?
  2. Is there any undergraduate exchange scheme with other Universities?
  3. I'm currently an undergraduate at another University. Can I transfer in and join your Chemical Engineering course?

 


 

Answers to questions relating to applying for the course 

  1. Which College should I apply to?

    All of the Cambridge Colleges that admit undergraduates admit Chemical Engineers, so you have a free choice. Typically, applicants select a College using a variety of criteria, including size, reputation, location, food quality, accommodation, facilities (musical, sporting, other...), architecture, and so on. The important thing is to choose a College that you would feel comfortable living in for 3-4 years.

    If you have no preference between the Colleges, you can choose to leave your application "open". In this case, it will be assigned by a computer to a College that (at the time when the open applications are assigned) has a below-average number of applicants for the subject specified.

    Note that each College has its own website, its own prospectus, and runs its own open days for prospective students.
    The website map.cam.ac.uk/colleges gives contact details for all the Colleges.

  2. I'm not doing A-levels. What are the entry requirements for my examination system?

    The Colleges and University welcome applications from students with qualifications other than A-levels. Information on likely entry requirements for other examination systems can be found in the University prospectus - see the website www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/requirements/.

    The entry requirements for different examination systems may vary slightly from one College to another. The websites of the individual Colleges often give information on this.

    Students with specific queries about a particular examinations system should contact the Cambridge Admissions Office (see www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/info/).

  3. Should I apply via the Natural Sciences route or via the Engineering route?

    Chemical Engineers spend their first year at Cambridge studying either Natural Sciences or Engineering. Both routes provide equally good preparation for Chemical Engineering so you have a free choice. If you like pure science and want to understand how things work at a fundamental level, then the Natural Sciences route is a good choice. If you like engineering activities and applying science to solve real-world problems, then the Engineering route is a good choice.

    In practice, about 60% of Chemical Engineers do first-year Natural Sciences, and about 40% do first-year Engineering.

  4. Do I need A-level Physics to read Chemical Engineering?

    The answer to this question is specifically for those doing A-levels rather than other qualification systems. 

    A2-level Physics is essential for students applying for Chemical Engineering via the Engineering route, because material at that level is assumed knowledge in the first year of the Engineering course.

    A2-level Physics is desirable, but not essential, for students applying for Chemical Engineering via the Natural Sciences route. If you don't have Physics, you are not at a disadvantage if you are doing A2-level Further Mathematics - indeed if you cover three modules of mechanics, then you can still choose Physics as one of your first-year options at University within the Natural Sciences course.

    If you don't do Physics and you don't do Further Maths, then this is not an ideal choice of A-level options for those who know that they want to do Chemical Engineering. However, some students only realise that they want to read Chemical Engineering after completing their AS-levels, and have studied other topics that are directly relevant (such as biology) or not directly relevant (such as a foreign language). These applicants are still seriously considered for a Chemical Engineering place, and every year some offers are made to people in this category. Typically Colleges will make sure that they ask questions at interview to try to judge whether the applicant would have done well in Physics and Mechanics if they had studied these courses. It can be helpful for an appplicant without any Physics or Further Maths in Year 12 to do AS-level Physics or AS-level Further Maths in Year 13, but this will depend on overall workload for the student and school timetabling restrictions.  

  5. Do I need A-level Further Maths to read Chemical Engineering?

    The answer to this question is specifically for those doing A-levels rather than other qualification systems. 

    Either AS or A2-level Further Maths is highly desirable for students applying for Chemical Engineering. That said, every year some students are admitted who do not have this qualification. It is recommended that students do study it if they are able to do so without adversely affecting the other subjects they are studying. It is recognised that some schools are unable to offer Further Maths because of limited demand or timetabling complications. In these cases, potential applicants might like to consider studying it using the Further Maths support network described at www.fmnetwork.org.uk

    If you are given a choice of modules, it is recommended that pure maths and mechanics modules (in particular) are chosen in preference to statistics and decision theory modules.

  6. Do you encourage students to take a year out before they start University?

    Colleges almost always permit students to "defer" entry if they want to take a year off between school and starting University. These are particularly valuable if the student gains relevant work experience during the period. Students who intend to defer entry should notify the relevant College during the admissions process.

  7. Can I visit the Department before I apply?

    Talks on Chemical Engineering and tours of the Department are available to prospective applicants during the two University Open Days in early July – see the University website for details on these. Booking is not required to visit the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, but the University prefers it if visitors do book a place in advance to control numbers for some of the other events going on during the Open Days. If you are unable to make an Open Day, then you may be able to visit the Department at other times by appointment. Contact the Department(phone 01223 334777) to make arrangements.

