amz1551
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Hello,

I'm looking to apply for straight undergrad Mathematics for 2020 entry, but I'm struggling to choose between UCL, Durham and Bristol. What I'm mainly struggling with is gauging how rigorous each of these courses are as compared to one another, ie. does anyone have any idea how difficult/challenging the maths content is for each and whether it's possible to tell these three universities apart in that way (or whether they're really just much of a muchness)?

I'm not so much looking at the standard/method of teaching, or the research rankings, but specifically I'm interested in the difficulty of the mathematics that undergraduate students will face and which of the courses would thereby produce the most able mathematicians. It is still very early days, but I'm not ruling out the possibility of going on to do postgraduate studies afterwards, in which case I am even more interested in courses which go as deep into the maths as possible.

My impression thus far (from looking through the forums) has been that there isn't much between UCL, Durham and Bristol, but I must say that every now and again I see comments specifically directed at UCL claiming that its maths department is nowhere near as strong as many suppose it to be. I'd certainly be very interested to know more about that and whether that also means it compares less favourably with Bristol and Durham (once COWI is taken out of the picture)?

Hope someone might be able to help shed some light on all this. Thanks in advance!
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artful_lounger
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Bristol is usually considered the next best maths course after the Cambridge/Oxford/Warwick/Imperial cluster. Doing more difficult mathematics earlier doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of academia, since, especially in mathematics, it's critical to have an excellent foundation in the core areas of (pure) mathematics. How well they prepare you in these core topics of e.g. analysis, abstract algebra, and linear algebra is pretty crucial to becoming a good mathematician (more so than doing some more esoteric mathematics early).

If you are mainly interested in pure maths or have no particular inclination yet (which is perfectly reasonable) then I'd suggest Bristol. If you are fairly certain you want to go into mathematical physics or applicable mathematics (i.e. statistics, applied probability etc) then UCL is probably equally decent an option (possibly slightly better on the applicable maths front if you go for the maths/stats course there, since they have an entire separate stats department contributing to it). Durham is really probably running behind these two unless you really want a collegiate uni or want to do NatSci while being able to take proper pure maths modules, simply due to fewer possible options.

That said the three of them offer the usual standard options at the relevant level, broadly speaking, so you won't be unduly disadvantaged in a career as a mathematician going to any of them. Bristol has the widest range of options for the 4th year (assuming you're looking at the MMath/MSci versions of the courses) of the three, which correlates to its usual perception of being the next best after the "top tier" courses. Durham has the narrowest range of the three. However they all have the essential material available to potentially go into pretty much any area of maths for a PhD.
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amz1551
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Thank you @artful_lounger for your reply. I've got a much better idea now of what I'm looking for. Is it fair to say then that students at any of these three universities should in theory have more or less the same depth of knowledge in the core topics you mention, eg. analysis, abstract algebra, and linear algebra? That's definitely the crux of what I've been trying to figure out.

I'm going to have a closer look at the module options for Bristol vs. UCL as pure maths is what I'm interested in at this stage (though that might just be because I've barely touched anything else). I'm slightly favouring UCL for other (non-academic) reasons at this stage, but if the range of pure maths options is that much broader at Bristol, then it may be worth a reconsideration. Again, thank you very much indeed for your comments.

Out of interest, if I could just follow up on your comments about Bristol generally being perceived as the next best maths course after the top tier, could I ask what characteristics of the course/university are people looking at when they come to that view?
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by amz1551)
Thank you @artful_lounger for your reply. I've got a much better idea now of what I'm looking for. Is it fair to say then that students at any of these three universities should in theory have more or less the same depth of knowledge in the core topics you mention, eg. e.g. analysis, abstract algebra, and linear algebra? That's definitely the crux of what I've been trying to figure out.

I'm going to have a closer look at the module options for Bristol vs. UCL as pure maths is what I'm interested in at this stage (though that might just be because I've barely touched anything else). I'm slightly favouring UCL for other (non-academic) reasons at this stage, but if the range of pure maths options is that much broader at Bristol, then it may be worth a reconsideration. Again, thank you very much indeed for your comments.

Out of interest, if I could just follow up on your comments about Bristol generally being perceived as the next best maths course after the top tier, could I ask what characteristics of the course/university are people looking at when they come to that view?
Pretty much any reputable mathematics degree will get you to the appropriate level in those core areas (i.e. all of those mentioned and similar ones).

From my perspective generally a breadth of options available correlates to a stronger mathematics department, since it normally indicates they have more teaching staff available in a wide range of areas of research that are able to teach in these areas and at the higher levels, draw students into those areas of current research (both in advanced option modules, and in dissertation/project titles available). More staff also leads to better student/staff ratios so you may be more able to get more individual support.

In terms of pure modules available at UCL vs Bristol, there isn't a huge difference overall on second glance; mainly that Bristol has some more options in logic/set theory. However even aside from that, both have pretty much all the "core" content you may be expected to have before going onto a PhD in more or less any area of pure maths, the rest are really just options you can choose to help you develop an area of special interest which might help you identify which particular field of pure maths you want to go into. The only exception is if you wanted to go into logic/set theory/foundations, in which case UCL only has one logic module (while Bristol has a logic module, two set theory modules, and a couple of related external modules in theoretical CS available).

