What Can You Do with a Math Degree?
Your math degree can have more career applications than you might think. You may be surprised to realize how many jobs use the strong mathematical, problem-solving and logical thinking skills that come with your completion of a mathematics program.
Is Math a Good Major? Are Math Majors in Demand?
The career possibilities for someone with a math degree are diverse; it’s not just about strictly having math-focused jobs – teacher, tutor, mentor. Math is a good major because it teaches you not only about mathematics itself, but also how to use critical thinking and problem solving that are applicable in nearly any job.
Math majors are in demand because they're versatile; with the analytical skills you learn in your mathematics program, you make yourself more valuable to potential employers, offering a multifaceted approach to accomplishing business objectives across a variety of industries.
Is Getting a Math Degree Worth It?
There are many transferable skills and knowledge sets that make your math degree worth it. Dr. David Sze is the technical program facilitator in mathematics at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), and he notes these three specific areas of math-degree expertise:
- Logical reasoning: Recognize valid, partially (informally) valid, and invalid logic
- Analytic thinking: Determine what can be measured and analyzed quantitatively
- Modeling: Restate a real-world problem as a math model to be solved
Sze also noted important and helpful non-math attributes you’ll acquire:
- Communication: Written and oral, particularly to consumers of information who usually have a lower level of mathematical expertise
- Teamwork: Especially with non-math majors – be able to view the team goals in addition to individual math work goals
Sze suggests considering a double major or concentration in a field-specific discipline. “My children had applied math majors, but my son doubled in economics, my daughter in computer science. They wanted to show a balance (of skills),” he said. Sometimes in fields like computer science and IT professions “more well-defined (degrees) are requested. But a math degree provides those transferable skills.”
What Jobs Can You Get with a Math Degree?
Different levels of mathematics degrees and expertise open different career options, Sze said. Statistics and related studies could include marketing research (forecasting, advertising); financial analysis (stocks, portfolios); providing statistical analysis as a part of a larger engineering, science, business, social science research, etc., team (often requires a more advanced degree); or pharmaceutical research (often requires a Ph.D.).
Operations research / math modeling (overlaps with statistics) might include efficiency and performance studies, economic modeling or investment analysis (some models require a more advanced degree).
Areas where more advanced work requires a lot of math include Cryptography and data security (private and public sectors); Computer science; and Scientific and engineering research.
Here are a few other jobs that involve math, but that you may not have immediately considered.
- Actuary – The Society of Actuaries defines actuaries as those who measure and manage risk. They have a deep understanding of mathematics, statistics and business management. A lot of people with math degrees (often a masters) are going into the actuarial field, Sze said, and the skills they learned help them achieve their certification. “There is a series of exams to become an actuary; one is just straight math. Math skills are critically important,” Sze said. “Lots of insurance companies hire (actuaries); they are in high demand. Actuarial work is a very specialized field. You start off really mathematical, and then get trained in the actuarial aspects.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for actuaries was $108,350 in May 2019.
- Market Research – Sze used the example of one acquaintance whose undergraduate mathematics degree included a concentration in statistics. She went on to work in market research and business analysis. “For example, is a coupon more effective to get new customers or retain existing ones? They used to just do focus groups. Nowadays, data is collected and analyzed. It’s much more mathematical than it was 20 years ago,” Sze said.
As a market research specialist and analyst, you can also evaluate web advertising for efficacy. And more companies are creating positions to have these specialists on staff.
“Tons of data can be collected and evaluated,” Sze said. “If you’re a big corporation who’s spending millions on advertising, you can afford to have a dedicated statistician to study what’s working.”
The BLS reports a market research analyst can achieve a median salary of $63,790.
- Jobs on Wall Street – It's not just stock brokers who work on Wall Street. There are also financial research firms where your math degree will be a highly sought asset. “One theory (used on Wall Street) is the Black–Scholes model. It’s tremendously mathematical, and used to figure how much stock options should be worth, the cost and economic impact,” Sze said. “You have to be close to an advanced degree. They pay very well. And if you can create a math model better than someone else, you can be very successful.”
- Finance and Predictive Analysis – This type of financial analysis and predictive modeling is also in demand off Wall Street. “Regular companies still have a need to manage their money and investments,” Sze said, and have those analysts within their organizations as well.
A mathematical education can qualify you to help a business find more efficient and cost-effective practices. Sze said he once had a job “trying to calculate how many people (my employer) needed to have in a call center – too many and you're wasting money; too few and customers give up and complain of poor service. I knew call quantity varied by time and day, and they scheduled the workers in staggered shifts. I needed to predict and meet that need. In my case, it was a high visibility task, with 100,000 employees in the call center. If I could improve things by cutting just 1% of costs via more efficient scheduling, that was highly significant,” he said.
- Statistics – Statisticians are in high demand. One example is the pharmaceutical industry; they are using on-staff statisticians as well as high-end statistical software. Sze said that many Fortune 500 companies use this software, and need an educated person to run the analysis. “The person who uses the software at the company needs math skills. And pretty much all companies need that analysis,” he said.
BLS predicts a 30% growth rate for mathematicians and statisticians from 2018 to 2028, reporting a median annual wage for mathematicians as $105,030 and $91,160 for statisticians, as of May 2019.
- Law – You may not immediately think of law as a math-related field, but the skills you’ve learned translate well, Sze said.
“Several of my math major friends went to law school,” he said. “There’s a lot of logical thinking, deductive reasoning … that’s something you learn in a lot of math courses. A lot of law schools are looking for those skills. The LSAT admission test is a lot of math and logical thinking.”
Your Math Degree Matters
Whether you choose to apply your math skills and knowledge to a career in education, or find business applications that suit your other interests in a completely different industry, your math degree can give you the confidence to tackle complex problems and advance your career.
Kathleen Palmer is an award-winning journalist and writer.