As the global economy relies more and more on data and problem-solving skills, math degrees have become increasingly valuable. Today, math careers stretch beyond teaching, accounting, and research to include cryptography, consumer analysis, economics, and financial management. To prepare for life after graduation, math majors should begin researching career options and arranging their internships, research, and elective coursework accordingly. The sooner students begin their job search, the better.
Mathematicians and statisticians are in demand, but have to work to find the right positions with the right employers. Math majors have many options for putting their degrees to work. As in many knowledge-dependent fields, math-related positions are higher paying for employees with master's degrees and doctorates. Some fields, such as biostatistics or postsecondary education, may require graduate degrees, while others like actuarial science may open up to qualified degree holders who obtain national certification.
Skills Gained in a Math Program
Mathematicians build careers on their ability to look at complex data sets and problems, make sense of them, and order them logically toward potential solutions. All levels of mathematicians rely on reasoning, thinking, logic, and analysis skills, all of which are integral to the math discipline. Math programs call for skills-based learning, whether students are examining pure math theory or applying math concepts to real-world scenarios.
- Critical Thinking
Mathematicians often need to show the steps they took to arrive at the solution to a problem, or demonstrate the logic behind a procedure. These are critical-thinking skills, and they are often woven into math program curricula at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
- Quantitative Reasoning
Quantitative reasoning draws on basic mathematical skills to apply quantitative information to a problem to produce a relevant conclusion. It combines pure math with critical thinking, and many employers are actively seeking job applicants who have this skill. Many math courses include quantitative reasoning.
- Problem Solving
Math educators often consider problem solving the primary focus of math teaching. This skill uses logic to apply mathematical knowledge to everyday problems. Corporations and government agencies also need problem solvers who approach situations with precise, logical, and data-based thinking to assess problems' impacts and identify potential solutions.
- Time Management
Time management is important for student success in school and for employees in the workplace and family members at home. Time management analysts can save corporations massive amounts of money in lost productivity, logistics, and processes. This skill draws from both pure math and mathematical logic.
- Analytical Thinking
Analysis is a methodical, step-by-step approach to problem solving. The analytical thinker breaks down a problem into small, solvable chunks, and builds toward the global answer using its individual parts. Analytical thinking is foundational to solving mathematical problems and defining solutions for an employer. Most math degrees include significant coursework in analysis.
Why Pursue a Career in Math?
One major misconception about getting a math degree is that all math majors become high school teachers. In reality, a bachelor's degree or higher in math can open the door to many interesting and lucrative applied mathematics careers. Math majors qualify for many top jobs, as defined by earning potential. Senior-level positions requiring data collection and analysis are a perfect fit for math graduates. It takes a skilled mathematician to sort through and interpret companies' massive data banks.
Most sectors of the economy are open to mathematically skilled professionals. Business, finance, law, and national security, for example, all need high-level data interpreters. Experts in math are bridging skills gaps in engineering, too, and in other careers requiring abstract logic. Math is often called the "queen of sciences," since it uses both logic and quantitative reasoning. Other fields, therefore, require mathematically skilled professionals to help create reasonable, data-based, and efficient solutions to their problems. Math majors can look forward to a lifetime of creative and critical thinking in engineering, science, business, technology, and other industries.
How Much Do Math Majors Make?
Early-career math employees may receive lower pay, but wages generally improve with time and experience. Some industries, such as cryptography, economics, and actuarial science, pay more than others, like middle grades education. Typically, members of the management team in any industry earn higher salaries than other employees. Location also matters when calculating math majors' potential salaries, since mathematicians in southern California and Washington, D.C., tend to earn higher wages than those in the rest of the country. Finally, mathematicians with master's degrees or doctorates often earn more than those with only bachelor's degrees.
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.
How to Work in the Math Field
Earn Your Degree
Typically, all sectors of the economy are concerned with the quantitative outcomes: they want to see how the employees, organizations, and product lines are performing. Math majors are well positioned to help firms answer questions using analysis, statistics, and computational thinking. Students who major in math acquire skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and quantitative reasoning that can lead to careers in accounting, actuarial science, statistics, economics, or market research. Some mathematicians also work as researchers, teachers, or curriculum developers focused on math education.
The minimum requirement to work in the math field is usually a college degree. Employers give preference to applicants with master's degrees or doctorates. Undergraduate math curricula usually focus on operations research, scientific mathematics, or secondary education. These degrees emphasize the process of learning math. Graduate studies in math, however, inculcate much more independent research, often culminating in a unique project. They are more focused on the discipline itself than bachelor's programs are. Doctorate students can often choose among pure math, applied math, and math education as their emphasis. Doctoral programs typically conclude with a dissertation or applied research project, contributing new knowledge to the field.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Be a Math Professional?
