The Best Careers for Math Majors in 2018 What Can You Really do with a Math Degree?

Math plays a central role in science, technology, finance, aviation, communications and countless other industries. The question of what can you do with a math degree can actually be flipped to “What can’t you do with a math degree?” since so many of today’s knowledge-based careers require excellence and aptitude in mathematics and quantitative reasoning. These careers also emphasize logical problem solving, critical thinking and decision making, skills honed through the study of math.

Meet the Expert

Matt Insall Associate professor of mathematics and statistics

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From data analyst to accounting, economics to engineering, there are dozens of career possibilities for math majors. Here we help math majors better understand their educational and career options, as well as find useful information on math scholarships and additional math-related resources.

Top Jobs You Can Get With a Math Degree

  • Mathematician
  • Statistician
  • College Math Professor
  • Actuary
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Economist
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Financial Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Astronomer

What a Degree in Math Entails

Undergraduate students who major in mathematics typically receive a Bachelor of Science degree, although some universities offer Bachelor of Arts in mathematics as well. Bachelor of Science degrees typically prepare students for graduate-level study, while B.A. degrees allow students greater flexibility when choosing coursework outside of the major.

Degree requirements vary by institution; however, students must complete a certain number of credits in both the mathematics major and in general education courses. For example, math majors at California State University Northridge in Southern California must complete the following:

  • 120 total credits
  • 48 units of general education
  • 23-24 units of lower division core studies in math
  • 24 units of upper division math
  • 15 or more credits of upper division electives

Many colleges also offer specializations in math, such as computational mathematics, discrete mathematics, applied analysis, statistics or secondary education. Students who pursue master’s degrees in mathematics almost exclusively focus on a particular aspect of the field.

Contrary to popular belief, math majors aren’t all quiet introverts whose thoughts are often lost in a swirling swarm of numbers, figures and formulas. Sister Marcella Louise Wallowicz, a mathematics professor at a small Catholic university in Philadelphia, says the majority of math majors she’s encountered in her teaching career are outgoing, social and involved in a variety of activities on campus, including sports, music, ministry and student government. “They are essentially ‘all-around students,’ Wallowicz says.

Courses in a Typical Math Degree

Colleges and universities often set their own curriculum for students majoring in math – there’s really no set path for upper division and lower division core requirements. Curriculum also changes for students who enroll in a mathematical concentration, such as statistics, applied computational mathematics, mathematical biology or another specialty field. However, lower division requirements typically include many of the same courses. The following lower-division (200 level) curriculum is from the mathematics department at Boise State University in Idaho:

Upper division coursework delves deeply into advanced mathematical concepts, and students typically can’t enroll in 300-level or higher courses without completing any number of prerequisites. The following math classes are from the math department at University of Massachusetts at Amherst:

Of course, these are but a few of the many different mathematical courses students take while earning undergraduate degrees in math.

Becoming a Part of the STEM Revolution

The U.S. workforce – and to a greater extent the entire world — is in the midst of a sweeping technological revolution. Consider that the ubiquitous iPhone was introduced just over a decade ago, and in 2017 there were more than 2.3 billion smartphone users worldwide.

Our complex, highly connected digital world and workplace requires a much different set of core skills and knowledge than needed by previous generations. STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – play a crucial role in preparing the workforce to adapt to this technological revolution because they develop the skills required for success across a range of industries. Students majoring in STEM fields acquire the ability to solve complex problems independently and collaboratively, think critically and logically, and communicate effectively. STEM fields also encourage students to tackle big problems, develop new processes, innovate and discover new procedures and systems to overcome challenges.

These skills are highly applicable across many different career fields, many of which require a proficiency and aptitude in advanced mathematical concepts. Read on to learn more about some of the top careers for students who earn degrees in mathematics.

Learn More About the STEM Fields

Top Math Careers

Working as a statistician or college math professor are two of the obvious careers paths for math majors. However, the training students receive while earning a math degree is transferable to a wide range of professions since math is a rigorous intellectual field that develops analytical skills and the ability to creatively solve problems – traits in high demand in fields such as law, medicine, engineering, computing and many more.

Sister Marcella Louise Wallowicz, assistant dean and associate professor of mathematics at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, says career options abound for students who earn math degrees.

“Typically, people associate two careers with mathematics: teaching and statistics," Wallowicz says. "However, there are options available such as research and development, project management, engineering — cloud, nuclear, aerospace and financial — employment in the government sector and law enforcement. Some of our graduates are currently employed by Lockheed Martin (engineers), FBI (law enforcement), actuarial firms and banks. One graduate is a nuclear engineer in the US Navy.”

