Why study English at Christ's College?

For 500 years people from Christ’s have contributed to English literature.

  • Our founder Lady Margaret Beaufort translated books from French and sponsored early printers.
  • Thomas Wyatt – who introduced the sonnet into English in the 1530s – is thought to have studied here.
  • In the 1550s or 60s students 'in Christes Colledge in Cambridge' acted one of the earliest English comedies, the bawdy Gammer Gurton's Needle.
  • In the 1950s recent fellow C.P. Snow set his psychological novels in a college suspiciously like Christ’s.

In between, Christ’s was famous for writers such as Henry More and William Paley, modern comic poets C.S. Calverley and Gavin Ewart, avant-garde poet and publisher Andrew Crozier, 17th century royalist John Cleveland and – most famously – John Milton, writer of the greatest long poem in English, Paradise Lost.

  • One of our earliest students, John Leland, was driven to madness when employed by Henry VIII to study medieval literature in the monastic libraries Henry was destroying.
  • Another Christ's student, George Puttenham, wrote the first major work of literary criticism in English, The Art of English Poesy, published 1589.
  • Our first-year prize for best results is named after W.W. Skeat, a pioneering Victorian-era Fellow of the College.
  • Graduate Sarah Howe is a prize-winning poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at King's College London.

While here, many of our students perform, create, write and take a generally active role in life at Christ’s, the University and beyond. They use the College’s generous travel grants to do charity work, improve languages or visit museums. After graduation, some opt for further study here or at universities ranging from Belfast to Harvard. Others move on to work in all kinds of professions, including the law, PR, radio, advertising, journalism, teaching, drama, music and charity work.
 

Course structure and content

The English course (or ‘tripos’) is a three-year degree in literary criticism – reading, thinking and writing about great drama, verse, fiction and non-fiction.

Please visit the University website for full details of the English course structure and content.

 

Teaching

Cat on ladder in front of book shelves
Baines loves Dr Sophie Read's book ladder! Christs Cats

You have lectures at the central Faculty of English and are also taught in College in one-to-one or small-group 'supervisions’. The supervision method involves discussing your personal work in detail and is especially good for helping to develop your writing skills.

At Christ’s our Directors of Studies are Dr Chris Townsend and Dr Sophie Read. They work alongside other academics in English, Dr Edward Allen and Dr Nicole Sheriko.

At Christ’s we celebrate our enthusiasm for literature and cultural life. We have summer supervisions about Milton's prose style under the mulberry tree planted in the year of his birth, evening seminars to discuss Tolstoy, and explore movies in our film society Christ’s Lit Flicks. Add to that our annual Middle English mis-translation competition, trip to The Globe, dinners, Christmas celebration, garden party… Expect to work, rest and play in countless entertaining ways.

Did you know that we have a student-created website for school pupils interested in Milton? It was made in 2008 when we celebrated Milton's 400th birthday and it's still useful. See Darkness Visible.

 

What do our students think?

Becca, Seán, Katie, Esme, Charlotte, and Olivia all study English here at Christ's College. They have written about their experiences of studying English in their student profiles:

Student Q&A film
  Watch the Christ's student Q&A film

What we are looking for

We are looking for your enthusiasm for literature and for signs that you are a 'self-starter', ready for independent study. Most importantly, you should be a keen reader. You should want to spend a week reading four or five plays by Shakespeare or Beckett (say). You should already read good books - and decide what you think count as good books - beyond the 'set texts' of school. In whatever genres or periods interest you, you should enjoy thinking exactly about the ways in which writers use words, with intelligence, with sensitivity and with a sense of humour.

You should have intellectual curiosity. You should relish the opportunity to have a 'supervision' or conversation about your interests, whether with a professor sharing her years of knowledge or with a brilliant young graduate student developing radical new ideas, hoping to learn from them and to teach them something in turn. You should enjoy a whole class uncovering the language, metre and politics of one poem in depth. And you should enjoy a research project in which, over weeks in the rare book library, you become the expert on whatever curious question you choose.
 

How to apply

We welcome applications from all backgrounds and school types. Details and a timeline for the application process can be found on the how to apply page, and if you'll be applying from outside the UK, there is also a dedicated section for international students. The information below provides the additional details specific to applicants for English.

News
  • The written assessment for English is College registered. That means that you do not need to register for it. If you are invited for online interviews, we will organise it for you automatically. See the written assessment section below.
  • Students applying in October 2022 do not need to sit the ELAT (the college-registered assessment has replaced this).
  • On interviews: students who apply in October 2022 and are selected for interview will be interviewed online - you will not need to travel to Cambridge. For more detail see the interviews section below.