Most students take two years to finish an associate degree in math, and at least two more to complete a bachelor's degree. By taking their degree online, however, students expose themselves to a myriad of factors that can affect the length of their academic programs. Some schools offer a generous transfer policy, accepting up to 90 credits earned elsewhere, while other institutions impose stricter guidelines.
A few colleges give life experience credit or credit for CLEP tests while others do not. Some institutions maintain relationships with other schools, so students may jointly enroll. Some online programs are self-paced, meaning students select how many courses they want to take at once, and in what order they want to take them. Other schools require students to join a cohort in which all members progress through the degree together, graduating on the same day. All these variables affect degree length.
Concentrations Available for Math Majors
- Actuarial Science
Actuarial science concentrations can lead to careers in statistics, insurance, or higher education. The curricula is usually designed to help students pass a national certification exam for actuaries. Coursework may include corporate finance, linear regression, economics, and property and casualty analytics. Some schools also require students to complete an actuarial internship.
Average Salary: $61,000
- Computer Information Systems
This degree prepares students to work in management information systems by emphasizing hands-on learning in cybersecurity, software development, and game programming. Courses draw from information technology, software, engineering, computer languages, and network fundamentals. Some programs also include a one- to three-credit practicum, and a senior project.
Average Salary: $73,000
- Computer Science
Besides courses in pure and applied mathematics, statistics, engineering math, and math education, computer science concentrations include technical disciplines in computer science and mathematics. Students gain computational-thinking and problem-solving skills in classes such as data structures and business systems. Many courses require labs, and the program may have internship requirements.
Average Salary: $89,000
This concentration prepares students for futures in data science, biostatistics, or math research. Statistics concentrations usually include courses such as advanced multivariate calculus, linear algebra for applied mathematics, and probability and statistics. Some programs also require coursework in public health, epidemiology, or computer programming languages.
Average Salary: $67,000
- Mathematics Education
Aspiring math educators must complete their individual state's math knowledge requirements. They complete a student teaching assignment, in addition to coursework such as abstract algebra, mathematical modeling, geometry, and technology in the math classroom. Some states also require teachers to take history of math.
Average Salary: $54,000
Economics is sometimes described as the real-world application of pure math. This concentration combines analytics and social studies with the quantitative skills native to mathematics. Economics courses include microeconomic theory, econometrics, and statistics. Students may choose additional coursework in international trade, public finance, or game theory.
Average Salary: $68,000
What Can You Do with a Math Degree?
Math is a high-need field in today's globally connected business and technology environment. Companies rely heavily on mathematicians to analyze and interpret data, track income and expenses, and develop computer information systems. The U.S. government is a major provider of math jobs that emphasize cryptography, cybersecurity, and economics. Teaching is another field that many math majors explore. Public and private schools at all levels need qualified math educators, so the teaching field is wide open for new graduates.
Most careers for math majors require a bachelor's degree to get started, and a master's degree can open many more doors in education, computer science, and statistics. Graduate study prepares professionals for leadership roles, such as senior data analyst and senior application developer. Finally, a doctorate in math can lead to positions in higher education, or senior executive roles in the corporate world.
Associate Degree in Math
An associate degree can open a number of jobs that require math, especially ones in accounting or education. Many students earn associate degrees, secure relevant jobs, and continue to study toward bachelor's degrees. This system helps cover educational costs, while giving learners hands-on experience in their professions. The degree can also give a strong mathematical foundation to those hoping to gain a bachelor's degree in a related field such as engineering, statistics, or computer science. Aspiring math teachers can use an associate degree in the subject to start out as tutors or teaching assistants until they complete state teaching license requirements.
- Accounting Supervisor
An accounting supervisor oversees the work of a small accounting team. They may also take responsibility for customer service in a small company. These professionals review financial information, verify its accuracy, and prepare relevant reports for management. They also maintain extensive documentation of their team's work to comply with regulatory requirements.
- Accounts Payable Clerk
Accounts payable clerks handle payable functions for employers, such as accounting firms or departments. They need to be precise and accurate in their work, and able to easily spot math errors. These professionals may do data entry, prepare financial statements, and manage vendor relationships.
