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Learning mathematics is akin to learning a language. Just as we speak and write using symbols imbued with meaning, math majors become fluent in the language of numbers, distilling complex, real-world problems into mathematical equations, concepts, and principles that can then be, well, solved. The skills learned in an undergraduate mathematics program can run the gamut in terms of applicability in professional institutions. In short, every business needs someone who knows mathematics, whether or not mathematics are the directly related to the chief function of that business. Our world today runs just as much on the basis of numbers as words, and as such those who are proficient in speaking the language of numbers can find great opportunities for entry-level positions and successful careers beyond.
In the 2010-2011 academic year, about 17,000 degrees were awarded in the field of mathematics and statistics out of the 1.72 million total, clocking math majors at about 1% of the total.
The University of Georgia have compiled some interesting data about the mathematics major and its relation to other majors and occupations which you can find (here).
As mathematical concepts form the basis for many disciplines, an undergraduate degree in mathematics can potentially qualify you for a career in anything from computer science to astronomy.
First and foremost, studying mathematics is essentially the development of knowledge that can work within given sets of constraints. In order to work within these constraints, math majors, of course, develop what can be referred to as a sort of numerical literacy – a degree of familiarity and understanding necessarily comes about when you speak the language of mathematics as often as math majors do.
From working within the language and constraints of mathematics, math majors develop great analytical and logical thinking skills. From the most basic of mathematic principles to complex applications of calculus, math problems are solved through processes that adhere to logical progressions. Having a great working knowledge of not only these systems in particular, but also the notion of simply applying this now intuitive logical and analytical view in the face of problems is a hugely useful skill for math majors looking to apply what they know in a professional setting.
At the university level, mathematics have expanded beyond textbooks and problem sets. By the time you’ve arrived at upper-level mathematics courses such as discrete mathematics and topology, the scope of your studies has expanded beyond solving equations simply for the sake of solving them. As such, math majors develop great skills at applying their modes of thinking in order to do some real-world problem solving. Oftentimes, the problems at hand become quite complicated and multi-faceted, and as a result modeling becomes a key skill for math majors. Essentially, the ability to be given a complex set of data, theorize outcomes, apply logical systems, model, and solve is useful to just about any math-involved pursuit in the same way that, for those interested in the hard sciences, the scientific method underwrites most of their later work.
In addition, mathematics evolves beyond simply solving problems served up on a silver platter. Working to the use of proofs, math majors learn to prove and disprove mathematical arguments, deconstructing lines of logic piece by piece. This skill of creating coherent, mathematical arguments is one that many math majors will employ in the years beyond their undergraduate studies.
As a math major, you’ve likely had to conduct a presentation in some form or another, especially if you have conducted or plan to conduct a senior thesis. This shows that, while we all know that math majors are adept at burying themselves in textbooks for aeons at a time, they also develop skills in speaking, cooperation, and defending an argument.
Math majors also develop a great attention to detail. Not unlike their friends in the computer science department, the success or failure of solving equations can often be a matter of a single digit or operation. You’ve likely poured over material multiple times to find the one place where something went wrong, and then fixed it – this necessary focus on the little (but important) things, as well as the discipline to work through the problems that arise, facilitates a work ethic that is highly desirable to future employers, whether the field be specifically math-oriented or not.
Median Pay: $84,000
The chief function of an actuary is to predict. Using statistics, actuaries perform mathematica analyses in order to calculate possibilities – that an insurance company will have to pay out, most often, though actuaries are often employed in finance, sales, and marketing to project the performance of an product. In order to do so, actuaries often create their own mathematical formulas specific to a particular situation and set of constraints. For new graduates of undergraduate mathematics programs, the work of an actuary is directly related to and draws upon the past years of study, and are generally well-paying for entry-level positions.
Median Pay: $77,000
As companies grow and expand, become nation-wide and international, their processes of production, packaging, distribution, etc. grow increasingly more complicated. This is referred to as supply-chain, and math majors may well find a great position helping companies to run efficiently and profitably as logisticians. Overseeing these stages of producing, transporting, inventorying products, the work of a logistician is complex and highly variable. Working often with software tools that help to streamline supply-chain management as well as multiple external vendors, transporters, and related services, logistician positions require the analytical thinking, problem solving skills, and numerical efficiency held by newly-graduated math majors.
Market Research Analyst
Median Pay: $60,000
When companies want to sell a product, they need to understand who to sell it to and how to sell it to them. There are a number of different positions that contribute to this effort, from those that collect survey statistics to anthropologists and sociologist that conduct interviews. One of these roles is the market research analyst, who take statistics gathered and perform critical analysis in order to greater understanding their demographic and market, or even a new market to be broken into. Math majors who look for positions in market research will employ their problem solving and mathematical solving skills.
It can be a hugely marketable skill for math majors to have a working knowledge of computer programming languages such as HTML, CSS, Java, etc. There are many fields in which mathematics overlap with computer science – whether or not you’re hell-bent on entering one of these, having the experience on your résumé can potentially open the door to many opportunities.
In addition, the more a math major can link their theoretical studies to real-world applications, the better they will be able to apply such knowledge right out of the gate. While this doesn’t necessarily imply that mathematics majors need to walk around campus computing heights of buildings based off of shadow lengths, the more able you are to synthesize your mathematic knowledge into real-world problem solving, the better.
While it’s likely that you’ve run up against statistics at least once as a math major (or may understand the lion’s share of what’s involved based on the knowledge you already have), an ability to understand, calculate, and work with statistics is helpful to have for a math major in the career search.