Institute of Mathematics

Questions - FAQ

Isn't everything about mathematics already known?

No! Research in mathematics is more intensive than ever. There are two main sources of new mathematical questions. They arise in practical applications, such as the development of financial instruments, compression and encoding of data in telecommunications, and the streamlining of a vehicle; and also in the course of research into mathematical theories and methods themselves, which then often lead to new discoveries about ourselves and the world that we live in.

Do you have to be a genius to study mathematics?

No! It helps to have found mathematics easy at school. You should also be the sort who gets more satisfaction from problems that need hard thinking to solve them, rather than from the routine application of formula. The determination to overcome difficult problems is another important quality.

How do I find out if I am suited to mathematics?

Visit our library, and dip into books by, for example, Martin Gardner. If you find the world of mathematics fascinating, then the degree course may be for you. Talk about it with your friends, relatives and teachers. Come and visit a lecture, or contact our student advisor.

Should I study at the University or at the ETH?

Both Zurich universities cover the full range of mathematics. Both have a high standard on research. But there are significant differences.

At the University, the staff/student ratio is more favourable, allowing for personalized attention and a friendly atmosphere. You have much more freedom in the detailed choice of subjects within mathematics. And the broad range of one possible minor subject allows you to choose the particular combination that really suits you.

The ETH is a purely science and engineering school. The University offers the full spectrum of learning, from archaeology to zoology. This variety is one reason why the proportion of women studying mathematics is much higher at the University than at the ETH.

Doesn't a degree at the University often take a very long time?

No. Usually the bachelor's degree lasts six and the master's degree 3 semesters. To achieve this, self-responsibility and self-discipline are of course necessary. It is not uncommon for students to pursue professional activities during the studies. In this case it can take longer. 

Can I work while I am at university?

Yes. However, this usually means that the degree course takes longer. Many of our students do so. There is the advantage that you have already begun your career, even before leaving university. The maximum admissible number of semester is twelve for the bachelor's degree and six for the master's degree.

How much time do I need to devote to mathematics?

The Study of Mathematics is carried out according to the principle of the credit point system. In this system, credit points (ECTS) are assigned for all achievements on the basis of a transcript of records. The following guidelines apply: 

  • 1 credit point corresponds to a work performance of 30 hours. This time includes lecture courses, exercise classes and independent work (self-study, solving the exercise sheets, etc.)
  • The work performance for one semester (including non-lecture period) corresponds to 30 credit points.

Is teaching the only profession for a mathematics graduate?

Certainly not! (See «Job prospects»)

Institute of Education