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Maths and Philosophy

The Maths and Philosophy (M&P) degree course in Oxford is one of the most demanding - but most rewarding - degree courses in Oxford, combining two apparently very different subjects - in each, clarity, precision, and careful reasoning are central, but the way in which those skills are deployed are quite different. This page gives only some very brief information about the course; follow the links to the University and College pages for much more.

The course

The capsule summary: You study the "pure" half of the main maths course, largely skipping the applied-maths part. (You may be in for a surprise at what "pure" and "applied" mean in University maths - calculus, for instance, is mostly studied in applied maths!) At the same time, you study a range of topics from Philosophy. In each year, you do one course which bridges the gap between philosophy and maths: in the first year, you study the logical foundations of arithmetic; in the second year, logic and set theory; in the third year, the general philosophy of maths, and in the fourth year (optionally) one or more of a range of topics in philosophy of maths and mathematical logic. You have fairly little choice of topics in the first two years, quite a lot of choice in the third year, and a completely free choice in the fourth year. You can stop doing one or other subject in the fourth year (but not before).

For lots more information, see the University prospectus; there's also some more information about Maths and related courses on the here.

Maths & Philosophy at Balliol

My college, Balliol, has one of the largest number of Maths & Philosophy students in Oxford: we take 1-5 (but typically 2-3) students per year. You'll also be part of two much bigger communities: the Maths community (with about 10-12 undergraduate students admitted per year, and two full-time tutors) and the Philosophy community (with about 25 undergraduates admitted per year, and four full-time tutors). On the Philosophy side, the college is also very strong in Physics & Philosophy, which overlaps quite a lot (especially in the first year) with the Maths & Philosophy course: Balliol is by far the largest college for these two subjects together.

I hope that Balliol succeeds in creating a genuinely integrated atmosphere, where the two parts of the degree course are each taught by people who understand and are sympathetic to the other half, and where you find it easy to get into interesting and helpful academic discussions with M&P students, mathematicians and philosophers in your and other years. To find out more about Balliol, see here.

That said, there are more than thirty colleges in Oxford, the majority of which admit for P&P, and their similarities outweigh their differences - college choice is much less important than your choice of university or subject. In particular, it's very important to realise that your choice of college doesn't affect your chance of getting into Oxford (see below for more).

Applying

Official details about the application process can be found here. But I've found in open days that two worries come up especially often, so I'll comment on them here.

  1. Applying for Maths and Philosophy, instead of Maths, doesn't affect your chance of getting in. The maths tutors (across all colleges) will consider you alongside straight Maths applicants. If they think you are a sufficiently good candidate for Maths, you will be offered a place. If the maths and philosophy tutors think that you are suitable for Maths and Philosophy, and if there are enough places, that offer will be for a M&P place; if not, it will be for a Maths place. So whether you are offered a Maths place depends on how you compare with all applicants for Maths and for M&P - regardless of which course you apply for. Of course, if you would rather do Maths & Philosophy somewhere else, rather than pure Maths at Oxford, that's entirely up to you - you don't have to accept the offer.
  2. Your choice of college doesn't affect your chance of getting in. Every candidate gets interviewed at a second college as well as the college they applied to, and then all the information from both lots of interviews (as well as lots of other data about your application, like your test results) goes into a central database that tutors from all colleges can access. This makes sure that no good candidate misses a place just because their chosen college is full - in fact, it's fairly normal for candidates to gain places at colleges that they weren't interviewed at, on the basis of the database. So don't bother trying to fine-tune your college choice to maximise your chance of getting in - it really doesnt' make any difference.