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.
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:
Math 254 – Introduction to Statistics
Coursework covers introduction to probabilities, hypothesis testing and simple linear regression with a pre-calculus view of descriptive statistics. The course emphasizes problem solving, deductive reasoning and the ability to communicate ideas across various disciplines. Students also learn how to use statistical programs and calculators for statistical computing and other advanced computations.
Math 275 – Multivariable and Vector Calculus
Coursework includes study in functions of variables, vector algebra, gradients, chain rule, parametric curves and surfaces, divergence and curl, line and surface intervals and related subjects. Students use mathematical software such as Mathematica or Maple to explore and visual solutions to problems.
Math 287 – Communication in the Mathematical Sciences
While such a course may not be standard curriculum at many colleges, its importance can’t be overlooked since workers in most research-based scientific fields express their findings and conclusions in mathematical terms. This course helps students develop the communication and proof-writing skills that are crucial to the mathematical sciences. Students are introduced to a range of tools that support mathematical communications, as well as the characteristics common to written and verbal communications practices within the field.
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:
Math 300 – Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics
This course explores the language of advanced mathematics to enable students to read, comprehend and create mathematical concepts and proof statements. Topics covered include basic logic, set theory, number theory and Euclidean algorithms. This course serves as a transition from lower-division calculus to advanced theoretical classwork math students take in their junior and seniors years.
Math 455 – Introduction to Discrete Structures
Coursework covers topics that come into play in computer science and engineering, such as spanning trees and matchings, graphs and trees, recursion and generating functions. Students learn to apply mathematical theory to concrete problems and use discrete modeling techniques. Students also break into groups and tackle a problem or concept tied to discrete mathematics and present their findings to the class as a final project.
Math 477 – Theory of Numbers
This course delves into theory of prime numbers, quadratic reciprocity, congruence arithmetic and continued fractions. Students learn to use computational computer algebraic software and apply theory to develop computational techniques and algorithms used in computer science and cryptography.
Of course, these are but a few of the many different mathematical courses students take while earning undergraduate degrees in math.
Learn More About the STEM Fields
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.
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:
“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.
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.