Maths, like its good friend English, is a core subject at school, which we must all study at least up to GCSE level.
Most universities and employers will want you to have a grade C+ / 4+ in English and maths at GCSE, so, in 2013, the government announced that all students in England must now achieve this (or level 2 functional skills) and keep on studying the subjects until they do.
But maths is so much more than just a compulsory subject – the career possibilities can be endless.
It all comes down to what maths is.
Just as languages provide the building blocks and rules we need to communicate, maths uses its own language, made up of numbers, symbols and formulas, to explore the rules we need to measure or identify essential problems like distance, speed, time, space, change, force and quantities.
Studying maths helps us find patterns and structure in our lives. Practically, maths helps us put a price on things, create graphics , build websites, build skyscrapers and generally understand how things work or predict how they might change over time and under different conditions.
For example, if I want to throw a custard pie so it lands on top of your head on a very windy day, studying the maths can help me work out the speed, force and angle I need to throw it to hit just the right spot. Or, more helpfully, maths helps me work out how long it will take me to get somewhere if I know the distance I have to travel and the speed I'm going.
In this sense, studying maths helps predict the future...
But it doesn’t stop there. As a subject, maths is also continually growing and changing, as mathematicians and scientists expand on what they already know to discover new theories and inventions.
Now mathematicians and philosophers have debated for centuries the exact definition of maths so we can’t claim to have nailed it ourselves. But we just wanted you to get the sense that there's more to it than long division…
Maths is one of the best subjects to develop your analytical, research and problem-solving skills. Not only will studying maths help give you the knowledge to tackle scientific, mechanical, coding and abstract problems, it will also help you develop logic to tackle everyday issues like planning projects, managing budgets and even debating effectively.
People with maths degrees and other qualifications can go into: accounting, medicine, engineering, forensic pathology, finance, business, consultancy, teaching, IT, games development, scientific research, programming, the civil service, design, construction and astrophysics to name a few. Specific job roles include actuary, business analyst, software engineer, technology analyst, information engineer, speech technology researcher, and maths teacher.
Jobs in the mathematical sciences - that is, careers that studying maths at university prepares you for directly - tend to be very well paid. The combination of a skills shortage and a growing need for maths skills means more and more employers are on the look out for maths graduates.
About a quarter tend to go on to further study, while well over half end up in full-time or part-time work, or do a mixture of work and study. Only 7 in 100 maths graduates are unemployed 6 months after graduating.
It’s not surprising that maths was the most popular A-level choice of 2013!* And on average, those with a maths A-level earn 11% more over their lifetime than those without.
A spokesperson for the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications says: "A-level maths is tremendously important. It provides a firm foundation for all scientific, technical, engineering and mathematical careers and a flying start for many other types of career, such as those in finance, medicine, agriculture … etc. The list is endless!"
*Including further maths
If you study further maths too at A-level, this can boost your marks in Maths and help prepare you to study a maths course at university. (FYI, you must study maths in order to take further maths).
Maths A-level is a must have for degrees in: physics, engineering, actuarial science, economics and, of course, maths, although you may need to study a further maths course as well to do this.
Maths is recommended or sometimes required for: computer science, accounting, chemistry, biology and life sciences, medicine/nursing, dentistry, business studies, management studies, finance, architecture, geology, psychology, surveying and even philosophy.
Some subjects, like medicine, require two out of this common gang of four subjects: maths, physics, chemistry and biology. So although you might not need to study a maths degree to progress, you must take at least two of the other subjects instead.
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