Some notable math majors include Tony DeRose, who parlayed his love of applied mathematics, calculus and physics into a role as the senior scientist and lead researcher for animation studio Pixar. American composer Phillip Glass earned a bachelor’s in math from the University of Chicago, and folk singer Art Garfunkel, one half of the Grammy-winning duo Simon & Garfunkel, earned a master’s in mathematics from Columbia University. David Dinkins, the first African American mayor of New York City, received a bachelor’s in math from Howard University.

Following are ten of the top career paths for math majors, with job growth and salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Mathematician 2017 median annual salary $103,000

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 30 percent through 2026.

What they do Mathematicians typically work in either applied or pure mathematics, while academic mathematicians perform research to advance or prove mathematical theories or solve mathematical problems.

Education Mathematicians typically earn master’s degrees and continue their education to the doctoral level.

What they study Graduate and doctoral programs typically have some structured foundation curriculum, but mathematicians usually define their area of study depending upon their preference, such as pure mathematics or applied mathematics.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 33 percent through 2026.

What they do Statisticians use mathematical formulas, data analysis software and modeling to analyze large amounts of data and provide solutions to problems in many different industry sectors, from education to government to finance.

Education Statisticians typical hold master’s or doctoral degrees in mathematics, although some federal and entry-level jobs only require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree.

What they study Linear algebra, calculus, statistical theory, probabilities, survey methodology and related subjects. Statisticians often take advanced coursework in related fields such as physics, engineering and computer science.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 15 percent through 2026.

What they do Of course college math professors teach, but that’s but one aspect of their core responsibilities. Tenured mathematics professors often conduct mathematical research and develop new math. Others write textbooks, give talks at conferences, and work with other researchers to solve problems in science, engineering and medicine.

Education College professors typically hold doctoral degrees in their field.

What they study In earning their PhD in math, professors are expected to make significant contributions to a particular field of mathematics and publish their findings.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 22 percent through 2026

What they do Actuaries use mathematics, statistics and financial modeling to analyze and estimate the fiscal impacts of risk and uncertainty in business to help clients develop and implement plans that minimize such risks. Actuaries play prominent roles throughout the insurance industry by estimating the financial impacts of natural disasters and costs of deaths and injury accidents.

Education Minimum of a bachelor’s in math or statistics, with additional education in economics and finance.

Licenses and certifications Professional certifications include the Casualty Actuarial Society and Society of Actuaries, the body that certifies actuaries working in insurance, finance, investments and retirement benefits.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 22 percent through 2026

What they do Market analysts study market trends, conditions and history, and use statistical software and other methods to determine and forecast sales trends. Also gathers and compiles data on consumer buying habits, demographics and other key metrics.

Education Typically a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in statistics, math or computer science, although some positions require a master’s degree. Many market analysts also earn MBAs to hone their business acumen as a complement to their mathematics skills.

Licenses and certifications The Professional Researcher Certification is a voluntary certification that demonstrates competency.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 6 percent through 2026

What they do Economists collect and analyze data about the production and distribution goods, services and resources to determine market conditions and economic trends. Areas of focus include costs for healthcare, energy production, employment, taxes, interest rates and inflation, among others.

Education Most jobs require either a master’s degree or a PhD in economics.

What they study Statistics and use of statistical analysis software, microeconomics, macroeconomics, quantitative methods, corporate finance, money and banking, financial markets, calculus, advanced linear algebra, probabilities, computational methods and applications.

Job outlook Field is predicted to grow by 6 percent through 2026

What they do Coordinate the design and testing of airplanes, commercial and military helicopters, spacecraft, satellites, rockets and missiles. Also develop new technologies and systems to be deployed across these different products.

Education Many aerospace engineers have a minimum educational obtainment of a bachelor’s degree in engineering, although engineers with graduate degrees are qualified to work on research and development projects.

What they study Calculus, trigonometry, linear algebra, differential equations and quantum physics.

Job outlook Field is expected to grow by 11 percent through 2026

What they do: In a nutshell, financial analysts provide insight on investment opportunities for securities firms, mutual and pension funds, banks and many other businesses. Some develop strategies for investment capital, while others sell stocks, bonds and other investment products.

Education Minimum educational obtainment of a bachelor’s degree, with coursework in statistics, linear algebra and calculus.

Licenses and certifications The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority licenses the majority of workers in the financial and securities industries. Many financial analysts earn the Chartered Financial Analyst designation from the CFA Institute.

Job outlook Field is predicted to grow by 19 percent through 2026

What they do Data scientists compile and analyze large amounts of data and create algorithms to solve large problems in a diverse range of industries, including technology, pharmaceuticals, health care, financial services and government.

Education A master’s degree is a common educational obtainment, although many jobs require candidates to hold a PhD.

What they study Statistical methods, discrete mathematics, calculus, applied mathematics, differential equations, foundations of algorithms.

