In fact, St Andrews offered a French for Scientists course, so I ended up doing Maths with French. A win all round.

I can pinpoint the exact moment it became clear I would study maths at university. Parents’ evening, year 12, I mentioned to my French teacher that I was thinking about a French degree. He looked at me as if I was stupid and said something like “you’re good at French, but you’re *GOOD* at maths. Besides, a French degree isn’t much use.” Alright, fine. Maths it is. He was spot-on. I never looked back.

For others, the decision about whether to study maths is less clear-cut. For those people, *Why Study Mathematics* is an extremely useful tool in making an informed decision. In the first part, Neale looks at the ins and outs of a maths degree — what you’ll study, how courses differ, how *students* differ, and where it can take you; the second part takes a deeper look at the kinds of things a mathematician thinks about.

I think the early sections on the different flavours of maths degrees are especially valuable: up to A-level, Mathematics looks like a bit of a monolith and (almost) everyone covers (almost) the same material. Setting out that (almost) every maths degree will cover some linear algebra and some calculus but beyond that it’s a free-for-all prepares students for the wide range of courses available, and for the sometimes baffling decisions that need to be made.

The one thing I felt was missing from the book was a section on reasons *not* to study mathematics. It’s a tricky thing: we want mathematicians! We want everyone to know and love maths! Evangelising about its beauty and rewards is absolutely right — but at the same time, maths isn’t for everyone, and picking the wrong subject, or doing it for the wrong reasons, can be a ticket to misery.

*Why Study Mathematics* is tremendously engaging and clearly-written (I enjoyed Neale’s first book, *Closing the Gap*, for the same reasons). The author articulates her enthusiasm for the subject beautifully, and it takes an inordinate amount of work to make it look so effortless.

I say it would make an excellent gift for the mathematically-inclined teenager in your life, and an invaluable addition to any school library.

Why Study Mathematics?, on the LPP website

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