Whether you love or loathe maths, you're going to need it in business. But just how sharp do your maths skills need to be, and what will you need them for? Here's a guide.
'Where there is number, there is beauty,' wrote the fifth century Greek philosopher Proclus. It's doubtful he ever had to sit a maths GCSE, but his point remains: maths is the language that lets us read the pages of the universe. It unites everything from quantum physics to music, poetry to finance, and if you study business you're going to need it.
(Don't panic if it's not your strongest subject, though – help is at hand. More of that below.)
First of all, you'll need some maths qualifications to get onto a degree programme. A grade C or grade 4 (or above) in GCSE Maths is commonly required to get onto an undergraduate degree, but you should check with your preferred unis before applying.
Many institutions also offer four-year courses with an initial foundation year to help students brush up on some fundamental skills.
Once you're on a course, you can expect further mathematical adventures: some courses include first year modules that will help you with the numeracy skills you need, and all will feature business-related topics like accountancy and finance, both of which (as you'd expect) are built on numbers.
Why does maths matter?
Maths is essential in business for the bread and butter stuff like keeping accounts in order, tracking money, counting stock, calculating profits and so on. Those things and the core numeracy skills they require – mental arithmetic, addition, subtraction and so on - have been a part of doing business since there was first business to do.
However, the world you'll be graduating into incorporates numbers in many other ways, particularly when it comes to data – all that information that we're now able to gather and process (thanks, tech) needs sifting, interpreting and turning into something useful.
“Companies are relying more and more on data to guide their decisions, and employees who can analyse and interpret data are extremely valuable,” explains Ioannis Dermitzakis, senior lecturer at The University of Law Business School.
You can't hide from maths, he continues. “Even employees who may not work directly with data are at a disadvantage if they can’t understand what the data is conveying on a basic level. Mathematical skills are a critical overlooked ability.”
What can you do with maths in business?
Liz Philpot is growth programmes & policy manager for East Riding of Yorkshire Council. She stresses that a good grasp of maths is essential for all career opportunities, but adds that advanced skills can open the doors to more specialised work.
“Understanding processes and principles is probably what is going to give you the edge as much as being able to crunch the numbers,” she says – so if maths is one of your strengths, it could open many different doors for you.
A good business degree will help guide you in the right direction and help you explore the mathematical channels running through business disciplines like financial risk management, personal finance, digital marketing – and of course, data.
Once you're out there in the world of business, you'll find your skills are in demand from employers of all shapes and sizes, from accountancy firms and banks to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, where algorithms are the lifeblood of the platform.
Alternatively, you'll be able to put them to use running your own business. Confidently deploying maths to see how things can be done differently – and better – is a favourite tactic of Elon Musk (you know, the Tesla guy with the electric cars and the re-usable rockets), and so far it's worked out pretty well for him.
What if you struggle with maths?
If you want to sharpen those skills ahead of uni, visit our maths study help forum to get advice from thousands of fellow students. Sites like BBC Skillswise are also full of helpful maths tutorials, or you could try your hand at some past exam papers to bring your skills up to scratch. Alternatively, if you can resist all the corgi videos you'll find plenty of knowledge on YouTube.
There's no getting around the fact that you're going to have to get to grips with maths if you want to get on in business, or take a business degree. However, if you're not a mathlete, don't despair, as unis are usually able to offer help with numeracy skills. “If you’re not confident with numbers you shouldn’t let this put you off,” says Ioannis. “There is a lot of support available for students.”