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Is Cambridge good for Mathematics/Physics

  1. Dec 30, 2011 #1
    Is Cambridge a good school for Mathematics or Physics undergraduate? (not that I'm sure I could get in...) If not, what other schools are suitable (I'm taking the GCE, and I might take the SAT later)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2011 #2
    The best! At least, according to 'what they say', and this:


    Then again, I think "student satisfaction" is probably the most important criteria, in which some do better than Cambridge. And, on that, what's up with Imperial?! Why is student satisfaction so low? They have the reputation of being no-compromise heavy-duty theory guys, are their courses just too hard-core?

    You can apply for several universities, so you can choose a few with low entrance criteria & good student satisfaction - Lancaster and Sussex (nr. Brighton) look like good bets... nice little towns as well... But you might as well apply to Cambridge as well...
  4. Jan 1, 2012 #3
    If threads about Imperial (for Maths) is anything to go by, then quite a few students/former students seem to attribute their dissatisfaction to poor tutorials, racial segregation (apparently, foreigners represent a majority, especially the Asians, who in general, have their own little cliques), not enough options in the 4th year, not much in the way of pure stats, no collaboration between the math and physics departments which leads to some weirdness if one takes the "Maths w/Mathematical Physics" option and there's probably a few other things but that's all I can remember off the top of my head.

    If you have the money, then definitely give Cambridge a shot. Note that you should be doing Mathematics and Further Mathematics at A-Level, if you want to go down the math route. You should be looking at achieving at least A*AA. Accepted applicants sometimes have even better grades. A friend of mine was given a conditional offer of A*A*A but that was for English. However, such offers for all other courses aren't unheard of. Also, applying to specific colleges can have different implications, in that some won't mind if somebody is only doing Further Maths at AS-Level, while others wouldn't even consider you if you don't have it. Trinity is especially picky. If I recall correctly, colleges have varying interview processes. Sometimes, if a given college doesn't like you but they deem you as potential Cambridge material, you get "pooled" to another college.

    There's two ways to do physics at Cambridge. One, is applying for the Mathematics degree and after Part IA, switching to Physics. The other is applying to Natural Sciences and taking the two (?) physics options and then switching to straight-up physics in the second year. (Part IB)

    For the latter, you probably won't be "required" to do Further Maths. Remember that you will have to also write the STEP exam if you're applying for the Mathematics degree. To get an idea of how the interview process is, Google "Emmanuel College Mock Interviews".
    The STEP exam consists of questions based on material you've covered in A-Level but they're much, much harder. Past papers are available on their website, I think. I should get down to doing a few of those myself. I'm not applying to Cambridge (too expensive for me and besides, I'm not willing to take a loan in the range of 30-40k pounds, assuming I could even get one) but a university I'm applying to has an entrance exam which is rather similar to STEP.
  5. Jan 1, 2012 #4
    I applied to Cambridge (NatSci as my school didn't offer further maths) last year with 5 A's at AS-level and predictions of A*A*A*. One thing to watch out for is that it comes down to more than just letter grades. My interview went well (or so I was told by the interview feedback they gave), but the 4 successful applicants for the college I applied to had averages of 98% across their AS-levels. Getting into all the "big name" schools such as Cambridge, MIT etc. takes a lot of luck. There was a lot of pressure on me to go to Cambridge, but I am so glad I failed. There are several excellent universities in the UK for physics undergrad, so don't put one on a pedestal above the others.

    Other places you could consider:

    Imperial - A*AA entry and an interview - as mentioned above, student satisfaction is low. I have some friends there (from the UK) who love it, but I am not sure how an international student would find it.

    Manchester (where I ended up) - A*AA entry and an interview - cannot praise the physics department here enough. 2 Nobel laureates in physics, 98% student satisfaction, excellent teaching and facilities. International students integrate very well with us Brits. If you care about rankings, we're on the rise for physics (14th in the world according to Shanghai, with Imperial at 13th, Cambridge 8th and Oxford at 28th). One of the main things I love about Manchester is the friendliness of the department - something you really have to visit to get a grasp of - I have too many anecdotes to write here!

    Oxford - A*AA entry and an exam/interview - prestigious department, but the friends I have there dislike the pretence and inflated self-importance of the university on the whole - excellent teaching though, of course.

    Other good schools in the UK for physics (that I don't know much about) are Warwick, Durham, UCL, Edinburgh and Birmingham (not an exhaustive list).

    If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them here or in a message.
  6. Jan 1, 2012 #5
    Do you have a link for that "Shanghai" listing? The link I posted above has Manchester at 16 in the UK...
  7. Jan 1, 2012 #6
    I don't know what your stance on this is OP, but things like "teaching quality" or "student satisfaction" don't necessarily mean too much. For all you know, you might fit very well in a high pressure, pompous (for lack of a better word) environment...

    An interesting thing to do, in my opinion, would be trying to get in touch with a few different persons from the uni (those in your course of choice, especially) you're applying to. Or in the case of Oxbridge or Durham, your college of choice. The uni I want to go to takes in quite a small number of students (~10 for Physics and ~20 for Maths) and talking to a handful of them via e-mail gave me a good sense of their culture and the fact that I was able to get along very well with all of them was pretty cool, seeing as I can be somewhat quirky. The good news for me is that so are some of the alumni.
  8. Jan 1, 2012 #7

    There you go. The Shanghai rankings are based purely on research quality/teaching, whereas a lot of the newspaper rankings (including the good uni guide) also take into account factors such as city life. I wouldn't base any decisions on ranking though.

    I would agree with this wholeheartedly, in my opinion the only way of getting even the roughest of indications as to whether you'd like to study at a certain institution is to visit it and talk to as many people as you can.
  9. Jan 1, 2012 #8
    I wouldn't set too much store in the rankings. Oxbridge is a cut above everywhere else in the UK in terms of selectiveness and the difficulty (and workload) of the courses. Cambridge has a better reputation than Oxford in maths and science, but going to either can give you a significant advantage in life due to the name factor. Also, while all the good unis have many famous and talented professors, in Oxbridge the tutorial system means you actually get taught by them in small groups, while in other places you may get lectured by a nobel laureate/fields medallist but your classes will likely be in larger groups and taught by a Ph.D student. As someone mentioned earlier, choice of college is very important in Oxbridge and different colleges can have very different atmospheres, so if you want to go down that route you should do some research, preferably attending open days if you can. Oxford and Cambridge also require an extra application in addition to the standard one for UK colleges, and you can't apply to both in the same year.

    Oxbridge does have a slightly strange atmosphere though, which many people don't get on with, and both Oxford and Cambridge are quiet towns with negligible night life. Fortunately there are many other excellent choices in the UK, which may lack the overall prestige of Oxbridge but have many excellent student and teachers, and are more than capable of giving someone a well regarded degree. Imperial in particular has a good reputation for maths and science, as does Warwick. Imperial is pretty male dominated which some people might not like, though it does have the advantage of being in London where there's something going on all the time. Warwick is actually in a town called Coventry, which isn't a great place for students, but it's campus based so the location isn't that important.

    Also, some places have really good links with industry, and that can be very useful if that's what you want to do after college. I can't give much information on that but it's also something to think about.
  10. Jan 1, 2012 #9
    Thank you for the thorough analysis. I'll think about the choice of university again since I've still got a bit of time.
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