What makes the Cambridge Mathematics course so special?

Cambridge is an exciting place to study Mathematics. Current research in Cambridge produces internationally leading work right across the traditional subdivisions of the subject, while also applying it to understand problems at the heart of the physical, and, increasingly, biological sciences. The breadth and quality of our research filters through to our undergraduate teaching in many ways: you will be taught how to think mathematically, and also how to use this knowledge to solve problems from other disciplines. 

The course takes topics introduced at A-level as starting points to develop fundamental mathematical ideas and shows how they are applied to a range of scientific problems, notably in theoretical physics. It suits those who have a deep interest in the subject, whether or not they are planning a career in mathematical research. The course leads to a BA degree after three years, and some students stay on for an optional fourth year (known as Part III), which leads to an MMath. 

Why choose Newnham for Mathematics?

Newnham provides a distinctive environment, giving students considerable opportunities to pursue their particular interests (either academic or not!) and has a teaching staff who will encourage and strongly support your mathematical study.   You will also have the opportunity to get involved in a range of initiatives that Newnham organises to increase Women’s participation in Maths. 

How many students take Mathematics at Newnham and what options can they choose?

Newnham aims to admit between four and six students in Mathematics each year. 

There is essentially no distinction made at the application stage between those applying to read: (a) Pure and Applied Mathematics, or (b) Mathematics with Physics. 

Option (b) allows students to transfer easily to read Natural Sciences (Physics) in the second and subsequent years. It is therefore especially suitable for those who are undecided between mathematics and physics when they apply. Taking option (b) means replacing two of the first year mathematics courses with physics courses (including practical classes). The number of students taking option (b) in the first year is small (roughly 5% of the Cambridge Mathematics intake). Even for those who have particularly enjoyed physics at school, option (a) is often the more natural and appropriate: the Mathematical Tripos contains a great deal of theoretical physics for those who wish to do it. 

How will I be taught at Newnham?

The normal intake of four to six students means that the college is able to offer a level of support and encouragement appropriate to each individual. In common with all other Colleges, Newnham operates the Cambridge ‘supervision’ (tutorial) system of teaching in pairs. The majority of first and second year supervising (College teaching) is done by the Newnham teaching staff. The courses on offer in the third year are many and varied (there are thirty-five courses, from which you would choose about eight) and your supervisors will be specialists drawn from across the University. In addition to this, members of the teaching staff arrange small-group classes, and offer ‘surgery hours’ to discuss particular topics. This results in an overall level of attention to each student that would be hard to beat. 

Can you tell me more about the Mathematics Fellows?

For information on the current teaching staff and Fellows for Mathematics, please visit our teaching webpages.

What jobs do Newnham Mathematics students go on to do?

In the last few years, some of our Mathematics graduates have gone on to do further degrees, either at Cambridge or elsewhere; others have opted for careers in economics, finance or financial administration (in City firms, publishing, charities); still others have become teachers or research scientists. 

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics/IB Higher Level Mathematics are an essential entry requirement for our Mathematics course.

Our conditional offers also require grades in Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP), an examination held just after A-level. We believe it is in your best interests to take STEP; it serves as a good indicator of whether the course is the right one for you, and it also provides excellent preparation. Don’t be discouraged if your school is unable to help with STEP; the Mathematics Faculty Guide contains information and guidance for STEP preparation: 

Depending on individual circumstances, we may make an A Level applicant an offer which will be met if they achieve either A*A*A with at least grade 1 in both of STEP papers II and III OR A*A*A* with at least grade 1 in either STEP paper II or III (both papers to be taken). 

Can I take a gap year?

Unlike many other Colleges, Newnham is willing to accept applications for deferred entry in Mathematics. The Faculty Guide gives a full list of Colleges and their views on gap years for Mathematics applicants. 

How should I prepare for an interview at Newnham?

The Mathematics course builds very quickly on material introduced at A-level. It is therefore demanding, and indeed widely regarded as the most challenging undergraduate mathematics course in the country. Before we make you an offer we therefore want to be sure that it is the right course for you. We do this by reviewing your references, module marks and application details, and additionally by means of the interview process. 

Interviewing usually takes place in the first half of December. You will have two subject-based interviews with members of the mathematical staff. Candidates applying to read Mathematics with Physics will undergo the same admission process as those applying to read Maths.

Where can I find out more?

You can find admissions information about the Cambridge Maths course from the Faculty website

Here are some more links which might prove useful. 

Useful STEP-related links:

Interesting mathematics online:

What books should I read?

This is a list of suggested books to read if you’re thinking of studying mathematics at university. Pick one or two books which look interesting. If you can’t decide, here are some of our favourites: 

  • Mathematics: a very short introduction by T. Gowers 
  • The Pleasures of Counting by T.W. Körner 
  • Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart 

Kevin Houston’s book How to Think Like a Mathematician might also be helpful to you at this point, and there are two sample chapters online on writing mathematics (very useful for STEP preparation). 

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