Best Careers for Math Majors

In a quality math program, you can develop strong critical thinking, analytical, and problem solving skills. These abilities dovetail nicely with what you’ll learn in class, and when you graduate, you’ll be prepared to find work in a variety of industries. As of 2015, the top 10 highest-earning and fastest-growing occupations in the country were STEM positions, a trend that demonstrates how valuable a math degree can be on the job market. Want more good news? In 2014, CareerCast chose “mathematician” as the best job in the United States, and statisticians and actuaries also ranked in the top four. Interestingly, students with a mathematics background have also outperformed most other majors on the LSAT and GMAT tests for nearly two decades. Regardless of your career ambitions, it’s clear that a math degree can help get you where you want to be.

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A math degree prepares graduates for a range of lucrative and rapidly-growing jobs. In today’s data-driven market, most employers favor the advanced analytical, problem solving, and statistical evaluation skills math degree-holders have. Math degrees remain popular among aspiring mathematicians and teachers, as well as scientists, technology professionals, engineers, and more.

The Bachelor’s in Math

The bachelor of science (BS) or bachelor of arts (BA) in math provides training in applied math, abstract mathematical concepts, and analytical reasoning. BS and BA programs attract students interested in advanced math, along with those looking to explore how math relates to computer science, engineering, and research. Math degrees typically build a foundation in college-level algebra and calculus, before progressing to differential equations, and multivariable calculus, and linear algebra. A capstone is typically required to demonstrate your skills within a particular specialization, if you choose to pursue one.

Specializations

With broad applications in math, science, and research, math majors can choose to specialize in a variety of concentrations. Students interested in becoming mathematicians or math teachers may choose the applied mathematics track, while others aspiring to a technology career might specialize in computer science. With dozens of possible concentrations, the following list is just a small selection of the most common specializations for math majors.

Actuarial Science

Actuarial science programs teach students to assess and quantify risk using a combination of mathematics, statistics, and economics. Coursework in this specialization typically focuses heavily on applied statistics and probability training. Some programs may require additional courses in business or economics to supplement this concentration. Graduates from an actuarial science program are also prepared to take the first of several certification exams required by professional actuarial organizations.

Applied (Pure) Mathematics

Programs in applied, or “pure” mathematics, study core logical, analytical, and mathematical reasoning concepts. Applied mathematics programs may be somewhat flexible and can be tailored to each student’s career goals within academia or another field. Students may select an additional area of interest or take interdisciplinary electives courses to fulfill program requirements. Graduates are prepared for advanced study in math or a related field.

Computer Science

Generally, computer science coursework provides an education in the study of information. Students explore methodical thinking and acute problem-solving techniques through research into algorithms and mathematical theory. Ideal for career applications in technology and IT fields, this specialization is offered by some schools as a minor or joint concentration alongside web development, electrical engineering, or interdisciplinary study.

Economics

Econ-math students build a strong foundation in both applied and theoretical economic concepts. The curriculum stresses the importance of math and statistics in the formation of modern economics through coursework in microeconomics, empirical analysis, and logical reasoning.

Statistics

Econ-math students build a strong foundation in both applied and theoretical economic concepts. The curriculum stresses the importance of math and statistics in the formation of modern economics through coursework in microeconomics, empirical analysis, and logical reasoning.

Sonja Fisher Senior Sales Engineer, Splunk

Dr. Fisher is a very accomplished technical professional and works as a senior sales engineer for Splunk. She recently completed her doctorate at Argosy University in Business focused on entrepreneurship in 2013, and her dissertation was published with her groundbreaking studies around Women in Information Technology Leadership. Dr. Fisher is also published in four national books and she is the CEO of “Nonstop 4 the Top,” which is dedicated to helping women succeed in business, technology and entertainment. She also co-founded the first national technical sorority, Alpha Sigma Kappa, Women in Technical Studies, and was Mrs. Corporate America in 2009.

What made you decide to be a math major?

I became a math major because I was always naturally good at math, ever since I was a child. In fact, in second grade I was one of the top performing flash-card winners, and I took calculus in the sixth grade. Since I have always loved solving problems and working with numbers, I decided to get a math degree in college. I completed over nine semesters of calculus and many other tough classes.

What skills did you learn while working toward your degree?

When I was working toward my math and statistic degrees, I really learned how to solve problems, reason, and think logically and creatively. The program taught me how to analyze situations and problems and then apply those skills to real world business cases. I also learned programming, due to the same line of thinking, and started to work with computers.

How have these skills helped you at work?

These skills have helped me greatly in my technical job as a sales engineer. I am able to analyze situations, grasp concepts quickly, and bring solutions to real world problems that help people and companies flourish in their businesses and overall goals.

Do you have any tips for math majors in terms of preparing for the workforce?

The biggest advice I have for math majors is that they need to really focus on soft skills just as much as they do on technical skills. Learn as much about business as you can. The really successful math major is one who can take technical concepts and apply them to real word situations to truly make a difference in the world. The more well-rounded you are, the more unique you are, thus increasing your opportunities.