School subject advice for English

Neither we nor the Faculty of English in Cambridge overall have any fixed rules about which other subjects you should have studied, beyond the requirement to study some English Literature at A-level or equivalent. At Christ's College, we select each of you on your abilities in English studies alone. We are happy to consider students who have taken a "combined" A-level (or equivalent) in English Language and Literature, though if you have the choice between the "combined" A-level and a "single" A-level in English Literature, we would encourage you to choose the "single" A-level.

There is no need to study English Language A level separately as well as English Literature, out of only three subjects, as that might be a slightly narrow preparation.
 
Many competitive applicants study traditionally "academic" rather than practical or vocational subjects, in order to improve their ability to read widely in independent study, to conduct critical analysis of primary texts or scientific data, and to engage with long and complex traditions of intellectual thought. A foreign language at A-level (or equivalent) - no matter what language – is an excellent way to sharpen your ability to understand the English language and its literature, as well as being a useful tool for the student of the humanities and a useful skill for life. But we welcome applicants with a variety of subject combinations, including English in tandem with Sciences and Mathematics, and regularly admit students who have studied Art or Drama alongside more essay-based A-levels.
 

Written work

When we receive your application, we will ask you to send to us two marked essays that you feel accurately reflect your abilities and interests. In most cases, these would be written for English teachers at school and marked by them. These essays should be samples of your normal schoolwork and not specially prepared projects. We recommend that you keep copies of your essays for your own reference. One or both of these essays may be discussed at interview. Full written work guidelines will be provided as part of the current applicants section on this website (published by 20 September each year).

Interviews

When you submit your application, on your personal statement tell us mostly about your literary, academic and other cultural interests, so that we can discuss them with you at the interview. These interests are of most concern to us in judging your preparedness for the course.

If we invite you for interviews, these usually take place in early December. Those invited for Cambridge interviews are normally interviewed for 35-50 minutes in total. At Christ’s, we usually split the time into two interviews with academics in English. In your interviews we might well discuss your essays, as we would in a 'supervision'. We may also offer you a short passage or poem to read and discuss on the spot ('unseen' or 'practical criticism'). We will certainly ask you about your interests in literature in general beyond your set schoolwork. Further, more general information about interviews (including two useful films) is available in the Cambridge interviews section.

Written assessment (College registered)

If we invite you for interview, we ask you to take a written assessment at the end of November (it will not be on the same day as your interviews). We arrange this automatically so you don’t need to register, and you do the same assessment regardless of which college you apply to.

The English assessment will last 90 minutes and you can find details and a sample paper in the University course information for English - please see the entry requirements tab and scroll down.

You will be able to complete the assessment remotely and upload your work - you will not need to travel for it. Details of how the assessment will work will be given to students selected for interview by email.

Offers

We aim to admit between 6 and 8 students in English each year. Our conditional offers are usually A*AA at A Level including English Literature (or English Language and Literature), or 42 points overall in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level including English, or the equivalent in other qualifications. Occasionally we may specify that the A* or equivalent should be in English Literature.

The international students section has further information about typical offers for other qualifications. If you will have already finished school when you apply, please see the page for post-qualification applications
 

Helpful resources

Virtual Classroom Cambridge Faculty of English resources
Darkness Visible A resource for studying Milton's Paradise Lost, made by Christ's students
(Paradise Lost currently available on audible)
Gresham College lectures Online lectures available in Art and Literature
Cambridge Authors  Use it to lead you towards new books to read, or towards new angles on the ones you've already read. You might find a new way of thinking about literature, or some contextual information that alters your perspective.
Approaching Shakespeare Podcast lectures - each employs a range of different approaches to try to understand a central critical question about one of Shakespeare's plays.
Introductory English Taster day and undergraduate introduction lectures from Oxford
Discovering Literature Resources from the British Library
Project Gutenberg Over 60,000 out of copyright books online
Essay competitions Entering an essay competition is a good way to explore a relevant topic and get some extra practice in writing a convincing and well-structured essay. Examples: Estelle Prize; Gould Prize; Betty Haigh Shakespeare Prize 
Some more general essay prizes also have relevant questions for English students, e.g. the Robinson Essay Prize
The poetry society UK society founded in 1909 to promote “a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”.
English timeline Interactive timeline allowing you to explore the evolution of English language and literature, from the 11th century to the present day. 
Journals / reviews E.g Literary Review; The Times Literary Supplement
HE+ English Website for secondary school students who want to explore English beyond the school curriculum
CamGuides Introducing the academic and information skills that you will need during your studies, as well as how and where you be working.

 

Open Days and Online Events

Online events: Our open days and events page advertises online opportunities as well as events you can attend in Cambridge.

Come to a College Open Day or, if you are eligible, our annual Year 12 English Taster Day on John Milton (February/March) to find out more about the College and the course.

You might also enjoy the annual Cambridge Festival of Ideas each October, which offers an opportunity to explore the subject and meet University students and academics.

 

Need more information?