A Guide to Applying for Mathematics

Mathematics is a challenging degree course which provides students with valuable mathematical and analytical skills that are important in a range of careers. Those who have excelled at Maths and other mathematical subjects throughout school would be best suited to this degree course.

Mathematics courses are some of the most competitive degree programmes in the UK and applicants are typically required to achieve high grades and submit applications that stand out to top universities. If you want to know more about how to do that, then you’re in the right place.

This guide includes what a Mathematics degree actually involves, what the entry requirements are for top universities (including admissions tests and interviews), what you should include in your Maths application, and top tips from The Profs’ Head of Consulting, Joseph Robbins.

The Profs’ admissions team are experts in helping students get into even the most competitive of courses. 90% of our undergraduate and postgraduate students get into their first or second choice university and our Oxbridge acceptance rate is more than three times higher than the average. If you need support, get in touch with our team today.

What is involved in a Mathematics degree?

Mathematics degree courses involve the study of advanced mathematical subject areas, including algebra, analysis, probability and statistics, geometry, calculus, and more.
While most undergraduate and postgraduate Mathematics courses cover similar topics, each course will offer something slightly different, so always check on the course page and research modules before applying.

Joe’s tip: Self-studying Maths at university is almost nothing like learning Maths at school. The main difference is that you are expected to teach yourself Maths through reading textbooks and watching lecturers, which is extremely different from teacher-led learning in a classroom where you can put your hand up or learn from the questions and mistakes of your classmates.

Look very closely at the amount of teaching time each university course offers per week outside of lectures. Many UK courses will only provide you with 1 hour of teaching per module, which will be assigned to reviewing your homework assignments, rather than teaching. It is highly advised to go to at least one mathematics open day, and also to buy yourself a Maths book and see if you still enjoy Mathematics when you haven’t got a teacher guiding you through every step of the way.

Which courses are similar to Mathematics?

Mathematics itself is a core subject area and there are few replacements for it. There are, however, a range of other degree courses that have a strong Mathematics focus and require students to apply mathematical skills to different problems or topics. These include:

  • Statistics and data-based courses
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Physics and other Science subjects
  • Economics
  • Accounting and Finance

Joe’s tip: Whilst most first-year Maths courses will be similar across different universities, look closely at the later module options. Are you hoping to focus more on Pure Maths or Applied Maths? Are you looking for a theoretical degree in which you explore the proofs behind Mathematics (so-called ‘Real Maths’) or the applications of Mathematics to various real-world problems, e.g. statistics, data and research, algorithms and coding, or mechanics and engineering.

What are the entry requirements for Mathematics?

Undergraduate and postgraduate Economics courses are offered by almost all of the UK’s top universities, including LSE, Oxford and Cambridge (all three of which are ranked in the top 10 in the world for the subject). However, the specific entry requirements differ between universities and it’s important to know what you are aiming for before applying.

Undergraduate

Undergraduate Maths courses are extremely competitive and entry requirements tend to be higher than for other subjects. Almost all of the UK’s top universities require applicants to have at least one or two A* grades. Many courses also require high grades in specific subjects – most commonly an A* in Mathematics or Further Maths.

The table below shows the top universities in the UK for Mathematics – according to the QS World University Rankings (2021) – and the A level entry requirements for each. If you’re applying to university with alternative UK or international qualifications, make sure to check the course page for the equivalent entry requirements.

UK rankingUniversityEntry requirements (A levels)
1CambridgeA*A*A
2OxfordA*A*A
(A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics (if taken) are required.)
3Imperial College LondonA*A*A
(A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics are required.)
4WarwickA*A*A
(A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics are required.)
5EdinburghA*AA-A*AB
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)
6University College London (UCL)A*A*A
(A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics are required.)
7ManchesterA*AA
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)
8King’s College London (KCL)A*AA
(An A* in either Mathematics or Further Maths.)
9BristolA*A*A-A*AA
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)
10BathA*AA
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)

Joe’s tip: Given the strong quantitative focus at universities such as LSE, UCL, Oxbridge and Warwick, an A* in Further Maths is the most valuable subject for a Mathematics degree. If your school does not offer Further Maths, you should ask your referee to state this so that you are not at a disadvantage when applying.

Postgraduate

Many top universities (including Cambridge and Bristol) require postgraduate Mathematics applicants to have a first-class bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject, such as Mathematics, Physics or Statistics. Some require a 2:1 (such as Imperial, Oxford and King’s College London) in a relevant subject.

Joe’s tip: Postgraduate Mathematics courses are extremely competitive, so much so that even strong quantitative degrees such as Economics might put you at a disadvantage against Mathematics graduates. It’s therefore really important to demonstrate exceptional scores in any mathematical undergraduate modules and other competitions or tests that prove your mathematical ability.

