The Cambridge Mathematical Tripos is one of the most challenging and stimulating mathematics courses in the country, probably in the world.
Nevertheless, since in the whole university there are almost 250 students starting the Tripos each year, not everyone on the course is a genius (although some certainly are), and if you are enjoying your A-Level (or equivalent) Mathematics courses, and are good at them, the Tripos may well be for you.
As well as the straight Mathematics course, it is possible to apply to study Mathematics with Physics. Applicants for Mathematics and Maths with Physics are considered together. The College has no preference for one option over the other and will make offers to those applicants who are strongest academically, regardless of the option for which they apply.
If you are admitted to read the straight Mathematics course, in the first two years you will study a wide range of topics with some choice about what you study and when you study it. The third year develops a student's mathematical ability to a very high level and there is a very wide choice of topics across the spectrum of pure and applied mathematics in which to specialise. A few very strong students with a research career in mind will stay on for a fourth year after their B.A. - this is a taught Masters course called the M.Math. The M.Math. offers the same very large range of courses in pure and applied mathematics, as well as some computing, applicable statistics and mathematical physics subjects.
In the first year you may choose to do either the course in Pure and Applied Mathematics or the course in Mathematics with Physics (if you are undecided about switching to Physical Natural Sciences after one year). You should read the Cambridge Admissions Prospectus for brief details of the structure of the course, and also the departmental page for detailed course information.
The average number of direct applicants for Mathematics and Maths with Physics at Magdalene is about 24 per year, and the average number of places is five per year across both options.
Dr Stuart Martin (the Director of Studies) studied in Oxford and has research interests in algebra, logic and financial mathematics. The College boasts two other Fellows in Mathematics, Dr Stephen Eglen and Dr Sergio Bacallado, and two College Lecturers, one for pure and one for applied teaching. Dr Gareth Taylor (an algebraist) takes a lot of the pure supervisions and Ms Kerry Maunder supervises mostly applied courses. The College usually has at least one Research Fellow in Mathematics and has a number of students reading for higher degrees in mathematics and for postgraduate qualifications in computing and statistics, some of whom are involved in teaching. Lectures for mathematicians are mostly held at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, at a site in west Cambridge (about ten minutes' walk from the College).
The College Library has an excellent mathematical section, including all books on the Faculty reading lists. The special demands of the Tripos also require supportive teaching from the College. For example, in the first two terms you attend two lectures per day, and we lay on two supervisions a week, almost always in groups of one or two. At least one of these supervisions will normally be given by one of the College Teaching Officers at Magdalene, and the other by external supervisors at other colleges; this ensures that you obtain the best supervision available in all subjects. In addition to this, you will have regular meetings with your Tutor (a non-mathematician) and Director of Studies, to assess your progress and to plan future work.
Mathematics graduates from the College go into many areas of work. Until very recently, the salaries offered in the financial and banking world ensure many try for investment banking, accountancy and actuarial work. Others go for technical jobs in mathematics or computing, or "general graduate" jobs such as advertising, management consultancy and the Civil Service. Demand for Cambridge mathematics graduates is high and no one in the last few years has been unable to secure rewarding employment.
Others stay on for further study. For those of you excelling in the third year, there will be an option to spend a fourth year in Cambridge studying advanced mathematics. This is known as the M.Math. There are well over a hundred options to choose from, encompassing a whole range of subjects in pure and applied mathematics. An outstanding performance in the M.Math. would gain you admission to the Cambridge PhD program, as well as provide you with a firm basis for research degrees in other comparable universities.
The Cambridge-sponsored Millennium Mathematics Project runs an excellent website featuring a free online maths magazine including articles of mathematical interest from cosmology to chaos theory. The Mathematics Faculty website also contains a lot of useful information.
As with all Cambridge colleges, A-level applicants for Mathematics at Magdalene require A-levels in both Mathematics and Further Mathematics. We will take full account of cases in which applicants have had to self-teach elements of Further Mathematics A-level. For candidates taking the IB, the Higher Level Mathematics ‘Analysis and Approaches’ option is required.
We ask students taking the IB to choose the Mathematics HL 'Analysis and Approaches' course, because the content of HL 'Applications and Interpretation' does not provide sufficient preparation for our course. If your school does not offer you this choice, then you will need evidence of some additional mathematical preparation (e.g. A-level Further Mathematics, or some other qualification). Please contact us if you need further advice about any proposed additional qualifications.
A-level Physics is not essential, however, for those studying the IB Higher Level Physics is desirable, especially for those planning on studying the Mathematics with Physics option.
Having satisfied ourselves of your suitability for admission, we shall normally make offers based on A-Level grades (or equivalent) and the usual offer will be A*A*A (with A* in both Mathematics A-levels), plus one other discipline. The IB offer is normally 42 points or higher, including 7, 7 7 in three specified subjects at Higher Level.
All offers for Mathematics will require you to take STEP papers II and III. Two 1's is the usual offer condition here, but each offer is tailored to take into account a candidate's individual circumstances.
Interviews and Written Test
At the interview stage we are looking for people with a real interest in, and enthusiasm for, mathematics. We interview most home/EU candidates, and the time we interview you depends on administrative convenience and nothing else. We also interview most overseas candidates who are available in the UK during the interview period and certain South East and East Asian candidates at other times of the year in the region (see below).
Candidates being assessed at Magdalene take a written test of ninety minutes' duration, and then have two thirty-minute interviews. The test, taken by all candidates, is designed to check that you have the basic skills in algebraic manipulation, logical thought and basic calculus. It allows lots of choice of questions and requires no special preparation.
The two interviews will each last for about half-an-hour. One interview will normally be conducted by the Director of Studies (a pure mathematician), usually with another maths Fellow, and the other with two other (applied and applicable) mathematicians. One of the interviews may contain some discussion of your attempts on the written test, and also some other simple problems designed to see how you deal with a piece of mathematics you may not have directly encountered at school.
Since the object of the interviews is to see how you think and not to see what you know, you should not expect to find the answers to all our questions at once. We want to see how, with a little help from us, you can find your way from being a little out of your depth towards dry land and understanding. At no stage will you be asked 'trick' questions or persistent questions on material you are unfamiliar with - we are trying to find out the breadth of your knowledge and interest in the subject.
We realise that all this may appear rather formidable, but hope you will see our procedures as a genuine attempt to look at you carefully as an individual rather than an UCAS number. All of those who will interview you remember (sometimes only too well) what it is like to be interviewed.
Students from countries in the EU as well as others from America, India, Pakistan and Africa are invited for interview in Cambridge or, occasionally, in their home country. Dr Martin interviews in S.E. Asia in late October and then again in Hong Kong in December each year. If a candidate is unable to attend interview, he or she will still be required to sit a written test at their school or college under examination conditions.