Can anyone advise re Oxford colleges for Maths?

(79 Posts)
GeorgeTheThird Tue 19-Apr-16 15:19:49

DS1 will be applying this October and has a reasonably realistic prospect of getting on an excellent maths degree course. (All A* /A^ at GCSE and A* in his mocks this year). He loves maths, does extra maths, reads about maths, does the Olympiads, is happy to do MAT and STEP papers in his own time... etc

Can anyone give any help as to which college to apply to? He is at a mixed school in the North that is only moderately selective, enjoys music and debating but is not at all sporty. He is sensitive, articulate and not at all arrogant or "macho" (for want of better descriptions), he is not massively competitive and is open to applying to a historical college but not especially set on doing so.

He has been wondering about St Anne's and Keble? Any ideas, anyone?

OP’s posts: |
hayita Tue 19-Apr-16 16:14:49

It's very hard to advise on Oxford (and Cambridge) colleges, because it is a very personal choice. A college is not "macho" or "arrogant" per se: colleges will have students with a range of personalities, interests and backgrounds. And while there are small academic differences between Oxford colleges for maths they are not that significant as the biggest part of the teaching is at university level i.e. lectures. One cannot really choose based on college tutorials as staff often move on i.e. there is no guarantee that you will be taught by the person you meet on the open day.

St Anne's is close to maths lectures. The biggest colleges have large endowments which can help financially but they are also often more over-subscribed.

I would suggest looking around Oxford on Open Days and applying for the college which appeals the most.

roguedad Tue 19-Apr-16 21:04:29

Take look around Balliol and St. Catherine's if you go to Oxford to look around. Two contrasting places representing the old and the new. Lots of music at Balliol and a not too sporty culture, with, I think a strong debating tradition. Catz a modern contrast well worth a look. Several colleges have strong chapel choirs, e.g. New, with strong music in tow.

Hayita is right that lectures are central and you are looking at minor differences in culture.

If you are interested in Cambridge too King's is fab for music and not so geeky as Trinity!

HocusWireless Tue 19-Apr-16 23:13:17

George , on open days the main thing that DS was told was that colleges are preference in the sense of where you feel comfortable and the academic side of e.g. Oxford or Cambridge is much of a muchness by college , Don't worry too much about the college from a maths point of view would be my advice . However there are those who post here who know much better.

bojorojo Wed 20-Apr-16 13:12:03

There are 29 to choose from! I think some colleges feel more formal than others. Look at the social events to see the differences. The academic side is shared by the college and the Maths Department but the web site says there is little difference in the maths a student learns at the diferent colleges. The Maths deparrment (Institute) suggests you look at accommodation, costs, and societies regarding choice of college. They also have a useful list of college web links titled Mathematics at Balliol, Mathematics at Exeter, Mathematics at Keble for example. You could look at all 29 of them! He may like to consider that there will, inevitably, be more Maths students in a larger college than a smaller one. Good luck.

Molio Wed 20-Apr-16 13:30:17

Subject numbers don't always work like that bojo, some smaller colleges take a disproportionate number of students for particular subjects and the other way round.

GeorgeTheThird Wed 20-Apr-16 16:16:08

Thanks everyone. It's hard not to feel as though we're just not "in the know" but I guess you're right that really it is just minor differences. I have been looking to see which colleges offer accommodation in college for all years, and also to see which have a large maths cohort. I'll have a look what societies there are too, I suppose those are college-centred?

We are going to look round in a couple of weeks.

OP’s posts: |


FordPerfect Wed 20-Apr-16 16:43:25

The good thing about applying for Maths at Oxford is that if you get through to interview you are automatically interviewed at both your chosen college and a second one (allocated by Oxford) which I imagine makes college choice less critical. George I recommend you and your son visit with an open mind - try to see a range of colleges from central and old to the newer ones such as St Anne's (close to the Maths Institute). My son's school didn't give any advice re which college to apply to whatsoever. I may be wrong on this but my impression is that with the automatic second interview for Maths, good candidates will not be disadvantaged by applying to oversubscribed colleges.

Molio Wed 20-Apr-16 17:29:02

Be careful about the accommodation advice because some colleges will state that they have accommodation available for all years of a course whereas that may mean no more than they have a house somewhere on the periphery of the city for those tiny few who don't live in a rented house share.

hayita Wed 20-Apr-16 19:02:04

It's hard not to feel as though we're just not "in the know".

I have connections with 4 Oxbridge colleges (i.e. attended them as a student or have been a Fellow in them). Between us my immediate family have connections with over a dozen Oxbridge colleges. I have dined at over thirty Oxbridge colleges and stayed at maybe 20 or so for conferences/short visits/PhD exams. I have spent many years at Oxbridge in total.

Yet I would still not really know that much about the feel of a randomly chosen Oxbridge college e.g. St Anne's - I only ate dinner there once or twice and don't know any Fellow particularly well. If my DC were applying to Oxford, I would still tour Oxford colleges along with my DC, with a little background knowledge of some and a lot of knowledge of a few, and help DC get an idea which college suited them most. (I would not particularly encourage my DC to go to my own colleges rather than choosing another college.)

