• Mathematics degree

TSR Wiki > University > Choosing a Subject > University Courses > Mathematics Degree


Contents

Course Overview

Admissions

Universities offering Mathematics

  • The UCAS course search tool can be used to find a list of universities offering mathematics as an undergraduate subject.

Academic Requirements

It is essential to have taken A Level maths or Higher Maths (as well as Advanced Higher if you wish to study in England) if you want to study Mathematics at university. Some universities (e.g. Cambridge) also ask for some Further Maths modules. Actual grades required vary between universities - see the summary of typical offers.

If your school or college does not offer Further Maths you might be able to do it through the Further Maths Network. they work with your school or college with distance learning and regional tutors.

For entry to Cambridge University and Warwick University, it is usually required for the student to take the STEP examination.

UCAS Form & Personal Statement

For a successful UCAS application a well written personal statement is essential. If you need help or ideas there are several sample mathematics personal statements in our Personal Statement Library which may give you some ideas. (but please don't plagiarise them by copying and pasting them).

Mathematics Personal Statements

Interviews

Not everywhere has interviews for maths. Others may just invite you for an 'informal chat'. But don't worry if you do get called to interview. People said to me you can’t really prepare for them. Evidently, I didn’t believe them, but once you get down there and meet the tutors and everything, it just doesn’t seem like they would care about all of the minutiae that everyone thinks is so important (e.g. OAF).

In general, they were quite fun actually. My advice is as follows:

  • Sort out any problems, however small, with your Maths teacher.
  • Look at the proofs of things that are blindly asserted in class / in textbooks.
  • Have an area of interest to talk about.
  • Get the Siklos STEP booklet.
  • Do some of the old Oxford Maths Tests from the 80's on www.mathsexams2.tk as well as obviously the ones on the Oxford website.
  • Be comfortable doing questions which look hard but are on things you know eg. differentiating e^e^cosx^e^x. It's just using the chain rule 3 times rather than one.
  • Also, knowing how to prove basic number theory is invaluable. There are tricks which you must learn like, proof by induction, contradiction, considering the cases of odd and even, modular arithmetic, writing odds as 2k+1 and evens as 2k etc. etc.
  • My advice would be to prepare as much as is going to make you feel most confident. Also, be calm. Most of the questions aren’t that hard.
  • If you're applying to Oxford, the written test is really important to some tutors, they may place A LOT of emphasis on it.

At universities where the interview does not on the face of it play a role in selection, for example where it is optional to attend, it is likely to have an influence if you score a "near miss" on their offer and have to plead with the admissions tutor. If the interviewer writes "this candidate is so keen on maths we should take them even if they drop a grade in chemistry" you are obviously in a better position! Focus also on why you chose that course and university. Students who have made a thoughtful choice of course are perceived to be a "better bet" for doing well.

Course Structure

Life as a Mathematics Student

As a maths student you will have a decent number of contact hours and directed study time. You will not have as many contact hours as people doing sciences due to not having countless lab sessions, but also you will not have hours of private study and reading time as much of the teaching will be through lectures and seminar classes. Overall you will have a nice balance. Generally, do not expect any days off from timetabled teaching, but at many unis you will be unlikely to have any full days of lectures either though this will certainly depend on where you study.

Outside of formal teaching, a lot more of your time will be taken up with study questions. The amount you have and how long this takes you will depend on the university, the module, the topic and your own abilities. Be prepared to spend hours on some questions and get nowhere with them while on others you could get the desired results and full marks through very little work. This may seem a little unfair, but it's the very nature of what maths is like at high level and you'll soon get used to this. These people will probably be useful to you as they can help you with basically any question.

Study Help

Group study sessions can also be very helpful (and at the start of the year a great way to get to know others on your course). Hearing how other people are tackling a question can mean you spot something in the question you didn't pick up on. This can allow you to go on with the problem questions and use what you've already done to get one step further to the needed solution. The group study can also help significantly with your own ability to communicate and explain complex situations. While the maths might be clear in your head and even appear clear on paper to you, getting someone else to understand what you mean and what you have written can be quite tricky at times!

At most universities you will be allocated time each week with a lecturer/professor, PhD or 4th year student. Don't feel embarrassed asking stupid questions, they are there to help.

I'd also advise not to leave work close to the handing in deadline. It is often hard to determine just how long some maths work can take until you are well underway with it. And if you fail to grasp one of the basic pieces or don't get that shot of inspiration you could leave yourself with a mountain of work to climb and only a couple of hours to finish it.