Of course I am not an academic (in maths or otherwise) so, your mileage may vary
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mnot
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
Bristol is usually considered the next best maths course after the Cambridge/Oxford/Warwick/Imperial cluster. Doing more difficult mathematics earlier doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of academia, since, especially in mathematics, it's critical to have an excellent foundation in the core areas of (pure) mathematics. How well they prepare you in these core topics of e.g. analysis, abstract algebra, and linear algebra is pretty crucial to becoming a good mathematician (more so than doing some more esoteric mathematics early).

If you are mainly interested in pure maths or have no particular inclination yet (which is perfectly reasonable) then I'd suggest Bristol. If you are fairly certain you want to go into mathematical physics or applicable mathematics (i.e. statistics, applied probability etc) then UCL is probably equally decent an option (possibly slightly better on the applicable maths front if you go for the maths/stats course there, since they have an entire separate stats department contributing to it). Durham is really probably running behind these two unless you really want a collegiate uni or want to do NatSci while being able to take proper pure maths modules, simply due to fewer possible options.

That said the three of them offer the usual standard options at the relevant level, broadly speaking, so you won't be unduly disadvantaged in a career as a mathematician going to any of them. Bristol has the widest range of options for the 4th year (assuming you're looking at the MMath/MSci versions of the courses) of the three, which correlates to its usual perception of being the next best after the "top tier" courses. Durham has the narrowest range of the three. However they all have the essential material available to potentially go into pretty much any area of maths for a PhD.
I honestly dont know which course is more rigorous or demanding etc. I would think there is probably very little in it. I would think at masters and PhD level the content available to study might vary relative to each unis expertise and researchers (rather than the difficulty).

I would just pick the uni prefer, all have great reputations and im sure the courses are probably very similar academic standards.

-I would say UCL has the most prestige, and probably marginally better career prospects. But all 3 are good.
-If i were picking I would probably go with Bristol, I think London is too expensive and too all over the place to be a great student city (but many students love London). I think Bristol has all the academics but probably the most 'fun' student life.
-Durham is cheapest and again has all the academic bells & whistles but i think the city is a bit tame for undergrad student life (but everyones goals for uni is different).
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zetamcfc
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(Original post by amz1551)
Hello,

I'm looking to apply for straight undergrad Mathematics for 2020 entry, but I'm struggling to choose between UCL, Durham and Bristol. What I'm mainly struggling with is gauging how rigorous each of these courses are as compared to one another, ie. does anyone have any idea how difficult/challenging the maths content is for each and whether it's possible to tell these three universities apart in that way (or whether they're really just much of a muchness)?

I'm not so much looking at the standard/method of teaching, or the research rankings, but specifically I'm interested in the difficulty of the mathematics that undergraduate students will face and which of the courses would thereby produce the most able mathematicians. It is still very early days, but I'm not ruling out the possibility of going on to do postgraduate studies afterwards, in which case I am even more interested in courses which go as deep into the maths as possible.

My impression thus far (from looking through the forums) has been that there isn't much between UCL, Durham and Bristol, but I must say that every now and again I see comments specifically directed at UCL claiming that its maths department is nowhere near as strong as many suppose it to be. I'd certainly be very interested to know more about that and whether that also means it compares less favourably with Bristol and Durham (once COWI is taken out of the picture)?

Hope someone might be able to help shed some light on all this. Thanks in advance!
I'm going to come at this from generally a different angle in the sense that I did not go to a particularly renowned uni for maths (Aberdeen). I found that even at a relatively small department (pretty much everybody researches either topology or algebra) that if you want to learn something outside what the department offers they will be more than willing to go through any book with you. I assume this is similar at most institutions so I would not limit my self to the uni with the most rigorous course. However of course as you go down the ''rankings'' the more effort on your part will be needed to cover the same material.

I'd also look at the modules offered by each and see which ones fit your needs. If you want to be doing applied modules don't go to one where there are sparse applied modules and vice versa for pure. Also look at what the courses involve, as if it says ''Algebraic Geometry'' is it a course really only dealing with varieties or are you getting on to schemes after the first few weeks. Tha same sort of thing can be said about courses like real and complex analysis and any course called ''Algebra'' check what it involves i.e. groups or starting at the theory of non-commutative rings (Also make sure you can take Galois theory as it is the best maths module you can take at undergrad imho).

If you're looking at post graduate see what sort of seminars they do. Even at undergrad look at what seminars they do and go along you may not understand anything in there (plenty of lecturers do not in some talks) but it gives you experience and it's a great feeling when you do understand something especially if you've seen something similar in a recent course. See also if you have a chance in any modules to give a small 15 min talk. These kind of opportunities are brilliant to help you perfect the way you communicate your mathematics.

Finally the universal one, do you like the city you will be in for 3-4 years? Being in a place you hate, doing a difficult degree is not really what you want to be doing.
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amz1551
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Thanks so much to everyone who's commented. Lots of really helpful advice and information, I'm very grateful.
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