  8. What happens at interviews?

    Cambridge attracts very good applicants, virtually all of whom are predicted top grades. The aim of the interviewing process is to select the best applicants by judging their academic potential. The vast majority of UK and EU applicants are interviewed in Cambridge in December, as are some overseas applicants.

    The number and form of these interviews varies slightly between Colleges. Typically Chemical Engineering applicants have 2 or 3 interviews. One interview may contain questions of a general nature, such as "why are you applying?", "what are your interests?", but the majority of questions will be technical ones on the subjects you are currently studying. In some Colleges, each interview has a single interviewer. In others, more than one interviewer will be present. Each interview is typically 20-30 minutes long.

    A College may set a written test for you at interview. A few Colleges ask candidates to sit a short examination - for instance, this may be of one hour duration and contain questions on mathematics. Some Colleges ask Chemical Engineering applicants to sit the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) test on the day of the interviews. Information on this test, including example questions, can be found at the website http://www.tsacambridge.org.uk/

    It is not possible to be more specific here about written tests at interview, because the procedures of each individual College may change from one year to the next. What we can say is that the relevant College will send you full details of the interviewing structure and any written tests after they receive your application.

    The website www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/interviews/ gives a more detailed guide to interviews at Cambridge.

  9. What are the arrangements for applying from overseas as a foreign student?

    The website www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/international/ contains information on applying to Cambridge from overseas. This includes entry requirements, interview details and funding information.

    Some country-specific information is available at www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/international/countryspecific.html

    Note that the University of Cambridge normally arranges interviews on behalf of the Colleges each year in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. However, applicants need to apply early if they are to take advantage of this interviewing scheme - the deadline for receipt of applications in these cases is usually in September for admission to the University in the following October.

  10. Is there any background reading that you recommend before applying for the course?

    It's a good thing to be interested in science and technology, and so reading relevant books and magazines that aimed at the general public can be helpful to an application.

    There are few books that are specifically on chemical engineering that are at the appropriate level for prospective applicants. Probably the most suitable is K. A. Solen and J. N. Harb (2010) "Introduction to Chemical Engineering: tools for today and tomorrow" (Wiley, ISBN 9780470885727). This book describes the discipline and gives examples of the different types of calculations that are performed by chemical engineers. It is reasonably easy to understand. Don't be put off by the old-fashioned American units used throughout.


Answers to questions relating to the course

  1. I intend to do first-year Natural Sciences - which options are best for Chemical Engineers?

    Those who do first-year Natural Sciences have a choice of sciences to study - they do three sciences plus a mathematics course. Virtually any combination of sciences is permitted. Almost all Chemical Engineers choose to do Chemistry and most (but not all) choose Physics. The other courses commonly chosen are Materials Science, Biology of Cells, Computer Science, and Earth Sciences. All of these courses are directly useful to at least part of Chemical Engineering. Occasionally Chemical Engineering students have chosen the other options (Evolution & Behaviour, Physiology of Organisms) and enjoyed the courses.

  2. I'm not absolutely certain I want to do Chemical Engineering. Will I be able to change my mind?

    In the Cambridge course, you are not absolutely committed to reading Chemical Engineering even if you specify it on your application form. It is usually possible to continue studying a pure science if you do first-year Natural Sciences, or another branch of engineering if you do first-year Engineering. Cambridge is thus an ideal choice for University applicants who aren't quite certain which course they eventually want to study.

    It is often possible to change to Chemical Engineering, even if this isn't stated on the application form, if an appropriate first-year course is studied. However, if you are interested in Chemical Engineering, you are strongly encouraged to apply to read this subject. One reason for this is that the subject you apply for affects who is chosen to interview you during the admissions process. If you're interested in Chemical Engineering, then it is usually best if a Chemical Engineer is involved in the selection process. Another reason is that preference is given to those who applied to read the subject in the event that the Chemical Engineering course becomes "full up".

  3. How many students do the course?

    There are usually about 65 undergraduate students in each year. This means that all students get to know each other and to know members of staff individually.

  4. Does the course contain lots of chemistry/engineering/maths/computing?

    There is a fairly detailed description of the course contents on another part of this website.