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, or Auditing Clerk
Clerks work in payroll or accounting departments to maintain ledgers, deposit checks, and process accounts. Some clerks do bookkeeping for auditors or CPAs, and must be able to use basic bookkeeping software like QuickBooks. Most clerks have strong math skills and good interpersonal relations.
- Teaching Assistant
Usually employed in K-12 school settings, teaching assistants work with qualified classroom teachers to provide subject matter instruction to learners in the classroom. Teaching assistants may work with small groups of advanced students, or assist those who may not meet state standards in the subject.
A tutor works one-on-one or in small group settings to help learners master subject content. Math tutors may focus on elementary arithmetic, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, or geometry, or another math specialization. Some tutors are self-employed, while others work for an agency or in the public school system.
Bachelor's Degree in Math
Earning a bachelor's degree in math prepares students to launch lucrative careers in actuarial science, computer engineering, or data analysis. These students develop skills in logic, analysis, and statistics, plus knowledge of fundamental math concepts. Future teachers can pursue a bachelor's in math education to prepare for state licensure as a math teacher. Schools nationwide are experiencing a shortage in qualified math educators, putting this degree in high demand. A bachelor's degree in math or math education elevates students' understanding of math from the intermediate level.
Actuaries perform extensive data analysis to help insurance companies reduce risk exposure. These professionals manage risk using data acquisition, synthesis, analysis, and application. Skills in financial analysis, financial modeling, and pricing can benefit an actuary's career. A math degree is essential to this career.
- Software Engineer
Software engineers work with designers, programmers, and coders to turn different types of software into functional programs for the end user. Engineers help plot tasks, write code, test software, and document testing results.
Mathematicians conduct research to expand existing knowledge in math fields including algebra, logic, and geometry. They also perform computations and apply mathematical reasoning to problems in everyday life and work. Knowing and using programming languages can expand mathematicians' relevant skills.
- Data Analyst
Data analysts gather information, usually through surveys, to create data reports using questions and search strings. Data analysts need excellent computer skills, including knowledge of databases. They must also be able to communicate with the general public, plus their colleagues and managers.
- Risk Analyst
Risk analysts work in insurance companies and banks to verify clients' information, helping the company determine the level of risk in providing client services. Risk analysts need to be detail-oriented, have good people skills, and understand the fundamentals of finance.
Master's Degree in Math
Earning a master's degree in math can qualify students for new career positions, such as actuary, investment analyst, sports analyst, or teacher. Many senior management positions in technology and computer science also require a master's degree in a math-related field. Teachers who hold a bachelor's degree can increase their earning power with a master's in math education. This degree emphasizes teaching and learning mathematics in the classroom, as opposed to mathematical theory or financial math. A master's degree also positions math students to continue their education through a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program, which requires significant research.
- Senior Software Engineer
Senior software engineers combine attention to detail and multitasking skills with a knowledge of web coding and applied math to prepare for their careers. These professionals lead teams that create, modify, and debug software for client applications. They also manage priorities, help the team stick to timelines, and test software.
- High School Teacher
High school teachers educate students in grades 9-12. They prepare lessons, deliver lectures, oversee projects, and grade assignments. They may also serve on faculty committees. Math teachers must hold state certification, be deeply knowledgeable about mathematics education, and have classroom management skills.
- Senior Data Analyst
Often employed in marketing or finance, senior data analysts oversee teams that collect, organize, and analyze data. Senior data analysts report their findings to executives who make decisions based on data. A background in statistics, computer science, and business helps prepare senior data analysts to succeed.
- Senior Project Manager, Information Technology
Information technology is a fast-paced, ever-changing industry, and senior project managers must keep up with trends and information in order to keep their employers' technology up-to-date and functional. As senior managers, these professionals often supervise teams of project managers by setting goals, assigning work, and mediating conflict.
- Senior Application Developer
Senior application developers are often senior employees, with many years of experience and a master's degree. They use programming languages and coding to create new software and apps. The position requires deep knowledge of programming languages and design, plus leadership skills for team management. Senior application developers can earn joint degrees in math and computer science.
Doctoral Degree in Math
Math doctoral students can emphasize computational math, applied mathematics, or math education. In pure math, students focus on solving problems, while in math education, learners often develop new ways of teaching K-12 math students. In any case, a doctorate requires rigorous coursework, and contributes valuable new research and understanding to the field. Some positions, such as university professor or lead biostatistician, require doctoral degrees. Other roles, like chief technology officer, may open more easily to applicants with the most advanced degrees.