For subjects other than my own, I would also need to look up the application statistics to get an idea of which colleges get the most over-subscribed. So I think being "in the know" is a bit of an illusion. Of course I do have background knowledge, but most of it wouldn't make much difference to my DC picking a college.

For the criteria above: a big maths cohort is not necessarily an advantage and bear in mind that societies change quite a bit with cohorts i.e. a very active society can become dormant once its leaders leave and vice versa. I would really go with general feeling about the college atmosphere more than anything else.

And as Molio says read the information about accommodation quite carefully. Living out of college is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it can be if the accommodation is not in a good location or not good quality. (Living out in nice college owned accommodation for a year or two can be good as living in college itself gets a bit claustrophobic.)

VegasIsBest Wed 20-Apr-16 19:06:55

As a previous poster said, applicants are often interviewed at one or two other colleges anyway. So I wouldn't worry too much. Encourage your kid to pick a college but not to get fixated on if. And good luck.

mice Wed 20-Apr-16 19:25:39

My eldest is at Oxford and I also have a number of friends with children there. A high number go each year from my DS's state school. They are at a wide variety of different colleges studying a variety of courses and they all seem to be very happy and very pro their own college. I think once they are they they fall into the college way of life and the choice of college quickly becomes irrelevant.
My son chose his for the proximity to his department so he could get out of bed as late as possible for lectures etc and this has worked well - his accomodation is guaranteed (as it is for the colleges others I know are at too) a mixture of at the college or further afield. Prices do vary a lot by college though so that is worth looking at too.
I would advise making sure you look at other universities with as much enthusiasm as you do Oxford. Each year, despite quite a large number of Oxbridge offers at my sons school there are always children that on paper look like they should but that don't get offers (straight A* at GCSE 4 A* predictions at A level - who go on to achieve these grades too) whiles students without such "perfect" grades do - so nothing can ever be guaranteed. Oxford is a lovely place to study but so are many other places too and it certainly isn't for everyone! (there is no way anyone could persuade my younger son to apply, the way of life was not for him at all !)

alreadytaken Wed 20-Apr-16 19:39:30

wondering why he's thinking about Oxford and not also going to see how he feels about Cambridge. The admission process is fairly brutal but at least you can be sure he'd be interviewed. At Cambridge the admission process is transparent - you have to pass the interview but a place depends more heavily on the STEP results than on interview. At Oxford it's more opaque and sometimes candidates who have good GCSEs don't get an interview, even if they do fairly well in the admission tests.

Anyway college choice - in addition to whether it is live in or out what are the facilities like? You may find some don't have en suite rooms, or kitchens or have expensive food. Start with the alternative prospectus
and have a look at information on the student room website.

If he gets a place he'll probably be happy anywhere he ends up.

hayita Wed 20-Apr-16 20:25:13

Cambridge interviews most, but not all, applicants for maths so you cannot be sure that he would get an interview.

If you get an offer for Oxford on maths (based on MAT and interview) it will be an "easy" offer to make. Cambridge over-offers for maths and filters by STEP, with many candidates being rejected in August.

sablepoot Wed 20-Apr-16 20:29:16

Alreadytaken, for Maths at Oxford everyone who scores above a certain threshold in the MAT is invited for interview. Plus a few extras who may have had mitigating circumstances. It's really not as arbitrary as you are suggesting.

GeorgeTheThird Wed 20-Apr-16 20:43:28

Already - the reason he is applying to Oxford rather than Cambridge is exactly as hayita describes in the post below yours. If he were to get an offer from Oxford then it would feel more like a real offer. As I understand it, Oxford only over-offer by a small number of places, having seen the MAT results, whereas Cambridge offer double the number of places available and let STEP sort it out in August. Also, it is likely that his insurance could be Warwick, not one of the London colleges, so I think Cambridge and Warwick could stand or fall together, leaving him in clearing.

I can't find the admission information about which colleges are more heavily oversubscribed blush I found it once, there was a table with entries with things like R for Rarely take allocations from a central pool and U for Usually. But I foolishly didn't bookmark it and haven't been able to find it since.

I will read the accommodation info carefully, thank you for the tip.

And I will certainly be enthusiastic about other universities, I do believe that getting hung up on Oxford is not a good thing at all. And indeed I had an offer from Cambridge that I failed to meet, and I was happy at my RG uni 😄

OP’s posts: |
GeorgeTheThird Wed 20-Apr-16 20:49:40

Sorry, I didn't explain that well. I think his second choice may be Warwick which also has extremely high entry requirements. So it seems better to have been rejected by Oxford, if he isn't quite good enough, then firm Warwick and have something more realistic as an insurance. Worse to firm Cambridge, have Warwick as "insurance" then lose them both in August and end up in clearing. Unless I've missed something!

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Mumoftwoyoungkids Wed 20-Apr-16 20:54:19

Back in the late 90s Kings, Cambridge made "1 offer per place" offers for maths. Haven't a clue if it is still true but worth a look at.

