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Guide to Studying Mathematics

By Dr Grabowski, Lecturer in Pure Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Lancaster University.

Mathematics © an_m - Fotolia
© an_m - Fotolia
Mathematics – maths, stats, and
operations research or
management science.

What is Mathematics?

There are three main areas of study under the umbrella of Mathematics – mathematics itself, statistics, and operational research.

  • Mathematics is at the heart of questions about the world.  Mathematicians are interested in number, shape and space and in how to break complex problems into simpler ones, classifying objects and proving that a certain phenomenon must happen, can happen or indeed can't happen. 
  • Statistics is also driven by real-world problems, especially ones that can't be so easily broken down into simpler parts. By carefully examining data, statisticians can help make difficult decisions about the effectiveness of a new drug or make predictions about the likelihood of flooding.
  • Operational Research (OR), also known as management science, is the third of the mathematical sciences. Its main focus is the analysis of decision-making processes especially in complex organisations such as large multinational companies or the military. Some of its more well-known areas include game theory and the analysis of voting systems.

Specific or general skills developed

  • All three areas develop skills of numeracy, logical thinking and an analytical approach to problem solving. 
  • You will also learn to present complex and technical ideas verbally and in writing.
  • All of these skills mean that graduates in mathematical sciences are highly sought after.

Coursework, assessments and exams

  • Mathematics, statistics and OR degrees are usually taught by means of lectures with a pattern of regular coursework, some assessed and some not, with final examinations at the end of a unit of study. You will be expected to spend a significant amount of time working independently or in small groups, digesting the material from lectures and working on problems. 
  • Most programmes also include some computing with specialist software and some project work, either in groups or individually. Four-year degrees will typically include a substantial project in which the student will study a particular topic in depth with the guidance of a supervisor.
  • Placement opportunities are often available in schools for those interested in teaching and internships are common, especially in statistics and OR.

What degree can I get? 

Courses in:

  • Mathematics, Statistics, and Operational Research.

Leading to:

  • BA Hons
  • BSc Hons
  • MA Hons
  • MMath Hons
  • MMathStat Hons
  • MSci Hons

These honours degrees can be used as entry qualifications to jobs, or as entry qualifications for further study in postgraduate degrees or professional qualifications

Related courses

Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research can all be studied separately, in combination with each other, or in combination with a variety of other subjects, including:

  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Modern Languages
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Physics

What qualifications do I need?

  • Entry requirements vary considerably between institutions.
  • A level Mathematics is essential. Further Mathematics is desirable and, for some universities, essential.
  • Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers: Higher Mathematics is essential. Advanced Higher Mathematics is desirable and, for some universities, essential.
  • IB: Mathematics HL is usually essential.
  • Some universities may ask applicants to sit one or more of the following papers: the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT); the Advanced Extension Award (AEA); or the Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP).

Use the CUG Course Chooser to search through Mathematics courses.

Tips for your university application

  • As with any subject, try and find ways in which your interests and experiences demonstrate an enthusiasm for mathematics.

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

  • One or two-year certificates in initial teacher training (PGCE);
  • One-year taught master's degree courses (MSc);
  • One-year master's degree by research courses (MRes);
  • Two-year research degrees (MPhil);
  • Three or four-year research degrees (PhD).

Graduate job prospects

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*Professional employment refers to a job or occupation which normally requires a degree.
**Non-professional employment refers to a job or occupation which doesn't normally require a degree.

What are the job opportunities?

  • Having specialist knowledge and skills will make you highly employable in teaching, technical careers, financial services, management, consulting and computing.
  • Graduates have started their careers as analysts and trainee actuaries with big financial institutions from the banking, insurance and accountancy sectors.
  • Your logical and analytical skills are highly transferable and attractive in sectors as diverse as energy, healthcare and defence.
  • Many graduates have undertaken PGCE training or started accountancy qualifications while others have continued to study at Masters and PhD level.