While you should expect to develop strong critical thinking skills as you study, there are many other adaptable career skills you’ll learn in a quality math program. While coursework teaches students to solve complex equations using computation and logic, math majors also learn to translate applied mathematical abilities into practical skills in a variety of professional careers. The following are just some of the skills math students learn:

Data Analysis and Interpretation

Graduates with the ability to analyze and interpret data will be able to use those skills professionally. Exceptional data analysis and interpretation skills often complement other important career skills, such as communication and problem-solving.

Communication Skills

Math majors must learn to not only solve problems but effectively express these complex findings through written and verbal means that even laymen can understand. While communication may not seem to be a crucial skill in math, top graduates are capable of effectively presenting their research to any audience and in any professional setting.

Logical Reasoning

Students covering pure computational math concepts are simultaneously building highly adaptive logical reasoning skills. Employers prefer candidates with a high capacity for problem-solving, reasonable conflict-resolution, and decision-making, all skills learned as part of extensive curriculum in logical reasoning.

Organization

Whatever your profession, the ability to be organized is valuable. Advanced organization skills are an integral part of a math degree, teaching math majors to systematically collect, analyze, and process numbers and data. In any career, organized employees have a higher capacity for efficiency and effective time management.

Problem-Solving

While comprehensive math programs teach students to build computational problem-solving skills, they also train students to develop ways to apply these skills in a practical setting. Most work environments, regardless of industry or field, call for acute problem-solving and troubleshooting skills at one time or another. Skilled problem-solvers also tend to have the ability to apply advanced reasoning, strategizing, and decision-making tactics in the workplace.

Math majors tend to have a wider variety of career options than graduates from other programs. With a curriculum tailored specifically to a concentration, math degrees can prepare graduates for careers as mathematicians in applied “pure” math, as well as provide the data computing skills they need to work in tech. Math jobs are diverse enough to offer something for everyone, whether choosing a conventional role or exploring an interdisciplinary occupation.

Most programs encourage students to pursue their interests. With several specializations and focused career training available, graduates can expand their options in the workforce and gain experience in a variety of fields. For example, many schools will allow students with a specialization in science or engineering to take the bulk of their courses in this particular area of career training, while others offer business-specific courses related to math and statistics.

Common Career Paths

Advanced math skills can benefit job-seekers in a variety of traditional careers. Math jobs in actuary science, market research, or statistics, for example, are well-suited to graduates from an applied math program. Other conventional roles within science and industry include jobs for math majors as mathematicians or operations research analysts. Traditional math major jobs are ideal for those with extremely advanced math skills who can process detailed numerical data and solve complex problems. The following is a detailed look at some of the most common jobs for math majors.

Actuary

Math majors are a natural fit for actuary work. Actuaries are responsible for using math, statistics, and financial theory to quantify potential risk and uncertainty. They also can help clients minimize risk. While actuaries must be highly proficient in math and economics, they are also expected to have excellent communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, most employers expect job candidates to be well versed in computer science.

Ideal candidates for actuary jobs have at least a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics, actuarial science, or a related field. They must also have one of two available levels of professional certification: associate, for actuaries working in property and casualty insurance, or fellow, for those assessing life and health insurance, retirement benefits, and other investments.

Market Research Analyst

Market research analysts study current and forecasted market conditions to help companies assess future sales projections. Relying heavily on examining figures and prices, this occupation requires acute and precise mathematical abilities, along with a detail-oriented, organized, and analytical approach to processing information. Market research analysts are responsible for collecting and analyzing consumer data to help their clients successfully market their product.

Ideal candidates for positions in this field have a unique combination of technical math skills and creative sensibilities, as market researchers may be called upon to interpret their findings into visual graphs, charts, or written reports. For this, math majors interested in a career in market research should also have advanced communication and computer skills. Professionals in the field may find entry-level employment with a bachelor’s degree in math, computer science, or a related field, though some employers require a master’s degree. Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) is voluntary, but may give candidates a competitive edge in the workforce.

Mathematician

Mathematicians conduct research and adapt mathematical theories to practical applications in science, engineering, and industry. Professionals in the field may be classified as either applied mathematicians or theoretical mathematicians; applied mathematicians help solve practical problems in fields like pharmaceuticals and aerospace, while theoretical mathematicians are focused on innovative research and increased awareness within abstract math. Theoretical mathematicians with a terminal degree may also work as college math professors.

Ideal candidates are math experts with strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Mathematicians typically have at least a master’s degree in math, though some positions may require only a bachelor’s degree. Many mathematicians work in the federal government, while others work for private industries or schools.

Operations Research Analyst

Operations research analysts use math and analytics to help organizations streamline all functions to perform at their best. These professionals are involved in problem-solving and decision-making at every level of management, distribution, and logistics within an organization. In addition to advanced math and critical-thinking skills, operations research analysts should have adaptable communication and interpersonal skills.

