I decided to study maths because of the satisfaction and buzz I got out of solving problems (sounds sad, I know, but true!). My favourite thing about my subject is the way in which two seemingly unrelated branches of maths can interact in beautiful and unexpected ways. At uni, I come across this all the time in lectures and tutorials, and it’s so cool! The best experience I’ve had of studying maths has been working with the other maths students. At school, you’d be lucky to find someone willing to discuss maths outside the classroom but here, you get to discuss problems and concepts with other maths students every day, which is both fun and super helpful, especially if you’re a bit stuck on something.
I decided to study Maths mostly because I enjoyed it and I was good at it in school, but it was my great experience on the UNIQ summer school that really sealed the deal. The thing I enjoy most about Maths is the pure satisfaction of having everything fall into place after spending a long time thinking about a problem - inspiration can strike when you least expect it. That and the fact that even after three years I still get the same sense of excitement when I learn about a particularly nice bit of maths. My best experience was probably getting a first overall in my first three years - a lot of hard work paid off.
Personally, I've really enjoyed studying Maths. Having come from inner-city Birmingham, I had no idea what to expect from both the course and Oxford but I found people here aren't all posh and they’re not constantly trapped in the library either. Having a college system is something I really enjoy since you have an instant social network and you also get fiercely loyal to your college so there's always a great atmosphere during rugby/football/(insert your favourite sport) games against other colleges. Maths is also great with regards to meeting people since in your first couple years you're in lectures with the rest of your year.
Something I'll always remember from my time studying Maths would be when I was in a tutorial and my tutor told us that he had to cancel our next tutorial because he had to explain what he had just taught us to some of the scientists working in CERN. I won't lie – it made me feel very important but it also taught me that when you learn new things in tutorials, you are actually learning something that matters; what you are taught in lectures is extremely valuable and can be used to make even more new discoveries.
Applying for maths at university was more of a rash decision that just so happened to be the right one for me. What I love most about maths at Oxford is the sheer breadth of topics you can study. Although things are quite limited in the first and second year, the choices in the third and fourth year allow you to specialise and learn about the things you’re really interested in. Next year I am going to be able to study Mathematical Biology alongside teaching A level maths at a local school for one day a week! The support your tutors give you is totally invaluable - however the comradery of your pals during exam term is what I’ll remember the most. From teaching each other proofs on a makeshift whiteboard at 10pm, to sending each other solutions two hours before a deadline, your friends are the ones that will make a maths degree at Oxford more palatable.
In the first year, you'll be taught the core material needed for more advanced courses later on. The topics are roughly split into pure and applied – you’ll meet things like Linear Algebra, Analysis, Calculus (a lot more in depth than taught at school!), Fourier Series, and a whole lot more! It’s all super interesting, and although Pure Maths can be a bit scary at first (get prepared for LOTS of Greek letters!) it's really fun and nice to be able to prove things you’ve taken for granted in the past 10 years. In the second, third, and fourth year, you can choose from lots and lots of options to suit your interests, whether that’s pure or applied maths.
Maths at Oxford is special because of the atmosphere, the new Maths Institute (which is ace and has been voted the best in the country for research!), and the fantastic amount of contact time. You’re being lectured by experts in the field and your tutors really get to know you, how you work, and what type of thing you’re interested in, so your experience can really be tailored to you.
Art of Problem Solving is an extremely useful website for those who want to experience challenging mathematics at the high school level, especially if they want exposure to competition problems. The site has a wide range of problems and is used by high schoolers from several countries, so there's something in it for everyone and the exposure it offers is unique.
There are some great video channels on YouTube which explore different mathematical ideas in interesting ways. Two examples of these are Vihart and Numberphile. If you want some really nice questions then try some British Maths Olympiad past papers. They don't require a huge amount of prior knowledge but can be quite challenging.
William Dunham's "Journey Through Genius" is a very well-written book which, unlike most popular mathematics books, does actually contain some maths in it! It details some of the most important theorems throughout history, exploring the works of great mathematicians from history: from Pythagoras to Newton to Cantor.
Popular maths books are great to read before you apply to uni. They introduced me to some really interesting branches of maths and showed me how stuff I’d learned at school could be applied to the real world.
One of the books I read when I was applying was "The Math Book" by Clifford Pickover - it's a collection of 250 brief articles explaining various diverse bits of maths. One of them is actually all about my tutor’s work!
For my first interview I was given a sheet of six questions to answer before I went in. In the interview we talked through as many questions as I could solve and then expanded slightly on them. For example, the interviewer proposed a different method of solving one question and the coaxed me through the solution.
My other two interviews were also problem-based. We barely talked about my personal statement and focused primarily on questions. They both had the same format; I would be given a question and asked to solve it. When I got stuck they would give me help and when I got an answer wrong they would point it out.
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Maths interviews for more information.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.