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What Is a Degree in Math and Why Is It Important?

A degree in math is a professional pathway for those interested in solutions and solving real-world problems. It's an important discipline to study because many roles require a basic or advanced understanding of mathematical concepts.

A person with a degree in math, writing equations on a dry erase board.

Mathematics is the study of quantity, structure, space and change. As abstract as that may seem, math is, at its core, a quest for absolutes, definitive solutions and answers. We may think of long numeric chains, seas of fractions or spreadsheets stacked with figures, but what many don’t realize is that math’s complex equations are, in fact, roads to simplicity. Believers in better, faster, smarter solutions are often drawn to math.

We need math. Galileo Galilei used it to explain the universe. Math resolves truths and uncovers errors, and it makes our work more credible. Reports, studies and research are all but discounted without quantifiable facts. Math equals proof. Math validates.

So, What Exactly is a Degree in Math?

Those who go to college to pursue a mathematics degree find out along the way that numbers are just a fraction of the allure. Math can teach us how to look longer and harder for solutions – a skill applicable to any career and life in general.

A bachelor's degree in mathematics fosters an appreciation for the role mathematics has played in society, from early times through the technological age. When you earn your BA in Mathematics online, you'll develop an advanced ability in mathematical methods, reasoning and problem-solving. Online math courses prepare you for careers that are not only versatile and command high salaries, but also have a high degree of job satisfaction.

The role of mathematician was ranked among the best jobs for 2019, according to a CareerCast report, based on factors such as environment, income, outlook and stress. The role of a statistician was ranked second, and actuary was 10th.

Online math courses can give you a solid grasp of mathematics as it relates to business, natural sciences and social sciences. Additionally, they can help you become proficient in communicating about math, both orally and in writing. By adding an applied mathematics concentration, you can learn how complex, real-world problems can be solved using mathematical concepts.

Tim McMillan and the text Tim McMillanAlthough Tim McMillan '15 was hesitant to return to school at the age of 30, he did it to advance his law enforcement career. "I was starting to move up the career ladder – getting a little older and more mature – and I knew the opportunities a degree could open up for me as I progressed throughout my career," he said.

McMillan chose to study math because it challenged him, and he quickly realized how useful the coursework was. "I began to see how mathematics was applicable to my job," he said. "Data analysis, applied statistics and applied mathematics are being used throughout the country and progressively in law enforcement agencies, and I wanted to be on the forefront."

Students enter online mathematics programs for many different reasons - professional success is just one of them. Many students also use the program to prepare themselves to continue in any of a number of graduate programs. The bachelor-level program is good preparation for graduate degrees such as MS in Data Analytics, Applied Economics and MBA degrees.

Jobs That Benefit from a Mathematics Degree

Whether you like mathematics or are even very good at it, math is around us all the time. When you're at the department store, balancing your checkbook or doing your taxes, mathematics is a necessary skill. It can even improve your sports game.

Many professions, such as engineering, medicine, physics, nurses, computer science and actuarial science, require math proficiency. Virtually all fields benefit from the analytical and problem-solving skills students learn in mathematics. Anyone entering a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career is expected to have harnessed basic and advanced math concepts.

Even professions as diverse as chefs or gardeners use math fundamentals when measuring and purchasing supplies. If you are an event planner, math will help you figure per-head costs and inventory. Sewists and decorators use math daily, as does anyone who works with measurements and schedules.

I Love Math. Now What?

Getting an online degree in mathematics opens up a world of possibilities for you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 30% growth in demand for mathematicians and statisticians through 2028, and, in 2019, they made a median salary of $92,030.

The amount of digitally stored data is projected to triple between 2019 and 2025 as more people and companies conduct business online and use social media, smartphones, and other mobile devices.* That means more businesses will seek mathematicians to analyze the large volumes of information collected. All this data will help companies grow, improve and develop new products and processes. Data analytics is also used to help businesses advertise to the right potential customers.

Mathematicians will also be needed to help information security analysts create data-security systems to protect the confidentiality and personal information of everyone with internet access.

Expect competition. Positions for mathematicians are coveted. Candidates with math degrees and a background in the field will undeniably have the upper hand. What is a degree in math at the graduate level? Added insurance. Strong quantitative and data analysis skills and experiences in a related discipline – such as business, computer science or statistics – are a definite addition to your resume.

You Don’t Have to be a Mathlete

Many people believe math talent is a born trait or something that is inherited. Not so, say researchers. Natural ability in math only gets you so far. Hard work and good study habits are far more valuable. As such, students entering college math degree programs aren’t the math-minded geniuses.

Some didn’t even like math growing up, according to a Quartz article that looks at why some kids excel at math and others don't. The author –  an economy professor – makes the case that something said by a grade school teacher years ago could be the reason a child is turned off to math or thinks they are bad at it. Some educators and parents also have a bad habit of labeling kids as either math kids or reading kids.

What Chromosomes Have to Do with It

Are boys better at math than girls? A 2018 Scientific American article suggests there is no discernible difference in math aptitude in preschool and elementary school. Then, starting in adolescence, some differences appear: boys often score higher than girls on the math portion of the SAT and other exams that aren't directly connected to their curriculum. Even though boys do better than girls on the SAT, those scores do not predict math performance in class. Girls outpace boys in the classroom.

If you think math just isn’t your thing, or have math anxiety but love finding solutions, it’s time to re-examine a math degree. Research proves that drive and desire, not natural ability, are the most important factors for success.

*According to page 6 of this PDF source: https://www.seagate.com/files/www-content/our-story/trends/files/dataage-idc-report-07-2020.pdf (viewed August 3, 2020)

Dale Stokdyk is a marketer passionate about STEM higher education. Follow him on Twitter @dalestokdyk or connect on LinkedIn.

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