Balliol College

I’ve recently received a conditional offer to read mathematics at Balliol College. There are a lot of things I wish I knew sooner and as such I’m gonna share them here.

This post will summarise the admission process and the appropriate mindset, as well as the first steps to finding out more about Oxford! The other parts of the process are detailed in these blog posts:

Knowing more

It’s crucial to know more about what studying mathematics is like at Oxford. It certainly may seem daunting, but it may save you a lot more effort to spend some time really thinking about whether mathematics is the right subject for you. While it is possible to change subjects after you’ve arrived in Oxford, it’s a rather lengthy process that’s best to be avoided. That said, it’s impossible to fully predict whether you’ve picked the right degree!

Course Choice

I would heavily recommend at least looking into the syllabi of physics or computer science. Look into first year course options. Compare the courses that you would take. Look through the reading lists the first year courses provide. Compare how the books present the same material.

Think carefully about joint school courses. What first year courses are you gaining and losing? In Oxford, it’s basically impossible for second years or above take first year (prelims) courses. While it is possible to self study courses over the summer, it’s still much nicer to study courses during term time as you’d have tutorials from excellent tutors and exams to check your progress.

More information

Read the undergraduate handbooks for more information. You can take a look at the glossary for terms that are only used in Oxbridge.

Mentality throughout the admissions process

Considering how personal the teaching is at Oxford, I would imagine that throughout the admission process, tutors are only interested in one question: whether they would want to teach you over the next two years. To answer this question for them, you would need to show a few things about yourself.

Firstly, you show that you’re technically capable. The tutors need to know that they could start teaching you without spending too much time going over the basics.

Secondly, you show that you’re interested in mathematics. Imagine being a tutor enthusiastically talking about their favourite bits of mathematics, only to find students waiting for the class to end! It would be tremendously frustrating.

Thirdly, you show that you are committed to mathematics. It’s difficult to withstand studying mathematics all the time for four years. You have to show them that you’re ready for such a commitment and wouldn’t give up halfway.

Finally, you show that you could be changed for the better. It means that the tutor would be able to help you become better at mathematics through teaching. If the former could not be achieved then there would be no point in tutorials and classes!

To me, everything in the admission process is about testing one or more of those four aspects mentioned above. The personal statement demonstrates your interest and commitment, the admission test demonstrates your technical ability and the interview demonstrates whether you could be taught.

Going further

If everything looks great thus far, great! Here are the steps you’ll have to take further.

First, you need to deal with the UCAS application. Much official information already exists about this. The only thing worth note about the application itself is that the deadline is usually mid-October, earlier than the standard UCAS submission deadline. You also have to choose a college. College choice is often overlooked and I’ve written some advice on it. I’ve written some advice on writing the personal statement as well.

Then, you need to take an admission test. Remember to register to take the test as early as possible. Usually the registration starts in August and closes in October. Again refer to official information about the MAT. I’ve written some advice on the admission tests.

Finally, there are going to be a couple online interviews around December. That’s about it! I’ve written some advice on the interviews.

As a final touch

Don’t let university applications get into your head too much! Ultimately, mathematics should be the thing that you pursue the most. Don’t let your interest in mathematics die out or all would be pointless!