- The Team
Hi, I’m Harry and I’ve just finished my first year as a mathematics student (or a ‘mathmo’ as we are called here) at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. In my blog I’m going to write a few short paragraphs on why I chose maths, my college and ultimately, what the application process itself was like and how I successfully prepared for it.
At school maths had always been something I really enjoyed and found I had a ‘natural’ ability for so applying to study it at university seemed like a natural progression. My Cambridge application seemed like a daunting prospect with so many things to think about. What college do I choose? How do I prepare for my interview? Are the interviewers going to ask me some really wacky questions I’ll have no chance in hell of answering? When I got down to it these things were a lot less stressful than I had imagined.
Firstly choosing a college. It turns out that college choice really doesn’t have much bearing on whether you get in or not. A system called pooling means that the colleges talk to each other to make sure that the applicants who will get an offer do get an offer. I suppose trinity has the strongest reputation for maths in Cambridge but ultimately it won’t matter because if they don’t have space then they will hopefully find a college that does.
Something unique to maths is the number of offers they give out to applicants. They give out double the number of offers they have to places for because you have the added hurdle of the STEP exams, the only advice I can give for this is start early (like now!) as practice really does make perfect.
The interview itself is also quite unique to maths, forget questions like ‘why cambridge’, ‘why x college’ or your interests outside of maths. The interview itself will most likely just focus on maths and how you approach problems. The key is being able to show your interviewer how you think. They want to get inside your head to see how you tick so make sure you express all your (mathematical) thoughts aloud. This helps when you have no idea what they are talking about because you can try and explain the bits you do understand. Some colleges require a test before hand which you will discuss and go over the questions in the interview itself so make sure you look at that before you apply to a certain college (do you enjoy explaining things aloud or doing them quietly in an exam setting?).
Do not stress out after the interview. You will never know how it went (well usually never). If it was easy, then you might just be a genius! If it was hard then they might have pushed you to your limit. You can just never tell. The point is to challenge you and move you out of your comfort zone.
You can, however, prepare a little for the application process by reading some books. I personally read some of the Olympiad primer books, which seemed to help me think a little more abstractly even though I’m hopeless at the maths challenge. Algebra and geometry is also rather interesting and incredibly useful for the first year if you want to have a look at some more advanced material as well as making you think a little more deeply about the subject. The best way to prepare is probably to do some STEP I questions as these are set up in a way they try and make you think in interview and you will be getting ahead for if you do get an offer.
Good luck with your applications! I shall be writing another post shortly about STEP and how to start preparing for it early.
Here is the great new website on a UK education for international students.
If you are interested in a UK education, this is a tremendous resource to begin with.
Contact us for any specific questions relating to Oxbridge.
Is Oxbridge stuffy? Have your say. Recently the press has been stating that state school students think they would prefer to go to the US to study. We would be really interested in hearing your thoughts:
The Ivy league schools in the US have a great reputation and the curriculum is more broad. High profile defectors include Laura Spence, who was famously rejected by Oxford University and accepted by Harvard.
However, her case highlights the potential downside for those who are already set on their career such as medicine. With the culture of ‘grad schools’ in the US, it would involve a less focused route into medicine for example. But conversely, for those who are less sure or who would value a broad educational experience, then this sort of study would make sense.
In the US, there is also far greater emphasis on contact time and continual essays/assessments. Students will all subscribe to certain classes, and be expected to show up and have papers formally graded. At Oxbridge in particular, students will have focused tuition in the supervision/tutorial setting and the essays will be less formally marked.
And then there is the cost. Whilst UK fees are going up, they are still no match to the level of funding required at US universities. Loans to students are often quite favourable and there are a large number of scholarships and bursaries available, but the financing needed to commit to study in the US is not for the faint hearted.
For some students however, their reservations about Oxbridge relate less to the educational opportunities and more to the perception of stuffiness. This writer, as a state school student himself, would like readers to have faith in the University system we have fostered and the people you will be surrounded with. There will be people from all walks of life and plenty of people with shared interests. Whether you feel more at home debating in the Union, acting and performing on the stage or relaxing in South Parks, there will be something for everyone.