A level choices for Maths at Oxbridge, Imperial etc(26 Posts)
I’m hoping someone can give me some advice on A level subject choices for a 16 year old who loves maths and wants to keep his options open for applying to study maths at Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial etc further down the line?
He is highly able in all his subjects but especially loves maths (and eg. gets through to the UKMT olympiads each year - state school, no particular preparation). He wants to take Maths and Further Maths A levels, along with Physics. The entry requirements advice online seems a little vague on whether it’s advantageous to combine these with another science (he’s not hugely enthusiastic to do chemistry although predicted a 9 in it at gcse. He would probably love computer science, but would that ‘count’?). If it didn’t matter at all, he’d rather pick an unrelated subject for the sheer joy of it (eg music, which he also loves and is talented at and predicted a 9 in for gcse).
We have googled and asked a few people, and have had conflicting advice. Does anyone have any direct experience of this dilemma?
Definitely maths, further maths and physics a good idea. Chemistry isn't necessary unless you think he might change his mind and go for a science instead. For the 4th subject I would just go for a subject he can get as high a grade as possible in, in a subject he enjoys.
Thanks both. That’s reassuring. I don’t think either of us have a feeling for whether he’d be more likely to get a higher grade in music or computer science, but somehow music just feels a bit riskier if he ends up competing against others with double maths, physics + another science.
A language is good, and might facilitate further study abroad, if it came to it.
DS is planning to take Maths, FM, Physics and Latin.
DH (Math PhD from Ivy League; BA Oxbridge) did Maths, Further Maths and French. His language skills have been really useful.
If he’s got maths, further maths & physics, I think the 4th should be what he enjoys and can excel in. My sis did Spanish for her 4th and did maths at Cambridge. I don’t think studying another science would make him more likely to get a place, particularly if he’s not interested in it. Music sounds like a great option for him.
My eldest is studying Maths at Russell Group Uni and did Maths, Further maths, and 2 non-STEM essay subjects.
I think music is a good option, it shows he has more about him than just the maths/sciences, and something else to offer the university. Also music is very mathematical.
Maths, FM, whatever else you want. That's what the websites seem to say If you want more reassurance, email the admissions at these universities.
Physics is desirable for Oxbridge maths, and a number of Oxbridge colleges prioritise having physics. Fourth subject is irrelevant.
Outside Oxbridge, not having physics would not make much difference to getting an offer, but not doing physics A level does make the applied maths/mathematical physics parts of the course harder.
And why would you think that another science is more desirable to admissions tutors for maths than music? Chemistry is more or less irrelevant for almost all research in a maths department. Some departments do mathematical biology (both in their course and for research) but A level biology doesn't offer much relevant knowledge.
The writing skills obtained in any A level that involves essays are at least as useful as chemistry or biology. Computer science does have more overlap with maths, but anything that overlaps is in any case taught in the maths course, so nobody would particularly care about whether a student comes in with computer science.
Agree qith otgers that it does not matter, and indeed having a essay subject rounds out a post University CV. That said Economics is not a bad fourth choice as financial maths is quite a common career path for mathematicians.
Really recommend this
Very informative and the tutors leading the sessions were very engaging
How is Music marked for A Level? I know that a while ago it used to be the advice for GCSE to beware of Music because group-activities meant that the (non) performance of others could pull your grade down.
Have you seen this page, specific to Trinity.
No, realistically, to be competitive for Oxbridge Maths you need 4 if your school offers it - and most schools that offer FM do allow 4.
Senua, AQA A level music mark is made up of performance (individual), composition and a written/listening paper. No group work although ensemble performance used to be necessary for AS. Don't know about other exam boards.
This is all really useful - thank you so much. We both feel much more reassured now, and I’m going to take a look at those links. I think he’s finding it hard trying to decide which of his favourite subjects to give up, rather than the other way around! Great to hear examples of different fourth subjects that people have combined with double maths and physics. A language is definitely another option for him, but I think his heart lies more with music.
I know from my own subject that within the official ‘requirements’ there are certainly subject combinations that are preferred by admissions without being specified on their websites, which is what worried me slightly - but I can see with Maths this might be much less significant.
I think that Maths departments are fairly straightforward. They want Maths, Maths and more Maths; they are not interested in much else.
Does your intended sixth form support STEP?
They do seem to give decent support for STEP, yes, thank goodness.
Those subjectmatters sessions look ideal, crunchtime, thank you.
I think it was the fact/implication that in some ways Maths + Further Maths doesn’t necessarily equal two A levels (even in timetabling) that was making me worry about how important the 4th subject is, if it’s really more of a 3rd subject... and I feel much more reassured about that now, thanks all!
Not direct experience but I have an interest in a mathmo who graduated from Cambridge.
Cambridge Maths is really hard to get into. Unless you are applying for an organ scholarship they are interested in Maths and more Maths (not just further Maths but showing interest outside the course, Olympiad is good for that) . Everything else is just (especially for Trinity) stuff that takes your mind off maths and prevents you spending enough time on it. Music might be well regarded as a way to cope with the pressures of a very intensive course. They make lots of offers and let performance at STEP decide who can best cope. They get the best mathematicians not only from this country but across the globe.
Because STEP is so tough Cambridge applicants often hold Warwick as their back up choice, it's a bit less demanding on STEP. Hence Warwick also has a very good reputation for Maths.
Should he have an interest in engineering I'd encourage him to look at Imperial before Oxbridge. If his interest is applied maths then Imperial graduates easily get internships and job offers.
Cambridge admission tutors run threads on the Student Room website from time to time and there are also threads where mathmos can talk maths. You can check what I've said against the more official version
alreadytaken, (love the name btw!), that’s all immensely helpful, thank you. I’m away to browse the Student Room website now!
Needing a fourth because further maths is not counted seems to apply to competitive courses which are looking for breadth, such as economics or medicine. In contrast maths departments are seeking depth.
That said, and purely from observation of DCs friends, there seem to be real personal benefits in having some sort of hinterland, whether it be music, sport or whatever. University maths, especially somewhere like Cambridge, requires a lot of focus and the ability to take time off is important.
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