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Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)

Land and Loyalty, Tomas Larsson
national capitalisms global production networks

If you want to study Politics, International Relations, Sociology or Anthropology at Cambridge then Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is the course for you, offering several popular subject combinations, as well as specialist options.

St John's College has a long tradition of excellence in these fields: William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), both leading figures in the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), Statesman and Prime Minister, William Rivers (1864-1922) and Professor Graeme Barker are amongst the distinguished Johnians who contributed much to the practice and teaching of these subjects. Many of the personal papers of these Johnians have been given to the College Library and are available for students to view.

Studying HSPS at St John's, you will have access to our exceptionally well-stocked library which affords 24 hour borrowing facilities and a pleasant working environment. Recommendations from all College members of items to be purchased for the library are welcomed. Students can also benefit from an introduction to archival material session with the Archivist.

Students at St John's also run The Palmerston Society, the College's HSPS society. The society has heard from a series of very distinguished and interesting speakers, and runs events frequently during the academic year.

The College also awards generous Travel Grants to students who wish to undertake projects abroad, as well as a wealth of other grants and prizes available to students, including book grants and assistance with attending conferences.

If you want to hear more about studying at St John's from a student perspective please look at the 'Testimonials' tab. To learn more about the Fellows and other academic staff teaching the various subjects please look at the 'People' tab.

The flexibility of HSPS allows you to explore a variety of subjects, many of which may be new to you, like International Relations or Biological Anthropology, before pursuing advanced study in either one or two specific subjects in your second and third years. Alternatively, if you already know the subject(s) in which you want to specialise, you can tailor the course to suit your interests right from the start while retaining the option to take individual papers in other subjects as well.



Directors of Studies

Miss Sylvana Tomaselli - Affiliated Lecturer in HSPS/Sir Harry Hinsley Lecturer and College Lecturer in History
Dr Helen Watson - Archaeology & Anthropology (Part II)

Course information

Year 1 (Part I)

In the first year, you take four sujects. At least three must be from the core subject areas:

Your fourth paper can either be another from the core subjects, or you can choose a paper from the Archaeology Tripos or the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos.

This allows you to combine a variety of subjects, choosing from those you are most interested in, and provides a solid base before specialising further in Years 2 and 3.

Years 2 and 3 (Part II)

For your second and third years, you can either choose one of five single-subject tracks, each of which enables you to take optional papers from other subjects; or you can choose one of six two-subject tracks.

The single-subject tracks are:

You take four papers in both Years 2 and 3. If you choose a single subject you can replace one optional paper with a paper from another HSPS subject, an interdisciplinary research methods paper, or a paper borrowed from another degree course.

The two-subject tracks pathways are:

  • Politics and Sociology
  • Sociology and Social Anthropology
  • Social Anthropology and Politics

You take four papers in both Years 2 and 3, choosing two from a number of options available in each subject in each year. In Year 3, you can offer a dissertation as your fourth paper.

Please note that it’s not possible to change pathway between Years 2 and 3, unless you are switching from a two-subject pathway to one of the single subjects within it. Some Year 3 papers may only be available if you have taken the relevant paper in your second year.

For more detailed information please visit the Faculty website.

UCAS Code: UCAS code L000 BA/HSP

Entry Requirements

Duration: Three years
Typical offers require: A Level A*AA; IB 40–42 points, with 776 or 777 at Higher Level.

Those invited for interview will have three interviews: a general one to discuss their application in general terms, and two specifically academic interviews. The aim of these interviews, which last between 15-30 minutes each, is to establish your motivation and aptitude for your proposed studies. The interviewers will expect to find an enthusiasm for HSPS going beyond the minimum requirements of the examination course. We try to conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them. They should not be seen as interrogations.

In making their decision about those candidates best suited to study at St John's, the interviewers consider all evidence of an applicant's academic potential. They take into account the applicant's academic record and predicted grades, their personal statement and academic reference, their submitted written work, and how they come across in interview. No part of the process will be considered in isolation or be decisive. The purpose of our interviewing process is to ensure that candidates have the greatest possible opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

To help us with the selection process we would like to you to send in two essays from your A2 work (or equivalent), one of which might be timed. The interviewers will use the essays as a means to facilitate discussion with the candidates on their interests, and they will also be looking for signs of actual and potential ability to structure argument, to use evidence effectively, to write fluently and precisely and to think originally.


Pre-Interview Assessment

Applicants for HSPS will need to sit the University's Pre-Interview Admissions Assessment, more information on which is available here.

