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Computer Science at Sidney

Computer Science at Cambridge

On the theoretical/mathematical side the course covers the study of information and computation. It considers the acquisition, handling, retrieval and presentation of information. On the more applied/engineering side it looks at the design of machines on which these operations can be performed, the facilities required by these machines, and the myriad uses to which they can be put. Formal methods for the construction, analysis and validation of software can involve much mathematics. When concerned with circuits made directly on silicon chips, on the other hand, it gives a link to solid state physics. Between these extremes there is a large body of challenging material relating to both theoretical and practical aspects of computer systems and applications. The course provides opportunities for hands-on practical experience of both advanced hardware and software, while providing a thorough coverage of theory. Graduates emerge with an understanding of principles that will outlast today's technology.

In the first year the Computer Science Tripos provides several alternative courses of study. All students take two compulsory computer science papers, which cover the foundations of Computer Science, including programming in two languages (ML and Java); introductions to computer hardware, operating systems, professional practice, and software engineering; mathematical preparation in both continuous and discrete mathematics; and a thorough grounding in computer algorithms. The algorithms, ML, Java and digital electronics topics involve laboratory work.

Most students also take the Part 1A (first year) Mathematics for Natural Sciences paper. The fourth paper is chosen from:

  • A third Computer Science paper covering topics including computer graphics, human-machine interaction and machine learning

  • A social psychology paper

  • One of Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Evolution & Behaviour, Physics or Physiology of Organisms from the first year Natural Sciences course.

Alternatively, some students take the two compulsory Computer Science papers alongside two papers from the first year Mathematics degree course.

Studying Computer Science at Sidney

Sidney has a relatively small intake for Computer Science (2–3 students a year). However, we believe it’s essential to be given the opportunity to learn together with others of similar interests and ability, so we form an association with other colleges with whom we combine our teaching resources: Churchill, Magdalene, St Catharine’s, Newnham, Homerton, Hughes Hall, and Lucy Cavendish. Students from these colleges are all taught by the same academics and supervised alongside the same students. The large association means we have the greatest diversity of supervisors and greatest range of students amongst whom to find similar interests in the University. We are able to offer supervisions in all courses (including all final year courses), and can match you with a supervisor for a final year project in any specialised area of Computer Science.

Computer Science is a broad and interdisciplinary subject, with strong links to:

  • Physics (e.g. solid state physics and quantum mechanics),
  • Mathematics (e.g. formal methods for the construction, analysis and verification of software),
  • Engineering (e.g. signal processing and electronics), and
  • Linguistics (e.g. natural language processing and formal grammars).

Sidney has strong communities in each of these subjects and encourages interdisciplinary collaboration. The College’s Wilson society (science society) aims to cultivate ongoing relationships between these disciplines through talks and social events.

Sidney Sussex provides an excellent environment to support self study, an essential element of any successful undergraduate career. The Library holds all undergraduate texts and is open for study 24 hours a day. Despite the peaceful setting of the College and its tranquil gardens, we have all the facilities of the town centre right on our doorstep.

Computer Science Community at Sidney

Sidney organises a computer science talks series, in partnership with several other colleges. Each week, students, academics and veteran practitioners deliver presentations on topical, pertinent and pressing issues in Computer Science. The talks are technical in nature and consider implications and opportunities for Computer Science in modern society. This enables everyone to explore cutting-edge aspects of Computer Science outside the confines of the University lecture syllabus which is set 18 months in advance. Topics are wide-ranging, across both theoretical and practical areas of Computer Science.

The talks are an essential aspect of personal development for our undergraduates and postgraduates, and bring the Cambridge community together. We develop the crucial skills necessary to master new technologies and apply them in the fast-paced modern world. Speakers use graphics, software demonstrations and prototype hardware to inspire the audience, provoke lively discussion and inform the community.

Past talk on Randomised Computation

The talks are public and everyone is welcome to join (check out the schedule). You can view some of the previous talks on the YouTube channel.

Other examples of past Computer Science activity at Sidney include programming competitions (occuring at convenient points in the year to reinforce the course material) and regular social events to cultivate informal discussions with other computer scientists.

Where will my lectures and supervisions take place?

Lectures in first year mostly take place in the town centre, about a 10 minute walk from Sidney. In subsequent years, lectures move out to the Computer Laboratory in West Cambridge. This involves a 10 minute cycle ride, or a short bus journey.

Some supervisions will take place in the college itself (the exact number depends on which options you choose). The others will be spread across other colleges in our partnership (predominantly Churchill College, around a 15 minute walk from Sidney) or the Computer Laboratory.

How do I prepare for studying Computer Science?

It largely depends on where your interests lie! As there are so many different routes into Computer Science, there isn’t any one thing you can do to prepare for the course. We’d expect any realistic applicant to have done something to determine if Computer Science is the right subject for them.

Examples of activities that applicants have found helpful for exploring the subject in the past include:

Hear from a student... 

  The supervisions are an integral part of what gives Cambridge its reputation as an outstanding establishment. Feel free to ask any quest Aiden Moosa, Computer Science undergraduate at Sidney ions prior or during the supervision if you are struggling with a certain topic or are genuinely interested in something relevant to the module.

The lectures are held not too far from Sidney (~10 min walk).

There are small practical programming assignments, called ticks, that let you get stuck into a particular programming language or field of study.

Aiden Moosa, Sidney Computer Science undergraduate


Director of Studies (DoS)

Mr Matthew T Ireland (External DoS)

All of our undergraduate students are allocated a Director of Studies and learn from specialists in particular areas of their subject. From time to time, individual teaching staff may be away on leave.

Typical Intake

1 - 2

Standard Entry Requirements

A*A*A at A Level

40-42 points in the IB, with 776 at Higher Level

Please see the University website for standard entry requirements in other qualifications.

Please note that offers are set on an individual basis using all of the information available to us in context of the entire field of applicants.

All Colleges require A Level/IB Higher Level Mathematics. At Sidney, A-level Further Mathematics or IB Higher Level Physics is highly desirable.

Computer Science with Mathematics: All Colleges require applicants to sit STEP papers as part of a conditional offer.

Please note that for those applying for Computer Science with Mathematics for 2019 entry onwards; we will require A Level Mathematics, Further Mathematics and STEP, or IB Higher Level Mathematics and STEP.

Admissions Process

Written work

We will not ask you to submit any written work as part of your application.

Admissions Assessments

At-interview assessment (CSAT), comprising: Maths-based problems (100 minutes).

Read more about the admissions assessment on the University website.


Two interviews. The first will be a more general interview, involving working through some mathematical or scientific problems; the second will focus on Computer Science and may involve working through further examples.

Find out more

Faculty of Computer Science and Technology

University website Computer Science course page


Skype interviews may be considered for international applicants on a case-by-case basis in certain subjects. If you wish to enquire further, please contact the Admissions Office (