Most people probably hadn't heard of chemical engineering before university applications, but if you're mathematically minded and looking for something more 'real world' this is the degree for you! You will learn about chemical processes, for the production of everything from fuel to toothpaste in a safe, environmentally friendly and economic way. Chemical engineers are in huge demand and job prospects are very high, with average graduate salaries amongst the highest available.
The chemical engineering department in Cambridge is fantastic. It's a very sociable department, with its own committee who run social events and regular opportunities to meet with graduate-recruiting companies (almost weekly, especially in Michaelmas). They're really great chances to meet potential employers and get a taste of post-Cambridge life. (Plus they very often involve free pizza!) The department is only a 5 minute walk from college so no long hikes to lectures too.
You spend your first year doing either Natural Sciences or Engineering, before three more years to get a masters in Chemical Engineering. If you're a 'NatSci' I would recommend materials, chemistry and physics to make your second year a bit easier. Biology of cells would be very useful if you're interested in biotechnology and want to understand the very short second and third year modules too. None of the first year courses a essential to understanding second year except maths, and I would recommend doing pure not biological. The harder Maths B option covers most of the second and third year theory early but is a tough option! I think applying via Engineering is probably a more useful first year choice, though the official line is that it makes no difference and there are catch up lectures for both options.
Work in chemical engineering is comprised of examples papers, lab reports and exercises. Examples papers are set for supervisions to aid understanding but are not assessed. In your first year CET I, you will have 2 hours of Fluid Dynamics labs fortnightly and each lab comes with a report. Exercises come 5 times per year in CET I and CET IIA, and are extended questions which you have a few weeks to write a report on. I would recommend starting early as leaving the, to the last minute will result in whole nights spent in the department computer suite! In May term you will have a mini design project in first year and full length one lasting the whole term in second year- these are an opportunity to do some 'real' chemical engineering.
The department is small (only 60 undergrads in my year) and as college is also small you will probably be the only Chem Eng in your year. I thought this would be a disadvantage, but actually once you've got to know people it gives you a whole new group of people to go to Cindies with... On a more academic note, it also means you will have no competition for textbooks as the Peterhouse library has all of the main ones and you will probably have no one to share them with, and the librarians are usually very good at ordering in any books you need if they don't have a copy so you will never have to buy your own.
I think the best piece of advice I could give to someone thinking of applying is to 'try before you buy'- try and get some work experience in a chemical engineering company, or even just have a look at a introductory textbook so you have something to talk about in your application and interview.
To summarise a quote from the last author of this section of the prospectus: 'chemical engineering is objectively the best tripos you can sit in Cambridge. You will be harassed to the point of considering restraint orders by multibillion dollar companies desperate for you to work for them. You will be sick of free pizza provided by said companies and ultimately you will become a rich oil barren floating on a 130ft yacht in the Mediterranean...' Try it to find out!
Kate Ashley, 2013