At school I studied Latin, French, History and German. Outside of these I was involved in the debating, historical and philosophical societies. My interests were broad, and they gave me an insight into politics from a variety of perspectives. For me, this variety was reflected in the HSPS course. You are given a solid foundation in the philosophical principles of politics and then led to apply...
I studied Philosophy, Maths and History at A Level and did not find it easy to decide what to study at University. In fact, I began my time at St John's studying Philosophy, but quickly realised that HSPS suited me better, with its greater historical breadth and variety of courses. I did not once regret the move.The great strength of HSPS is the range of disciplines you encounter in three years....
Victoria Buchholz
Hailing from San Diego, California, I didn’t fully understand the importance of choosing a college when I was applying to Cambridge. My decision to apply to John’s was influenced by the fact that my father had greatly enjoyed his graduate studies there, and also, I’d heard that John’s had the best food!However, as I finish my degree in Psychology, I can wholeheartedly say that applying to John’s...
Russell Ó Ríagáin is a third-year PhD student in Archaeology.  Prior to coming to St John's, he studied for an MPhil in Archaeological Research at St Catharine's, a HDip in Sociology at University College Dublin and a BA in Archaeology and History at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has worked as a contract archaeologist in addition to working for the Archaeological Survey of...
Hilary Hurd
A native Virginian, I did not know what to expect when I arrived in Cambridge last September to pursue a one-year MPhil in International Relations and Politics. While I had of course seen many beautiful photographs of Cambridge and been long impressed by the prestige of its revered alumni, I had little to no personal connection with the University. Given its long history and the formidable...
Deborah Brown
Prior to joining John's as a PhD candidate in International Studies, Deborah spent ten years crossing the globe working in capital markets.  She travelled and worked extensively with companies and governments in Latin America and Eastern Europe helping to execute transactions in the international capital markets. Although she very much enjoyed her job, it was always her dream to return to...
Pongsiri Vorapongse
Pongsiri is a third-year PhD student in Politics & International Studies and a Gates Cambridge scholar. Prior to coming to St John’s, Pongsiri’s work experience included two years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and a year at the Thai central bank. He received his M.A. in International Relations with distinction from Johns Hopkins-SAIS, Washington D.C., and B.A. in Economics...
Sophie Dundovic
Sophie joined St John’s in 2009. She attended a state comprehensive school in Basingstoke and took A-levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, German and Economics at Farnborough Sixth Form College. 'My time at St John’s has been thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and intellectually stimulating. I have made fantastic friends and had the opportunity to take part in so many enriching activities that...
Sipke Shaughnessy
'I applied to study Archaeology and Anthropology (before it became part of the HSPS Tripos) at Cambridge from a non-fee paying voluntary school in Bandon, Ireland. I had originally applied to King's but ended up being placed in the summer pool and was selected by St John's instead. I initially felt quite nervous about coming to a college which I had never really considered before and therefore...
Donna began studying PPS in 2009 having studied History, English Literature, Maths, Physics and Religious Studies at school. She is about to begin an MPhil in Criminology at Cambridge. 'I originally applied to St John’s for History but decided to switch to PPS when I returned to college after an illness. The breadth of the papers, especially in the first year, appealed to me as I was still unsure...
'I came from a statistically average state school in Bedfordshire and was lucky to have ambitious teachers who bullied me into applying to Cambridge, then helped me through the process. I somehow got a place to study SPS. The first year was a bit crazy: settling in to a big college and deciding which of the four strains of SPS to pursue in the second year. But John's is friendly and offers...
Since graduating from St John's with a degree in SPS (2005) and an MPhil in International Relations (2006) Nick Charlwood has qualified as a solicitor and now practises restructuring and insolvency law in London. 'My experience of the admissions process was slightly unusual as I was simultaneously auditioning for a choral scholarship and an academic place. I somehow ended up with both and, after...
Richard studied History, Government & Politics, German and English at A-level at an Essex Grammar school. Richard achieved the highest first in the PPS Tripos before remaining at St John’s to read Management Studies in 2009/10. He will begin working in marketing at Google in August 2010.'In sixth form I didn’t have a clear idea of what I saw myself doing either at University or beyond. I...
Salima Virji
Salima Virji attended James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, South London.'I studied Politics, Latin and German at A level and found it difficult to decide what to read at university. In the end, I applied to St John's to read Classics, and came up in 2000. After gaining a 2:1 in Part I Classics, I decided to switch to a two-year Part II in SPS. The diverse range and different combinations of...
Jonathan Yiangou studied English, History and Maths at A Level. After graduating he livedin Parisfor a year, and is currently studying for an MSc in International Political Economy at the LSE. He will begin working in the European Commission, DG External Relations, in October.'I came from a school where conformity and mediocrity were more common than academic achievement, and so to do well...
Thomas Griffiths attended a state comprehensive in the North East for both his GCSEs and A-levels. He took A-levels in History, Religious Studies, Geography and Psychology. He graduated from St John's in 2007 with a 2.1 in Social and Political Sciences (now PPS).'Early into my first term, I discovered that the lackadaisical lifestyle of the SPSer was a Cantabrigian myth. Although lectures did...
Anna Wood started Cambridge in 2005 having studied Economics, Government & Politics, English Literature and French. She is currently travelling and working in London.'I chose to study SPS because of my interest in both people and current affairs. By the end of my three years of study, I really felt I had gained a much better sense of how the world works. One of the main strengths of SPS...
Hamish Falconer studied Economics, English, Geography and History at A-level and is from North London . He was awarded the Larmor Award for moral, practical and intellectual achievements and has been offered a place in the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme.'I wasn't sure what to apply for at University and was initially sceptical about SPS, having never studied any of its component...
Katy took A-levels in Politics, Economics, English Literature and Mathematics at a grammar school in Essex. She is now studying for a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at City University, London. 'I applied to study PPS at Emmanuel, and only came to John's through the pooling system. But I'm incredibly glad that I did - the college has provided me with inspiring supervisors, a highly supportive...