At the very least start the work in plenty of time. Get your head around what is required. This will often leave you time to ask a lecturer about it or get some books from the library to read more around the subject. It might just have been me, but I often found myself thinking of certain questions I was stuck with at other times, like on the bus or lying in bed in the morning. Often I'd get that break through with the work at these unusual times. So I was pleased to have looked at the work early in the week to give me this time to think over it all.

The best piece of advice I could give you though is not to give in too easily with work. It will challenge a lot of you. Maybe not always, but some of the time. You might not spot the best method to solve the question or prove the theorem straight off. But keep trying. Look at different approaches. Start from scratch again (you could have made a slight mistake). You have the time, so to stand the best chance of succeeding, make sure you keep at the work!

Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects

A large majority of Mathematics graduates go into work immediately after completion of their degree. Maths graduates generally find themselves very employable due to the open-endedness of their programme, and because the skills acquired on such a programme are largely transferable to many aspects of employment. Most significantly in Business and commerce. Nearly a third of all mathematics graduates who go into employment become "Business and Financial Professionals and Associate Professionals". Specifically many maths graduates go on to graduate training schemes to be an Actuary (a profession concerned with calculating risk, especially for life insurance and pensions), or Accountants. A variety of roles in Investment Banks are also popular. Increasingly the middle office role of risk analysis (which is highly mathematical) is in demand (for obvious reasons!).

As well as the core transferable skills learnt in a maths degree, specific skills including statistics and operations research are likely to give a wider choice of careers. Many mathematics courses also include numerical analysis and scientific computing and these skills are very much in demand, for example in the oil industry, the nuclear decomissioning and energy industry and high tech engineering companies generally.

As with most academic degrees, a number of graduates go on to do higher degrees. This would entail studying for a masters degree degree in a related subject e.g.. maths, astrophysics, nuclear engineering, scientific software, or a PhD either in maths or again a related subject . A fairly high proportion of maths graduates carry on studying for a teaching qualification such as a PGCE. Qualified teachers with maths degrees are in high demand and would expect to have wide choice of which teaching job to accept.

Many maths student do not know what they want to do when they start their degree but know that it leaves a very wide range of options. The government survey of "first destinations" often used by newspaper league tables can be a deceptive for maths as it is taken only six months after graduation, and many graduates are still traveling or doing temporary jobs while still deciding what to do. While a strength of a maths degree is the variety of possible careers, this often means the choice is rather overwhelming.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Academically speaking which are the top universities for maths in the UK? The general consensus is that Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick and Imperial are the top universities for mathematics but not necessarily in that order (hence people talking about "COWI" rather than "Oxbridge" for maths). In many measures of performance there is then a gap so after COWI the order is very much debatable depending on what you value. Whilst the second and third tiers are more flexible than the COWI group, the general consensus seems to be that Bath, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and UCL make up the second tier and Birmingham, Glasgow, KCL, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, St Andrews, Southampton and York make up the third tier.
  • Which is the biggest maths department in the UK? Thats harder to answer. On undergraduate intake in 2007 Manchester was biggest followed closely by Warwick. In terms of number of academic staff in mathematics in 2001 Cambridge was biggest by a long way then Oxford, Manchester, Leeds and Imperial. The collegiate system and the Isaac Newton Institute (the national centre for maths research) makes it hard to compare.
  • Are maths students all Geeks/Nerds? Any stereotypes you might have about mathematicians will likely be dispelled when you get to university. Maths students range the full gamut from introvert to extrovert, a fairly healthy sex ratio, a wide range of other interests and any conceivable level of fashion sense (including none of course). Just to take unusual example Rosi Sexton did her PhD in maths at Manchester is a champion cage fighter! What they all have in common is an ability and love of doing maths.
  • What is the difference between a BSc and MMath? Prof Mond at Warwick explains 'Besides the three-year BSc (four years in Scotland), most leading universities offer a four-year degree called an MMath. Even though the first M stands for "Master", this is an undergraduate degree. The first two years are more or less the same as the BSc, but the final two years are more demanding, and take students closer to the frontiers of research.' Cambridge is a bit different as you can do a thing called "Part Three" or Certificate in Advanced Study in Mathematics after a three year degree but before starting a postgraduate degree. It differs from the MMath in that students join it who have not done the BSc at Cambridge.
  • Maths is my best A-level subject. Should I do a maths degree? To get the most benefit from a maths degree you need a love of maths as well as have the ability. If you don't know how much you love it you might hedge your bets by doing a joint honours course which has the option to switch to single honours.

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