Skip to main content

Teaching and Learning

At Cambridge we're renowned worldwide for the excellence of our teaching and research. As a semester student, you'll be lectured by academics who are experts in their field, alongside regular Cambridge undergraduates.

The style of teaching might be quite different to what you're used to at your home institution, so if you’re thinking of applying to one of our Semester Programmes, take a look at Cambridge University undergraduate prospectus. It’s an excellent way to get an idea of how the University works.

Teaching style

As well as attending lectures and seminars, you'll also benefit from one of Cambridge's greatest strengths: the supervision system.

You'll have an hour-long supervision each week, either individually or in small groups with an expert in the course (paper) you're taking.

Working closely with your supervisor who will set weekly essays, you'll have the opportunity to explore your subject more deeply, discuss your own ideas and receive regular feedback on your work.

It's important you understand that at Cambridge there’s less emphasis on contact hours and more on closely-guided, research-based essay writing and problem-solving. So don't be surprised if your timetable looks surprisingly light! 

Director of Studies

While studying with us you'll have a Director of Studies who will look after your academic welfare. They are involved in the admissions process so can help you prepare for courses, organise supervisions, monitor your progress and deal with any academic problems you face.


You’re also allocated a personal Tutor who takes a close interest in your studies and other activities. They are there to offer personal guidance and advice to help you get the most out of your time here.

The courses

Studying at Cambridge is about depth. So our Semester Programmes are not intended to provide general learning: we expect you to take courses in your major subject area.

Most Cambridge degrees have two sections – Part 1 and Part 2 – and you can generally choose courses from both Parts. We offer the following subjects, which fall under Group 1 tuition fees for overseas students:

  • Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic
  • Archaeology
  • Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
  • Classics
  • Economics
  • Education
  • English
  • History
  • History of Art
  • Human, Social, and Political Science
  • Linguistics
  • Modern and Medieval Languages*
  • Philosophy
  • Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion.

The system is quite flexible, however in each faculty there may be papers you cannot take as part of a Semester Programme. You can discuss your options with us during the application process.

*From Fall 2019, you'll be able to select scheduled papers (not language or general papers) from Part IB and Part II of the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos. These papers will require a certain level of ability in the relevant language(s), and we'll discuss this with you on an individual basis. 

My major isn't listed above, do you offer any other subjects?

We usually ask you to take courses in the area of your major, but we are open to applications for subjects if they are strongly related to your major. 

We'd recommend you clearly outline in your application why you're applying for a particular subject that isn't your major, and how it related to your academic interests and background. A good example would be American Studies, as this course doesn't exist at Cambridge, but you could make a strong case to apply for English, History or maybe Human, Social and Political Sciences. 

From Spring 2020 we'll be able to offer a limited selection of Mathematics papers that have academic prerequisites. Maths is a group 2 subject so a higher University fee applies, but you would still apply in the usual way. We're only able to offer Maths on the Spring Semester Programme. 

We're currently reviewing our academic portfolio and hope to be able to expand it further in the future. If you're interested in other subjects, get in touch with us - we'd love to hear from you.

How many courses can I study?

You'll choose two 'papers', or courses, to take over the semester.

Some papers are only available to students with considerable previous training – in econometrics, for example. Other papers may not be an option because vital lectures are delivered during a term that falls outside your Semester Programme.

Choosing your courses

Once you’re awarded a place on your chosen programme, we’ll send you information and advice on how to select your courses. You can find a list of courses on the relevant faculty and department websites.


Semester students don’t take regular University (known as Tripos) exams. Instead we assess you through College exams designed to reflect your studies over the semester. We base our grades on these exams and your coursework.

You'll also have the opportunity to write a dissertation rather than sit an exam, and this might just be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of your academic experience at Cambridge. 

Hear more about the academic side of the semester programmes:

Need more information?

If you can’t find what you’re looking for or have a query, please contact the Semester Programme Coordinator.