Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)

WollstonecraftIf 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.

Subject Video

Subject Video
A short introduction to the Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos at St John's College, filmed for St John's September Open Days 2020. Featuring our Director of Studies Miss Sylvana Tomaselli.


Course information
Year 1 (Part I)

In the first year, you take four subjects. 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 three single-subject tracks, each of which enables you to take optional papers from other subjects; or you can choose one of four 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
  • Sociology and Criminology


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.

Watson book


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.

Entry Details

UCAS Code: UCAS code L000 BA/HSP

Typical Entry Requirements

A Level: A*AA

International Baccalaureate: 42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

Essential/Desirable Subjects: None

Submitted Work:  Two essays from your A2 work (or equivalent), one of which might be timed.

Interview Assessment: None

Admissions Interviews

Those invited for interview will typically have two interviews of approximately 25 minutes each with Teaching Fellows in HSPS. The aim of these interviews 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.  

The interviewers may use your submitted written work 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.