- Postsecondary Professor
Postsecondary professors may teach at a community college, four-year institution, or graduate school. Math professors usually teach courses, advise students, develop curricula, and conduct research. He or she may also provide consulting services to industrial clients and lead teams of researchers, and make public presentations.
- Chief Technology Officer
CTOs hold the highest-ranked positions in technology in their companies. CTOs are responsible for all technology-related decisions, and therefore need to do extensive research, vision casting, and strategic planning for their organizations. CTOs usually lead teams within their information technology departments.
- Senior Biostatistician
Conducting research using biostatistical analysis, senior biostatisticians focus on the design and analysis of clinical trials. Senior biostatisticians provide complex statistical expertise to product developers, team leaders, and publications. Due to their professional stature, senior biostatisticians often lead teams of statistical programmers in pharmaceutical companies. These positions usually require a doctorate.
- Lead Data Scientist
Often employed in information technology, lead data scientists help businesses solve problems by looking for solutions in the data patterns. Because they often analyze massive amounts of information, lead data scientists need advanced technological and mathematical skills. They also need the leadership skills to manage a team of other data scientists.
- Financial Engineer
Financial engineers create the analytical and mathematical tools used in financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, and mutual fund brokers. These professionals need deep knowledge of economic theory, statistics, and applied math. In the workplace, they typically straddle the finance and technology departments, meaning they also need extensive knowledge of computer programming.
Unexpected Careers for Math Majors
Math careers are not limited to teaching, research, and accounting, and not all math majors have to focus on statistics to find well paying jobs. Math is a versatile major, equipping students with skills in calculation, problem solving, and logic. It can launch students into careers in business, criminal justice, research, and even meteorology. Even fields that traditionally employed liberal arts majors are now reaching out for graduates with skills in quantitative methodology and data analysis.
Math majors can complement their studies with coursework in healthcare, technology, banking, or psychology to open even more diverse fields of work. Today's job market reflects an economy dependent on data, information, and precision, and a bachelor's degree in math can also serve as a solid foundation for graduate coursework in medicine, law, business, or computer science.
- Production Supervisor
Usually employed in industrial and manufacturing industries, production supervisors manage divisions within plants. They require a knowledge of logistics, leadership, productive, and analysis. Most production supervisors hold at least a bachelor's degree in business or financial math, and many earn certification with the association for operations management.
Average Salary: $56,979
- Operations Research Analyst
Operations research analysts need critical thinking skills, college math, and technology know-how to evaluate their employers' operational processes. These professionals use their skills in statistics, trend analysis, and data analytics to perform actionable research. Applied mathematics jobs like this require a bachelor's degree, and usually industry certification, as well.
Average Salary: $75,770
- Insurance Underwriter
Strong skills in financial analysis help insurance underwriters assess risk, analyze payments, and determine if their companies should insure a prospective client. Starting in this field usually requires a math-related bachelor's degree, preferably in accounting or finance, plus certification or training as an underwriter.
Average Salary: $55,076
- Fraud Investigator
Fraud investigators help determine whether individuals or companies committed an illegal act for private gain with the intent to deceive and defraud the victim. These professionals need a deep knowledge of financial math, computer science, criminal justice, and communication studies to do their jobs.
Average Salary: $59,529
Meteorologists observe and predict the weather, for both the general public and private clients. Weather forecasting requires strong math skills and atmospheric science knowledge, plus good communication abilities. Meteorologists must be able to assimilate complex data into easily readable graphs, reports, and presentations, which is a skill acquired in many college math curricula.
Average Salary: $54,358
Where Can You Work as a Math Professional?
Math careers include some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in the United States. Still, not all positions pay equally well. Mathematicians working in urban areas with a high concentration of technology or healthcare firms generally earn more than math teachers in small towns. As in many fields, cross-disciplinary knowledge improves job security and wages. Mathematicians who combine their love of problem solving with technology skills and national security studies typically outearn teachers, accountants, and bookkeepers.
According to the BLS, states with large urban areas, such as California, Florida, Texas, and Illinois, are home to many professional mathematicians. The Washington, D.C., area is a high-employment region for math graduates, as well. These states also boast the highest salaries for careers in mathematics and statistics. When considering relocation, students and young professionals should not only think of job availability and salary, but also quality of life and cost of living. Math teachers are in high demand nationwide, both for K-12 schools and community colleges.
- Software Development
Software developers must use extensive mathematical logic and discrete math. In fact, software development majors and math majors can sometimes build curricula that are cross-pollinated with courses from other disciplines.
