Key facts

Average number of students offered a place per year


Average number of applicants per year


Classics at Downing

Our standard conditional offer for this subject is usually A*AA at A level or 41 - 43 points overall and 7, 7, 6 at Higher Level in IB.  All Colleges may modify offers to take account of individual circumstances.  Further information can be found here.

The teaching of Classics at Downing aims to extract the maximum benefit from the opportunities offered by the Cambridge Tripos. Emphasis is placed on securing the best teaching available across the University.

As is appropriate for a College built in the Classical style, the subject flourishes at Downing. Over recent years, four students have been admitted in each year to read Classics, giving us one of the largest communities of classicists in Cambridge.

The College has an active Classics Society, which meets once in each term for dinner and informal talks by classical scholars. Downing is only a ten-minute walk from the Classics Faculty Building where lectures take place and the main Classics Library is located.

Meanwhile, the ongoing influence of Greece and Rome in modern times is a real growth area. Downing continues to supply raw materials for this trend with the most recent addition to its fine collection of neo-classical buildings, the Howard Theatre.

The influence of Greek and Roman culture is also felt close by. Cambridge’s own Fitzwilliam Museum, just a five-minute walk from the College, has a completely refurbished Gallery of Classical Antiquities.


Downing 's teaching in Classics is supported by several dedicated classical scholars. The recent work of Rosanna Omitowoju, one of our Bye-Fellows in Classics, includes a book on Menander, the Athenian comic playwright. She has also prepared a translation of Chariton's Callirhoe, the world's earliest surviving romantic novel, for Penguin Classics.

Dr Frisbee Sheffield is the Classics Fellow at Downing College and our Director of Studies in Classics.

The following information should be read in conjunction with the University of Cambridge Undergraduate Prospectus, which gives more general information on submitting an application to Cambridge.This can also be obtained from the Cambridge Intercollegiate Applications Office (01223 333308) or the Downing College Admissions Office (01223 334826).

Applications to study Classics at Downing are equally welcome from complete beginners or learners up to A Level or equivalent.

Great effort is taken to help all Classicists at Downing feel secure in the reading of texts in the original languages by providing a substantial amount of teaching in both Greek and Latin. Candidates applying to Downing with little or no knowledge of Latin and Greek are assured of an encouraging and supportive environment.

The entry requirements vary between the four-year course, for which no previous knowledge of Latin or Greek is required, and the three–year course for those with A2 Latin or equivalent.


Candidates for both courses in Classics have two half-hour interviews at Downing. Both interviews take place on the same day and one of them will be with the Director of Studies in Classics. Other Fellows of Downing with relevant interests may also participate. The aim of the interviews is to assess the candidate’s ability and potential. To this end the discussion will concentrate on topics concerned with the Ancient World, although questions may also be asked, where relevant, about the other A-Level subjects which the candidates are studying. It is expected that those wishing to study Classics at Downing will have found time to extend their reading on the Classical world beyond the confines of the A-Level syllabus.

For one of the two interviews candidates will be invited to discuss a passage from a text which they will be given for individual study prior to the beginning of the interview. For candidates for the three-year course, the passage may be in either Greek or Latin, depending on the candidate’s A-Level qualifications. In the case of candidates for the four-year course a passage from a Latin text in English translation may be given, but the Latin original will also be included.  Specific questions may be asked at the end of the passage which may help to start the discussion. The purpose of this exercise is not to focus on the candidates’ training in translation skills. It is to give to those with a strong interest and intellectual commitment to the study of the Greek and Roman cultures a chance to show their potential to engage directly with it.

All applicants for Classics are required to take an assessment at interview, if interviewed. Further information about the assessment for both three-year and four-year course applicants is on the University website here:  For three-year course applicants who are invited to interview, this will be a translation exercise held on the day of their interview.  All candidates for the four-year course who are invited to interview will be asked to attend a language learning aptitude exercise conducted in the Faculty of Classics on the day following the college interviews. The nature of this exercise varies depending on whether candidates already have a qualification in Latin at GCSE or AS Level (or equivalent) or have no previous knowledge of the language.  For further information on the nature and contents of this exercise candidates for the four-year course are encouraged to contact the Director of Studies.

An additional interview at another college is also arranged for all those applying to read Classics at Cambridge. This is in order to reduce the possibility that a candidate who is placed in the Intercollegiate Pool will need to return to Cambridge for further interviews in January.

For further information on the nature and contents of this exercise candidates for the four-year course are encouraged to contact the Director of Studies.

All those applying for the Classics courses will be asked to submit in advance of their interview two pieces of written work, produced in the course of their studies. For those taking A-Levels in Latin or Greek, essays on set texts are suitable, but other pieces of writing are also welcome. Apart from giving an impression of the kind of work a candidate turns out on a regular basis, the essays are used as the basis of discussion in their interviews.

Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.

Further details about the Classics course can be found at the University of Cambridge site.

Love Your Subject: Classics