How to Major in Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of numbers, shapes, quantities, and patterns. Math majors explore the relationships, rules, and formulas that govern the behavior of numbers and which, consequently, shape the world around us.
While it is easy to think of mathematics as highly theoretical (and it certainly can be), it is also one of the most practical fields you can study. Mathematics principles can be used to improve our comprehension of everything from the economy, public health, and resource distribution to weather, construction, and supply chain management. In fact, every major industry relies on the ability to analyze data and draw conclusions based on numerical values. If you love crunching numbers, are fascinated by patterns, and get a thrill out of making statistically-informed projections, mathematics may be the field for you.
If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Mathematics.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a mathematics major.
5 Reasons to Major in Mathematics
1.Mathematics majors are in demand.
The world runs on data. We need experts to analyze that data. Our highly complex way of life is built on calculations. We need experts to execute these calculations without errors. Math majors can do all of this and more. Because of these talents, students with degrees in math are in demand across a wide range of industries and professions.
2.Mathematics majors learn about the relationships that define our world.
At its most fundamental, math is a study of relationships, and how things in the world relate to one another, through concepts like quantity and positioning; growth or depletion; weight and size; pressure and force. Understanding numbers, and understanding these relationships, allows math majors to analyze and understand so many other concepts in life.
3.Mathematics majors can cause positive change.
Though often considered theoretical, mathematics can have very real effects in terms of how information is handled and used, how predictions are made and understood, how money is gained or lost, and much more. Mathematics majors don’t have to hide away in a university to study abstract concepts. They can work with think tanks that analyze economic growth, and make key recommendations that shape policy. As a math major, you can also pursue a teaching career, guiding underprivileged students toward success and social mobility by helping them master this difficult subject matter.
4.Mathematics majors have interesting careers.
Math majors can work in virtually any sector. Whether your interest is in finance, immigration, or transportation, there’s a math career for you. Mathematics professionals get to dig deep into data and find truths that others may not comprehend. Some math majors work in completely theoretical areas, solving centuries-old problems. Others teach teenagers and adults practical mathematics and advanced ideas. If numbers, patterns and shapes excite you, your career in math will not be boring.
5.Mathematics majors are influential.
Math is everywhere. Because of this, math professionals are constantly making progress that advances how we understand the world, how we live and interact with this world, and how we approach key decisions. Today, top influencers in mathematics are bringing new light to areas like digital signal processing, stochastic analysis, mathematical digital art, catastrophe theory, and much more.
Find out who the Most Influential People are in Mathematics today!
What Kinds of Mathematics Degrees Are There?
Mathematics degrees are available at every academic level. The level of degree that you need depends on your professional goals, as well as your interest in the field. As with other fields, your studies in mathematics will grow increasingly specialized as you climb higher, with master’s and doctoral students focusing in niche areas of mathematics.
- Associate in Mathematics (AA or AS): An associate degree in mathematics typically takes two years to complete and requires 60 credits. At this level, students develop a foundational knowledge of mathematics in courses covering topics such as calculus, statistics, differential equations, algebra, and number theory. Students emerge prepared for some entry level, clerical, and technician jobs, but will likely need a bachelor’s degree for most employment opportunities.
- Bachelor of Mathematics (BA or BS): A bachelor’s degree in mathematics typically takes four years to complete and requires 120 credits. Students at this level develop foundational and advanced knowledge in the field, through courses in subjects including applied mathematics, statistical analysis, linear algebra, vector calculus, and numerical analysis. Sometimes specializations are available in areas such as applied mathematics, computational mathematics, and statistics. Bachelor’s degree holders emerge prepared for entry-level positions as statisticians, data scientists, and actuaries.
- Master of Mathematics (MA or MS): A master’s degree in mathematics typically takes four years to complete and requires 30-45 credits. Master’s students develop advanced and specialized knowledge in the field, with concentration options in subjects such as algebra and number theory, functional analysis, and computational mathematics. Courses at this level cover topics such as numerical analysis, modern algebra, functions, and real variables. You may also study the history of mathematics with a focus on important historical literature, figures, and findings. Math masters programs typically require a research project or thesis for completion. Students emerge ready for advanced roles as actuaries, mathematicians, data scientists, and operations research analysts. Additionally, masters students may qualify to teach high school math, though you would likely need to take a requisite number of teaching courses and earn a teaching certificate for your state of residence.
- PhD in Mathematics: A PhD degree in mathematics is the highest level degree you can earn in the field. It typically takes three to five years to complete and requires a combination of advanced coursework, dissertation research and writing, lab work, instruction, and comprehensive exams. Students at this level prepare for advanced roles in the field, such as tenured mathematics professor, information science researcher, or data scientist for a high-profile project. At this level, you will already be well into your specialization area. Therefore, you may need to determine where to earn your doctoral degree based on how each school ranks for your specialization.
*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.
What Are Some Popular Mathematics Concentrations?
Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, the following are among the most popular mathematics concentrations:
- Applied Mathematics
- Computational Mathematics
- Algebra and Number Theory
- Functional Analysis
What Courses Will I Take as a Mathematics Major?
Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a mathematics major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as discrete mathematics and differential equations. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses that most interest you. As a mathematics major, you’ll have the chance to craft a well-rounded educational experience that ultimately furthers your professional goals.
Common mathematics courses include:
- Discrete Mathematics
- Differential Equations
- Linear Algebra
- Applied Partial Differential Equations
- Vector Calculus
- Numerical Analysis
- Differential Geometry
What Can I Do With a Major in Mathematics?
Majoring in mathematics prepares you for a variety of careers analyzing and interpreting numbers and data, whether real or hypothetical. With a mathematics major, you hone your skills of logic and analysis to organize numbers, find patterns, and predict outcomes. Your mathematics major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:
- Financial Analysts
- Mathematicians and Statisticians
- Operations Research Analysts
- High School Teachers
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
- Data Scientists
- Postsecondary Teachers
Curious how far you could go with a major in mathematics? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
Now that you know how to major in mathematics, check out The Most Influential Schools in Mathematics and get started on your path to a mathematics degree.