Average Salary: $85,036
- Insurance and Financial Services
Careers for math majors in financial services include actuarial analyst, investment analyst, CPA, and private wealth manager. Students looking for these jobs may emphasize financial mathematics in their majors.
Average Salary: $76,770
- Advertising, Branding, and Sales Promotions
Math majors can employ their problem-solving skills as market research analysts for marketing and advertising firms. They also create algorithms that track the sale of specific products and services.
Average Salary: $69,169
K-12 education is a consistent field, and postsecondary education is a rapidly expanding one. Schools and colleges across the country grapple with a serious shortage of qualified math teachers.
Average Salary: $59,016
Management and business transformation consulting can be a highly lucrative field. Professionals assess client problems, design business plans, train clients in solutions, and evaluate program effectiveness. Statistics, program management, and financial planning are key skills in this industry.
Average Salary: $74,442
An aging population, coupled with advances in life-saving technology, makes healthcare one of the world's fastest growing industries. Mathematicians help develop new imaging systems, pharmaceuticals, and epidemiological mapping.
Average Salary: $74,901
How Do You Find a Job as a Math Professional?
Jobs in the field of mathematics are growing in number and complexity. Private companies and federal agencies are looking for statisticians, particularly those with quantitative and data analysis skills. Almost all jobs for math majors require a bachelor's degree for entry-level work. Before job seeking, students can enhance their resumes by adding a master's degree in a math-related subject, or by earning a professional certificate in a field such as software development or project management.
Math majors can begin their job search using an online resource such as OnlineMathDegrees.org, the Society of Actuaries, or TODOS: Mathematics for ALL. Joining a professional association can help math majors start networking at professional conferences and through online discussion forums. Many math majors also attend federal job fairs, since the U.S. government is the largest employer of mathematicians and statisticians.
Professional Resources for Math Majors
- Plus Magazine: An internet magazine filled with articles and podcasts covering all areas of mathematics, Plus Magazine is part of the Millennium Mathematics Project in the United Kingdom. Besides reading reviews, watching videos, and solving puzzles, students can also submit articles to Plus for potential publication.
- Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics: SIAM supports more than 20 active research focus groups. Members are involved in applied geometry, control and systems theory, linear algebra, and discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science. Students can join chapters to take advantage of conferences, an online jobs board, fellowships, internships, and prizes.
- Actuary.Com: Actuary.com offers a complete online library of resources for actuaries, including information on jobs, schools, recruiters, and exams. Students can search jobs, post resumes, and contact recruiters on the page. They can also learn more about actuarial exam courses and study materials, and read career advice and job search tips on the site.
- National Security Agency Career Information: The NSA's career page contains information about intelligence careers, benefits, diversity, cyber careers, and career development. Its student portal offers extensive resources on beginning a career in the NSA, and what life is like for young agency professionals. Many intelligence careers require a strong academic background in math.
- American Statistical Association: ASA has focused on statistics, statistics professions, and statistics education since its founding in Boston in 1839. The organization's members come from more than 90 countries, and support its vision of an improved world through statistics. ASA provides publications, meetings membership services, advocacy, accreditation, and education.
- Association for Women in Mathematics: Founded in 1971, AWM now maintains a membership of more than 3,000 women and men from the math community in the United States and around the world. The organization focuses on creating opportunities for women and girls in math, plus advocating for equal treatment and opportunity of women in mathematics. AWM offers a jobs board, prizes, grants, conferences, and lectures.
- Mathematical Association of America: Composed of students, teachers, and STEM professionals, MAA seeks to build an inclusive community that offers teaching and learning resources for mathematicians. Members can participate in one of numerous MAA-sponsored competitions, and improve their professional knowledge and skills through webinars and events. The organization also offers grants, including the National Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.
- National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: NCTM boasts more than 60,000 members in 230 affiliates across the United States and Canada. The organization provides teachers with classroom resources, publishes relevant standards, and contributes to research and advocacy activities. NCTM members can attend webinars, research conferences, and national and regional symposiums as well as apply for grants and awards.
- American Mathematical Society: Founded in 1888, AMS supports mathematical research, math education, and the math professions. The society supports and publishes research, advocates for funding, and collaborates across industries to benefit mathematics professions. AMS offers a job board, a bookstore, and extensive publications as well as grants and prizes to members.
- Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators: AMTE comprises more than 1,000 math educators working in PK-college classrooms, and members have access to an annual conference, webinars, and other professional learning options. The organization also publishes Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal) and Mathematics Teacher Educator.