It took me a long time to decide what to study at university. Ever since I was in primary school, maths has been my favourite subject and I chose to study both maths and further maths at A-Level. While I was in sixth form I had no idea what to study at university, and considered studying physics or psychology because I knew I would have a good career afterwards.
However, after reading through a few prospectuses and chatting to some of my teachers, I realised it was more important for me to study a degree that I will really enjoy, so I decided to study maths. It was only afterwards that I found out that the combination of numerical literacy, problem solving abilities and logical thinking skills developed as an undergraduate makes mathematicians highly employable and lots of companies want to hire mathematics graduates, which was a great bonus!
I ended up studying at Leeds University completely by chance. During the university application process I had offers from UCL and Bristol, but after messing up in one of my exams I missed the grades for both. This may sound like a bit of a nightmare but it all turned out to be for the best. I wanted to live in a big city and I saw Leeds had places available through clearing. A few days later I went to visit Leeds for the first time and immediately took to it. The city is thriving and feels energetic, and the university is well respected and full of fun, forward-thinking professors and students. This is reflected in the fact the University of Leeds was awarded University of the Year 2017 by The Times Good University Guide!
In contrast to a lot of university students who do not have many lectures, maths students have around 16 contact hours per week during first and second year. This may sound like a lot, but as it is a mix of lectures, seminars and tutorials it doesn’t feel like too much. Most of your time will be spent in lectures learning the course material, and about a quarter will be spent in tutorials working through exercise sheets and potential homework questions. In Leeds you also have PAL sessions, where you spend 1 hour per week with third year students who help you with your homework assignments.
For most university students, work will come in waves: sometimes they have very little work to do then suddenly they will have three big deadlines in a week. In contrast, the workload for maths is steadier, as each module has assignments due every two or three weeks. This makes it easier to get into a routine, and as long as you attend lectures and focus in tutorials, the assignments generally aren’t too difficult, and you will find yourself with a lot more free time than perhaps you expected!
Breaking down the standard workload you find that generally, normal modules over an 11-week semester tend to have 5 assignments in total, counting for 20% of your overall grade. The other 80% comes from the final exam. This can put a lot of pressure on the exam period, but if you start revising early that it’s not too stressful. Very few modules have coursework, but there is a compulsory course in second year (Computational Mathematics) that is entirely coursework based. This has weekly assignments (although only half are graded) and there are workshops where you can get help. Coursework can really help by taking some pressure away from the exam period.
As a first-year maths student, 80% of your courses are compulsory. However, this leaves the other 20% as completely free for you to choose what you’d like to study. This is where Leeds really excels, as there are a wide range of ‘discovery modules’ on offer from every department at the university! This gives you a great chance to study something other than mathematics and experience a difficult style of learning. In my first year I took a Sport module where I learned to play squash, and in my second year I took an introduction to psychology module which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Leeds University Student Union prides itself on having many societies that cater for any and all hobbies and interests. The maths society is a great way to meet all the other students on your course and have fun. They regularly put on socials, including an infamous Leeds pub crawl known as The Otley Run, as well as networking and careers events. MathSoc also has football and netball teams that represent us in the university’s intramural sports league.
In summary, the blend of a well-respected education, the control over the modules you take and Leeds’ reputation as one of the best cities in the UK for student social life makes it an ideal place to study. The mathematics department has recently been refurbished so anything you need is all in one well-designed building.
You also have the opportunity to study abroad in your third year, I went to Canada and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. The university has a careers advice service and is always putting on careers events to help you figure out what you want to do and help you find a job for when you graduate. The city has a thriving cultural scene and exciting nightlife that can cater for any type of music taste. Having all these factors bundled into one fantastic university experiences is what I feel makes studying maths at Leeds a special and unique experience.