I got my degree (MMath) from the University of Warwick, which I attended from 2010 to 2014. I decided on there because having looked around Cambridge I thought I probably wouldn’t do too well there (in retrospect, likely correctly) and it had a good reputation for maths, in my mind.


Nowadays, when I’m doing interviews in industry, I don’t judge the reputation of the university at all – I find the best predictor of success is whether or not they got a First (the highest degree classification, at 70% score), discounting the university they attended and even what their degree was in. We’ve had some good applicants doing Geography, Chemistry or English. I expect there’s a selection effect here: if you got your degree in English, but you’re applying for a software development job, you probably know more than the average person about software development – and because you know that you didn’t study it at university, you know to take the time to learn what topics will be asked at interviews and what the answers are to common questions.

At the time, I thought it had a good reputation for maths. I don’t know where I got that impression, but I expect it was because the entry requirements were so higher – only just below Cambridge. Warwick’s strategy was to offer students something they wanted (to not have to take a test or do an interview), plainly lay our the grades required, and then accept all comers. They increases the grades required the year after I joined, because there were too many successful applicants. There had also been too many successful applicants the year before I joined as well, and I think also the year before that; moving from originally something like “AAA including Maths and Further Maths”, to requiring a Merit in AEA or an A*, to requiring an AEA or STEP grade 2, to requiring multiple A*s and a 2 in STEP (the AEA possibility was dropped because the AEA is much easier than STEP; STEP remains the hardest exam I ever sat, counting all university and professional exams I’ve taken since).


When I attended, Warwick had an awful lot of very clever people, including many who’d failed to get into Cambridge – either failing the interview and not getting an offer at all, or failing the offer (in addition to the grades which were practically in the bag, with almost everyone I knew gaining three or four A*s (or more), Cambridge frequently required a 1 in STEP which could be rather difficult to obtain). Those who narrowly missed going sometimes did their fourth year at Cambridge for a MASt. Many people had competed in the IMO for their countries: I think this was a good indicator for academic grade success, if not necessarily research ability.

Grades while I was there could be enhanced by the Seymour Formula: by taking a courseload of up to 125% the normal, you could increase your score by up to a ninth, for a maximum score of over 100%, which was achieved by a few people each year. It was good fun, allowed you to take interesting courses you might not normally take, allowed a large amount of gaming the system (doing first year language or logic modules in your final year was popular until it was banned), and was probably very bad for mental health overall, requiring 25% more hours than the ‘normal’ load. While I was there it was removed for newcomers, supposedly because people doing joint degrees could get different marks with the same scores on the same courses than people doing pure degrees which lead to unfairness within the department, but likely because it was considered unfair across the campus that science students could get extra marks not available to others. One counterargument given for joint degrees was the even after removing Seymour, a joint degree student could still get different marks with the same scores on the same courses if they did extremely badly on their “core” courses, as a minimum mark was required on those to achieve a particular grade.


On the topic of joint degrees, they remained an option to get into the maths program without having to achieve the entry requirements (which are likely higher than necessary to succeed at Warwick). For example, someone could enter the Physics program (which I think had AAB requirements), do the core Maths modules in their first year and transfer to Maths and Physics in their second year, and then follow that program and transfer to pure Maths in their third (or not, as the case may be). Another option was MORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics) which was a very interesting course which required lower grades but an interview, and which also had some people transfer from it (or to a related course, like Maths and Economics).

I don’t know whether Warwick’s entry requirements were related to its mathematical reputation, which seems likelier to originate from doing impressive research, which requires attracting skilled researchers (who can, preferably, also teach classes) and PhD students, or possibly from graduating talented students. But graduating talented students is easier if the students are talented to begin with, which is more likely if the entry requirements are higher – additionally, they may become PhD students at the same university they received their Masters’ at. So, provided that demand stays, this seems a good strategy to improve abilities in a given area, which makes me wonder why I don’t see it more often. Perhaps it is something that happens, after all: it’s not something that would make the news, or interest anybody other than students.