Now why on earth would you want to study Math (US ) or read Maths (UK)? haven’t you got something better to do? Is this your best subject? Really? Are you going to ace Further Maths? Really?

Questions to consider:

What are you going to use your Maths for?

Commonest answer: I don’t know, but I think they’ll let me in to do it. I’ll find out later.

Better answer: It doesn’t matter, because this is my best subject by far and I’ll end up with a decent degree I can parlay into a job.

What are you dodging? Should you be looking for something less general (and therefore more specific)? Like accounting? - which is less about maths and more about numbers, or engineering, far more about using maths to do something - or any of the sciences and applied sciences?

How many mathematicians does the world need?

Very very few. Are you among them? ~ you’re really that good?

Are you already looking to go into teaching? Oh dear; how about getting some life experience first? How many of your teachers could explain what the material they teach to you is useful for? (Sorry for the bad use of language).

You could answer that Maths is a good general degree in terms of in flexible thinking, analysis of problems , manipulation of ideas and application of ideas. In that sense it is a good first degree and lends itself to a future in management - if you can make the jump at graduation into a suitable field. If (how very chinese) you insist on doing a Master’s (why, oh why?) look sensibly at what will serve you well in terms of breadth and please consider going to get some work experience before embarking on still more education. It has always struck me that an MBA (a typical choice) is a waste of time if there is no work experience to relate it to. Of course, you just might gain that at the same time as doing your degree, because Mathematicians are famously lazy - by which they mean they will find the route of least effort for a desired result, not that they are frightened of work or loathe to work, merely loathe to do unnecessary work.

I was fortunate, most of what I studied at A-level and a lot of what I studied in my degree came in useful in surveying; I’m not saying it was necessary learning, I’m saying I found uses for it. Most of my peers went into accounting, or into the financial world, such as stock-broking; that could have been a feature of the reputation of the university rather than the subject, as many other subject-holders did the same, chasing the money.

Which raises the whole question of why you want a degree at all, of course.

Other subjects that translate as studying thinking are Psychology and Philosophy. Ones that lead to serious earning, allegedly, include Economics and everything with Business, Management or Administration in the title. Since many follow that path, it becomes self-defeating (the money-chasers join that group and some of them succeed).

I have what I think is a simple test question to see if Maths is what you want to study:

If you have an integration doesn’t work, are you truly interested in why it doesn’t work, or more interested in finding the answer? The reason it doesn’t work is probably because you made a mistake, or you failed to draw the curve (to see if you are attempting to integrate across a discontinuity) or it actually belongs in the class of integrations you can’t do (at all, or to be exact, there are classes of failure).... so, I repeat, which camp do you fall into: those (In) who are fascinated that there are functions you cannot integrate or those (Out) who are frustrated at there not being an answer? The first group are likely to enjoy reading maths (or “doing math”) and the others should be engineers, medics or somesuch.

DJS 20120513


Mathematics (revisited in 2016)

Just how many mathematicians does the world need? Really, not very many. So do maths for some different reasons. For many it is their best subject by far, but they are measuring against their peers at school, not those at university. Be ready for an abrupt awakening.

The sort of other reason one might have for doing maths might include:

it is a good academic discipline that proves you can do thinking, but it has no attached presentation skills.

It is an excellent starting point for going on to other fields. Simply have a look where maths graduates end up. Do not misunderstand this as ‘Maths got them there’ as much as ‘the sort of person that is reasonably good at maths is the sort of person that does this’. Example: I visited a large builder; the largest group of directors had Maths degrees.

Have a look what happens to Mathematicians.

Some stay in academia. If we include teaching, that’s quite a lot, maybe 20-25%. teaching is a third of these.

An awful lot, nearly half, go into the financial sector. Assumption on all sides that good at maths means good with numbers. The money is generally good for relatively little work, so it appeals to the mathematician who seeks the most gain for the least work, as so many do. This might well be more than 50% of maths graduates. accountancy, finance, banking, actuarial careers, insurance, investment analysis...

The remainder do something else. Statisticians, metereologists, engineering, operations research, manufacturing, construction, management, IT fields, surveying...

This site tells us what happens to maths graduates, and you could use it to gain similar data for other courses.


Working full-time in the UK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46.6%

In further study, training or research. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23.3%

Working and studying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8.2%

Working part-time in the UK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.8%

Unemployed, including those due to start work . . . . . . . .7.7%

Other. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5.0%

Working overseas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.4%

DJS  20160602

© David Scoins 2017