Ideal candidates are organized and able to multi-task, with computer skills and an interest in relevant technology and software. Entry-level operations research analysts typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in math or another quantitative field, while many employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree. Most operations research analysts work in finance and insurance, though upper level positions in the government or military may require a background check for security clearance.

Statistician

Statisticians use math and statistical software to collect and analyze data and help solve practical problems in all types of business, commerce, and industry. Professionals in this occupation are well-versed in traditional math such as algebra and calculus, along with probability and statistical theory. In addition to having advanced math and problem-solving skills, statisticians should have extensive communication and analytical abilities.

Math majors interested in statistician jobs may pursue additional coursework in a particular concentration, such as computer science, engineering, or physics, depending on their career goals. Most employers prefer at least a master’s degree for statistician jobs; advanced positions in research and academia require a PhD.

Outside-the-Box Career Paths

Math majors are qualified for a variety of careers outside of traditional math and science fields as well. While a career in mathematics or statistics is an obvious choice for a math program graduate, some may choose to apply their advanced problem-solving, data analysis, and communication skills in an entirely different sector of the economy. Below, we’ve covered a few of the most exciting and unconventional careers a math major can pursue after college.

Aerospace

Aerospace attracts professionals with a unique combination of skills in math, engineering, drafting, and computer science. A math program in which students can gain additional training in science and technology can lead to a career as an aerospace engineer, product and parts manufacturer, or research scientist in the field. Beyond demonstrating advanced critical-thinking and communication skills, math majors with mechanical skills who are detail-oriented are well-suited to a career in this industry.

Entry-level job seekers should have at least an associate degree in engineering technology, although mid-senior positions may require a higher degree; some schools offer vocational programs that combine comprehensive engineering coursework and professional training with advanced math. Though voluntary, professionals may also pursue certification through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Computer Science

Math majors gain core skills that are crucial to computer science professions. In addition to learning advanced problem-solving and analytical skills, aspiring computer science professionals in a math program will learn to foster ingenuity, a unique requirement in the field. For example, information security analysts work within the IT department of a company or organization to manage network security, staying abreast of the latest innovations in technology to stay one step ahead of cyber attackers.

Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, programming or other computer-related field, though students who specialized in computer science as math majors be well-suited to this industry, as a well-rounded computer education is acceptable for many entry-level positions.

Finance

Finance is a natural fit for math majors. Graduates from a math program can work in a variety of positions, from financial advisors and analysts to loan officers and insurance underwriters. For most occupations in finance, entry-level job-seekers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and work experience is preferred by most employers. In some cases, such as for mortgage loan officer jobs, candidates must be licensed to practice in their state, though certification requirements vary according to specialization and hiring organization.

Teaching

Math majors, especially those pursuing applied or “pure” math, are well-suited to teaching careers in this subject. Graduates of a bachelor’s degree math program who have obtained state-issued certification or licensure are eligible for entry-level middle school and high school teaching jobs. Beyond the advanced problem-solving and logical thinking learned in a traditional math program, math majors should be patient, resourceful, and have strong listening and communication skills.

  • Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators: The largest professional organization for K-12 math teachers, the AMTE site provides a members forum, job listings, and continuing education opportunities.
  • American Mathematical Society: AMS serves not only a national but an international community of math analysts, scholars, and educators. The organization distributes publications, hosts events, and offers other fellowship/education programs to encourage professional development.
  • American Statistical Association: The largest global assembly of statisticians, the ASA offers education, advocacy, and accreditation to promote professional development and innovative practice of statistical science.
  • Association for Women in Mathematics: AWM supports female participation in math-based education, research, and science by promoting programs that increase awareness, encourage career training, and offer equal opportunities for women in mathematics.
  • Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences: CBMS encompasses 17 professional societies, each targeting a concentration or area of specialty within professional mathematics. The Board aims to not only spread awareness of global applications of mathematics in education and research, but also promote inter-disciplinary collaboration among the societies under their leadership.
  • Mathematical Association of America: MAA is the country’s largest assembly of professional programs for scholars, educators, scientists, and statisticians still in school. The organization focuses its efforts in five core initiatives: education, research, professional development, public policy, and public appreciation.
  • National Association of Mathematicians: NAM is committed to offering continuing education opportunities and professional resources to minorities who are working in mathematics in America.
  • Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics: SIAM aims to promote collaboration and combined initiatives between applied mathematics and related fields including science and technology. The organization hopes to reinforce the problem-solving-power of strengthening the bond between computational science and math, through conferences, membership events, and publications.
  • Society of Actuaries: SOA is the world’s oldest and largest actuary organization, founded in 1889 and now boasting a membership of more than 26,000. The gold standard of actuarial professional resources, the society promotes high-quality continuing education, research, and volunteer opportunities.
  • TODOS: Mathematics for All: TODOS is committed to promoting equality among mathematics education programs for all demographics, including specifically Latino and Latina students.