Mathematics has played an undeniable role in the progress and technological advancement of modern society. Without mathematics, buildings wouldn’t stand, airplanes wouldn’t fly, computers and smartphones wouldn’t work, and everyday items like calendars, credit cards and even recipes probably wouldn’t exist at all.

Saying mathematics is the foundation of innovation would be an understatement. That could explain why 77% of students say they want to pursue a program like the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics after high school in order to improve their career outcomes—and the number will only keep climbing as the demand for skilled STEM professionals continues to rise. However, university-level mathematics is a whole different ball game, and many of these students step into the classroom woefully unprepared.

Nurturing mathematics

Irene Alda has always been passionate about mathematics and other STEM-related subjects. Her fondest memories are of learning physics from her father, which have motivated her long-held desire to solve real-world problems using math. In fact, Irene’s work has been instrumental in changing processes in a wide range of areas, from sports to material science, microscopy and more.

She’s now the academic director of the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics at IE University. As a firm proponent of gender equality in STEM, she wants to encourage more women to get into this impactful field. But, just as importantly, she hopes to use her position to help her students understand that mathematics doesn’t just drive innovation: it’s an essential business skill in today’s interconnected world. 

A smooth transition

For Irene, nothing is more imperative than helping new students find their footing as they begin their journey in the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics. She knows the transition from high school to university math can be difficult for most due to various factors. However, easing this shift not only helps establish a firm foundation in applied mathematics, but also sets you up for success for the rest of the program and beyond. 

Here’s a breakdown of the most common challenges you might face as a new student, according to Irene, and her advice for overcoming them in order to excel in the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics:

  1. From calculations to abstract thought

As soon as classes begin, the first thing you’ll notice is that university-level mathematics takes a very different approach to learning. “Often, mathematics in high school is more computational—follow these steps and you’ll get the correct result,” Irene explains. However, the subject becomes “more abstract and proof-based” at higher levels, requiring a whole new method of study to understand.

The Bachelor in Applied Mathematics takes this concern seriously. That’s why, in your first year, alongside core modules including Calculus and Linear Algebra, you will also study important subjects in humanities to expand your perspective and learn how to explore other points of view.   

  1. Beyond theory

But that isn’t to say that university mathematics only focuses on abstract concepts; far from it. The Bachelor in Applied Mathematics is more practical than you would expect, designed to prepare you for the professional world. “The program has a hands-on approach,” says Irene, “which allows you to apply fundamental abstract theories, models and techniques to real-world scenarios.”  

The program goes one step further, with transversal modules in technology, entrepreneurship and communication, as well as career-building electives such as AI, Industrial Mathematics and Financial Mathematics. In this way, you will become a truly well-rounded applied mathematician, with the comprehensive skill set to elicit change in any area you choose.

  1. A whole new language

The third shock to your system will probably be that higher-level mathematics employs an entirely different language than you’re used to. According to Irene, “You probably thought mathematics was about numbers but, when you reach university, there are almost no numbers.” Instead, you’ll need to adopt mathematical language, which most students struggle with at first. 

Abstraction, symbols and rules, non-linearity, arrangement, coding—this is the jargon of mathematics in university, and you need to get comfortable with it in order to thrive. As Irene explains, “Being fluent in mathematical terminology and symbols will be a great asset to students entering the program, since these are widely used in class and will help you follow all the sessions.” Fortunately, the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics provides a sort of crash course in the same through modules like Computer Programming, Data Visualization and more.

  1. The need for perseverance

Undoubtedly, the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics is a rigorous, demanding program. Just like in high school, you will probably find it challenging to comprehend new concepts when you first encounter them. But, as Irene notes, “Mindset is everything!”

For instance, the academic director says most first-year students find modules like Linear Algebra especially challenging. However, she knows this is a normal part of the learning process. As long as you grasp the concepts, perseverance will be the key to making any headway. “Through exercises and studying, everything starts to click and make sense. You’ll be exposed to more proofs and begin to develop your logical and abstract intuition,” she encourages.

Students in classroom Madrid tower

Ready for the challenge?

That said, Irene admits the only secret to success in mathematics is time. While the field is built upon certain core axioms, or absolute truths, “Some proofs, such as Fermat’s Last Theorem, have taken centuries to be completed,” she says. 

Similarly, as you step into the Bachelor in Applied Mathematics, Irene would advise you to give yourself adequate time to understand the mathematical concepts that will be the basis for your future careers. In turn, she promises the program’s hands-on methodology will help you develop the knowledge, holistic skill set, professional opportunities and global network to reach your goals, both now and in the future.