Job outlook Field is predicted to grow by 14 percent through 2026

What they do Astronomers conduct research and use scientific analysis to better understand stars, planets, galaxies and various celestial bodies. They routinely use complex math to form and test new and existing theories about the physical laws that govern these objects. Their findings typically are expressed in mathematical terms.

Education A PhD is the minimum educational obtainment to work in research or academia.

What they study Statistics, linear algebra, calculus, mathematical physics, differential equations, analytical geometry.

“Mathematics is more than number crunching,” adds Sister Wallowicz. “Coursework in mathematics helps develop an individual’s logical and critical-thinking skills, which are applicable for success in most careers.”

Scholarships for Math Majors

Graduate-level education often is a prerequisite for many of the most promising careers for math majors. These 10 scholarships can help students pursuing mathematics degrees fund their education.

Amount $5,000-$18,000

Requirements Open to women pursuing fulltime master’s degrees in mathematics or statistics.

Amount Varies

Requirements Open to a wide range of students studying biopharmaceutical statistics, survey statistics, government statistics and other subsectors of the field.

Amount $3,000

Requirements Students must be fulltime sophomores or juniors at a four-year university and enrolled in STEM major. Must have at least a 3.0 grade point average.

Amount Up to $7,500

Requirements Student must be a fulltime sophomore or junior pursuing a research career in science, math or engineering.

Amount Between $1,000 and $3,000

Requirements Open to fulltime students with demonstrated scholastic achievement who plan to pursue an actuarial career in the casualty or property insurance fields.

Amount $10,000 to $50,000

Requirements Open to students 18 and under who have completed a significant work in STEM categories.

Amount Up to $38,000

Requirements Merit-based award for college seniors or first-year grad students in physical and biological sciences and mathematics.

Amount $20,000 per academic year, renewable up to four times

Requirement Must be enrolled fulltime in a doctoral program in an actuarial science or related field, such as mathematics.

Amount $50,000

Requirements Open to National Eagle Scout Association members who plan to major in a STEM field.

Amount $2,500 per academic year for college freshmen and sophomores; $5,000 per academic year for juniors and seniors

Requirement Open to African-American students pursuing degrees in STEM majors.

These are but a small handful of the many scholarships available to students pursuing degrees in mathematics and related STEM fields. Students should inquire with their prospective college’s financial aid office about different available scholarship and grant options.

Resources for Math Majors & Careers

There are many different professional societies and organizations for math majors, as well as for people working in careers that require mathematics on a daily basis. Here are 10 of the most popular mathematics organizations that students and working professionals can join:

Some of these organizations, such as the Society for Actuaries, offer professional certifications that are crucial or required for careers in their respective fields. Others, such as the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America, have resources dedicated to students.

Interview with an Expert

Dr. Matt Insall is an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from University of Houston, and he’s taught at Missouri S&T since 1989.

Q: What are some of the main traits of math majors?

A: In many cases, they are just really hard-working students. We do get few that just decide they didn’t want to do engineering and had some courses in math, and they liked that better.

Q: What kinds of personalities best succeed in the field of mathematics?

A: People who are driven to understand complete and correct arguments. They have intuition and the ability to be creative. There’s not a straight roadmap (to success in math) because there is more uncertainty in mathematics than people generally think. The mathematics most people study is at levels where there are definite procedures we want everyone to learn [e.g. 2+2=4].

Q: What are some top careers for graduates of the university’s mathematics programs?

A: One student got a PhD and decided he didn’t want to work in mathematical research and now works in the financial sector. A former colleague had a PhD. in applied mathematics and now works on Wall Street advising financial analysts. He mentioned that common hourly rates for consulting are in the $600 an hour dollar range — sometimes with a mathematics degree you can really make a killing.

Another graduate of this department, Gary Havener, was not a top mathematics student but went on to a successful career in business due to his bachelor’s degree in math. (The 105,000-square-foot Havener Center is a focal point of the Missouri S&T campus). There are many careers for mathematics majors. Capable undergraduates should consider that a graduate degree in math could lead to a position in industry.

Q: Is math a limited major for career options since many math-intensive careers require additional study?

A: Most programs in mathematics have options for students to emphasize an additional area of study. One of our biggest undergraduate programs is an actuarial science emphasis. We also have a computational mathematics emphasis, algebra/discrete mathematics, applied analysis, statistics and secondary education. Our students who get certified to teach math at the secondary education level are very sought after in Missouri.

Q: Is a bachelor's degree enough, or do students have to complete graduate work to really expand their career options? 

A: Many mathematics people are really driven to keep solving problems and do mathematics, so in many cases, they do come back to get a master’s or PhD because they are less satisfied with a job that is a grind. The industry is always looking for hard-working people who are dedicated to solving problems.

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