Which admissions tests are required for undergraduate Mathematics?

The main admissions tests for undergraduate Mathematics courses are: MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test), TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) and STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper). The goal of each test is to assess applicants’ mathematical ability and suitability for their chosen degree course. The table below shows which universities require and recommend each of these admissions tests.

Admissions testSummaryWhich universities?
MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test)The MAT is based on the first year of A level Maths and a few topics from the fourth term of A level Maths. It aims to test the depth – rather than breadth – of students’ mathematical understanding.Required by Imperial and Oxford.
Recommended by Warwick, Bath, Southampton.
TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions)The TMUA is designed to assess the essential mathematical thinking and reasoning skills needed for a demanding undergraduate Mathematics or Mathematics-related course.Recommended by LSE, Sheffield, Warwick, Bath, Southampton and Durham.
STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper)The STEP is designed to test candidates on questions that are similar in style to undergraduate Mathematics.Required by Cambridge.
Recommended by Warwick, Bath, Southampton, UCL and Sheffield.

Which universities require an interview?

Undergraduate

Oxford and Cambridge require undergraduate Mathematics applicants to attend an interview if they perform well in their respective admissions tests and their application satisfies the entry requirements. Find out more about a href=”/student-resources/university-applications/undergraduate/how-to-prepare-for-an-oxbridge-interview/”>Oxbridge interviews in our helpful article.

Joe’s tip: A common problem in Mathematics interviews is that students are often too reluctant to offer ideas for fear of saying something ‘wrong’. In part, this may come from an expectation on behalf of the applicants that they ought to be able to answer questions in full straight away, when in practice, the interviewers may be expecting to give prompts.
Try to stay relaxed and treat your interview as a formal, constructive conversation. As preparation, you might even practise getting comfortable having conversations about Mathematics with an expert, like a Profs Mathematics tutor.

Postgraduate

Many postgraduate courses require applicants to attend an interview. This could be an interview with a member of admissions staff or alumnus, or alternatively an online video interview. Your interviewer will most likely want to explore your motivations for studying a Master’s in Mathematics and learn more about your experience, interests and qualifications. You can find out more about the different types of postgraduate interviews here.

Joe’s tip: For Mathematics courses, some Cambridge colleges will also have students sit a test when they come for an interview. The questions you face and answers you give in your test can, in part, form the basis of questions in the interview. Our Mathematics tutors have extensive experience and knowledge of the Cambridge admissions process for Maths and can offer advice, training and support to help you maximise your chances of an offer.

What should you include in your Mathematics application?

Due to the competitiveness of Mathematics degree courses, your A level grades (or equivalent) and performance in any admissions tests and interviews will be key deciding factors in whether or not you are offered a place. However, there are many other things that can help to make your application stand out, such as:

  • Reading is essential
    Showing that you understand that Maths at university level involves self-teaching Maths can be key to success. Demonstrate to your chosen university that you genuinely enjoy analysing new mathematical concepts through reading at least one quantitative text. The vast majority of students are not able to enjoy such self-learning and so you can really stand out from the crowd by demonstrating a desire to learn higher-level Mathematics.
  • Having an understanding of what you want to do with your degree and what you want to specialise in
    You are not commiting for life to this decision, but identifying that you are interested in the applications of big data – or else want to help Formula 1 racing cars be more energy-efficient – can show that you are a forward-thinking candidate who is serious about getting a job after graduation. You can, of course, also state that you are interested in a PhD and becoming a researcher, backing up your career claims with some knowledge of your chosen field.
  • Participation in relevant competitions, clubs or challenges
    Participating in the UK Maths challenge or other, similar competitions can be a great way to showcase your mathematical abilities.
  • Using practical applications of Maths, Mechanics or Statistics
    Have you used your Maths skills in a business environment to calculate profit or loss? Have you done some website or game design coding and had to use trigonometry in your coding? Have you used applied lessons on friction and gravity to calculate stopping distances and acceleration of go-karts? The options to use Mathematics and problem-solving in extracurricular activities are limitless and all help to prove that you have a serious passion for the subject.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

How can we help?

The Profs’ consultancy team have many years of experience advising students on how to get into some of the most competitive universities and degree programmes in the UK. More than 95% of our students get into their first or second choice university, and our Oxbridge acceptance rate stands at 55% – three times the national average. Our dedicated undergraduate and postgraduate admissions consultants help you at every stage of the application process, from choosing the right universities for you to preparing for admissions tests and interviews.

Our network of Mathematics tutors can also help you get the A level grades required for entry and stay on top of your studies once you’re at university. Whatever support you need, we’ve got you covered – get in touch with our team today to start preparing.