Find out what you can expect from a mathematics degree course in the UK. You can learn about what a typical course covers, and which qualifications and interest will improve your chances of winning a university place. You can also find out which universities have a good reputation in this field, and what prospects are available to graduates.
Types of courses
There are over 1,500 degree courses at university which contain 'mathematics' in the title. Over 240 courses at 70 universities offer mathematics as a single subject. Many of these are the popular and prestigious universities that achieve very high scores in the league tables produced by newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian.
In considering a degree involving mathematics you have a wide range of interesting and challenging courses. There are, of course, other options where mathematics forms an important part of the degree. Engineering, physics, astronomy, ophthalmology, actuarial science and economics all have mathematics content and may require an A level in mathematics. Having studied mathematics at A level makes you extremely versatile in terms of the courses you can do, and very attractive to admissions tutors. Students with a good mathematics A level often go on to study courses as diverse as law, medicine and sports science.
What will you study?
What you will study at university is quite different from A level. There is a 'completeness' about mathematics that appeals to people who enjoy order. Pure mathematics deals with the fundamental concepts and arguments that are used to establish mathematical facts. It includes the study of analysis, algebra (differential equations, calculus), set theory and logic. Applied mathematics enables you to understand our environment and activities; it involves such subjects as mechanics, statistics, dynamics, vectors and mathematical modelling. The final year options on offer may well depend on the research interests of the particular university departments. They might offer probability theory, general relativity, quantum mechanics, game theory, coding and cryptography!
You will find a number of universities offering not only the BSc in mathematics, but also the MSc or MMaths. These 4-year courses are ideal to help you prepare for a career as a mathematician or in research, allowing you to study some areas of mathematics in considerably greater depth.
Entry requirements should be checked with individual institutions or through UCAS. However, it is fair to say that to study mathematics at one of the popular and prestigious universities invariably requires mathematics at a high grade at A level. Further mathematics is required or preferred by some institutions (including Cambridge, Durham, Warwick, Oxford and Bath) and would be an advantage to take if your schools offers it.
After your degree, there is a world of possibilities in terms of career choice. There are jobs directly related to your high level of mathematical skill such as statistician, chartered accountant, actuary, teacher, banker or quantity surveyor. Being good at mathematics does not mean having to become a mathematician. However, if you want to follow this route you may find that a further degree such as an MSc or PhD interests you. These can open up research-based careers in education, engineering or business. In 2006, according to What Do Graduates Do? 2007, published by AGCAS, 22 per cent of mathematics graduates went into further study.
Recent jobs for mathematics graduates at Science Jobs from New Scientist Jobs included opportunities as diverse as a trainee forecaster with the Meteorological Office, an environmental analyst for a power company and a software designer. Because a mathematics graduate is so versatile, you can also consider professions such as law, management or information science. The public sector employers such as the Civil Service and the National Health Service (NHS) are keen to recruit mathematics graduates. So there are lots of ways to combine your skills with other interests you have.
A shortage of mathematics teachers means that there are financial incentives to enter the profession. A 'golden hello' of £5,000 is on offer to newly qualified mathematics teachers.
It is not just teaching where the financial rewards of studying mathematics begin to add up. A study at the University of Wales in Swansea found that, over a lifetime, a mathematics graduate would earn considerably more than a person leaving school with only A levels. The survey quotes figures of £222,419 more for men and £227,939 more for women.
To find out more visit:
- Maths careers, for those wishing to know where studying mathematics can lead
- The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
- The More Maths Grads project to develop, trial and evaluate means of increasing the number of students studying mathematics
- Connexions: Jobs4u
- Plus magazine, offering articles from top mathematicians and science writers.