Generally try and two lots of stats:-

Applicants per offer
Offer per place

Get him to have a think about whether he is more likely to excel at A-levels / STEP or interview and use that to your advantage.

Generally it is better to be disappointed in January than August as you have more time to get over it.

Alternatively do what a family friend did and apply (get into and live happily) at Pembroke as he was on holiday in Pembrokeshire at the time.

Or what another friend did and look very carefully at all the information on the colleges in the prospectus and come to the conclusion that Kings was the place to go. And then realise years late whilst in second year that she had gone wonky along the lines and should have applied to Jesus......

Or third friend who applied to Magdelen because her favourite colour was purple.

Believe me - there are a lot of people not "in the know". We all loved our colleges once we got there. grin

Parisbanana Wed 20-Apr-16 21:00:55

Dd applied to a particular Oxford college. She got an interview there and one other college. Then received an open offer (meaning assuming she got the grades, she would be allocated somewhere).
So she got the grades (in early July as she did the IB) and had to wait til a level results day to find out where she was going. She was allocated a college that hadn't even crossed her radar! It felt anticlimactic in a way. She was over the moon to get In of course but it felt odd not being somewhere she had any clue about. But she embraced it and started doing her research of the college!
Now starting her 3rd term, she couldn't be happier. She very quickly settled, and it seems that they very quickly become fiercely loyal to their college. She says she can't imagine being anywhere else.
She has all her lectures with all students studying her subject across the university, but friendships and socialising and clubs seem to be very much college based.
I'm not sure if any of this is helpful to you but just thought I'd share our experience with you. Good luck to your ds with his application.

GeorgeTheThird Wed 20-Apr-16 21:03:28

Thank you 😄
I do know that really.
I just feel obliged to try to help, since he has asked me to. I'm not involved in the rest of the process, and I know it's his decision. But he's asked for help on this one thing ... (Well that and a late lift home on Friday night ..!)

OP’s posts: |
hayita Wed 20-Apr-16 21:19:26

Back in the late 90s Kings, Cambridge made "1 offer per place" offers for maths. Haven't a clue if it is still true but worth a look at.

This is not true, and Kings is one of the more over subscribed colleges.

All Cambridge colleges over offer for maths, expecting some offers to be missed due to STEP. There are some variations between colleges, but not that many and they vary year to year i.e. if a college looks like it had a good offer/acceptance ratio for maths one year then it tends to get more applications the next year, hence making it harder to get an offer. Trinity is of course massively over subscribed for maths every year, but Trinity puts a lot of students in the pool who are picked up by other colleges.

alreadytaken Thu 21-Apr-16 09:19:08

Cambridge interview all candidates with a realistic chance of a place for maths, make a large number of offers then leave STEP to sort it out. It means many with an offer dont make it and a lot do then go to Warwick where the STEP requirement is a bit lower. So they need to be fairly confident of their ability to apply to Cambridge. If not then it's sensible to choose somewhere else. Its why I describe the application process for maths at Cambridge as brutal.

Personally I doubt the commitment of some Oxford colleges to widening access. If you see excellent disadvantaged candidates rejected, sometimes without interview, when more advantaged candidates get places it tends to have that effect. If the disadvantaged candidates have also had practise interviews by those with experience of the process it becomes even harder to believe. Of course this may not be important to you but my family are involved with disadvantaged students to try and improve access. It is important to us.

hayita Thu 21-Apr-16 09:45:20

Personally I doubt the commitment of some Oxford colleges to widening access.

I think this story has been posted on lots of previous threads.

Even within one college, different academics are responsible for different subjects. You can't judge a whole college based on admissions for one particular subject or one group of subjects. In particular note that for maths many, many academics will be foreign so are not likely to have implicit biases in favour of private school or selective school students.

Academics will disagree even amongst themselves who the best candidates are, which is why Oxford gives several interviews at (usually) several colleges. As an outsider you cannot judge whether your "excellent disadvantaged" candidates were better or worse than other candidates because you didn't see all the applications in detail.

And finally you don't have any evidence that compares admissions at Oxford, Cambridge and other top selective universities, so it is unfair to single out Oxford colleges.

For maths MAT discriminates in favour of schools which have covered more of the maths curriculum earlier, and in favour of schools which can support preparing for it. However, the required MAT score is adjusted according to the type of school to take this into account.

Ultimately though Oxford gives offers based on small differences. Of course they are going to have to turn down some very good candidates who didn't quite perform as well as other very good candidates.

Molio Thu 21-Apr-16 10:10:01

I'm also wondering how big your sample size is alreadytaken. Is this based on the single disappointed candidate for 2012? Alternatively, if you've tried to help a larger group and all of those were unsuccessful, can you be sure that you're making a positive difference? Because I think I'd be reflecting on my own input in that situation rather than looking elsewhere, especially if all of a large number of applicants really are outstanding.

Molio Thu 21-Apr-16 10:12:00

And can I just say that we have no reason to believe OP's DS is disadvantaged, educationally or otherwise - indeed his school seems rather successful! So I'm not sure where that particular angle springs from!

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