    Chemistry: those who do first-year Natural Sciences do lots of Chemistry that year. For those who do first-year Engineering, we teach a second-year Chemistry course covering key principles that has the aim of enabling the student to interact with Chemists who work in industry. The rest of the course contains lots of physical chemistry, but very little organic or inorganic chemistry. There is no "wet" chemistry within Chemical Engineering (apart from occasional final-year reseach projects).

    Engineering: those who do first-year Engineering do lots of general engineering that year. For those who do first-year Natural Sciences, we teach a second-year Engineering course covering some key principles of mechanics, materials, stress analysis and dynamics. The rest of the course is devoted to chemical engineering, rather than general engineering, though there are a number of overlaps.

    Maths: all students do maths courses in their first year (whether in Natural Sciences or Engineering). They continue to study maths in later years as well, notably numerical methods, differential equations, statistics, and optimisation. Chemical Engineers definitely need to be capable of performing numerical calculations and comfortable with differentiation and integration.

    Computing: we do not teach computer programming within the course, though anyone entering via the Natural Sciences route can learn programming if they choose Computer Science as one of their first-year options. Instead we concentrate on training students how to use specific computer packages. These include spreadsheet calculations with Microsoft Excel, process simulation with UniSim, and use of the symbolic computing package Mathematica for advanced calculations. Some final-year students do learn computer programming during their research projects.  

  5. What is a typical week like for a Chemical Engineering student?

    There is no such thing as a typical week for a Cambridge student, but there are patterns which do arise with noticeable regularity. A significant feature of student life at Cambridge is the relatively short length of the terms; there are two eight-week-long teaching terms (Michaelmas and Lent) separated by Christmas, followed by a seven week long term (Easter) featuring teaching followed by most university examinations. Administrative arrangements are made before the lecturing period begins and project work often extends beyond the end of the lecturing period. A large amount of activity is concentrated into these periods and consequently few students spend weekends away.

    The pattern in the first year depends on the route chosen, but a likely workload would be 12 hours of lectures per week and three afternoons spent on laboratory or project work. In the first year, there would normally be three hours of small group teaching each week.

    After the first year, all lectures and laboratories are organised by the Department. Lectures are concentrated into the mornings, leaving the afternoons free for laboratory classes, project meetings, small group teaching, presentations and seminars. There are on average 10 hour-long lectures each week, and the second year involves around four hours per week of set laboratory or computing classes. The remainder of the week is not timetabled, but preparation for small group teaching sessions and project work can easily occupy most afternoons.

    There are plenty of extra-curricular activities that are undertaken by chemical engineering students. These include sport, music, drama, and events arranged by the numerous University and College Societies. The Chemical Engineering Society (cuces) also organises social activities.  

  6. Tell me about industrial placements for Chemical Engineering students

    Industrial experience is not considered absolutely essential for Chemical Engineers at Cambridge, but it is actively encouraged. Virtually all undergraduates who want to get a vacation placement in a relevant industry are able to get one in the summer between years 3 and 4. Such positions are facilitated by staff members of the department. A smaller, but still significant, number of Chemical Engineering students are successful in getting vacation placements in industry in earlier years.

    The Department does not offer "sandwich" degrees in which a student spends a year in industry in the middle of the degree course.

  7. Does the course give Chartered Engineer status?

    The four-year course leading to BA and MEng degree is accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). This means that it satisfies the academic requirments for corporate membership of the institute. Graduates are able to apply for Chartered Engineer status once they have a few years of industrial experience without taking any further exams. 


Answers to questions from existing undergraduates 

  1. I'm a student at Cambridge but I didn't apply to read Chemical Engineering. Can I join the course?

    It is usually possible for students to change to Part I Chemical Engineering after their first-year course depending on the subject taken. See Information for Part 1As for details.

    The regulations do permit students to enter Part IIA Chemical Engineering after gaining honours in their second-year course. However, this needs special permission from the Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Syndicate and involves substantial work over the vacation.  

  2. Is there any undergraduate exchange scheme with other Universities?

    The Department participates in the undergraduate exchange scheme with MIT. Typically two Cambridge chemical engineering students spend their second University year at MIT. There is currently no undergraduate exchange scheme with any other University. It is not possible for Cambridge Chemical Engineers to perform part of their studies elsewhere.  

  3. I'm currently an undergraduate at another University. Can I transfer in and join your Chemical Engineering course?

    It is not normally possible for undergraduates at other Universities to join our undergraduate Chemical Engineering course. The University of Cambridge does not operate a credit transfer scheme.