An understanding of how to work with numbers is valuable in fields ranging from government to business to the tech sector, and that is one reason why a math degree is a marketable credential.
Workers with impressive quantitative abilities are attractive to employers in general, so they aren’t automatically destined to become high school math teachers or college math professors. Although an education career is one way to apply a math degree, there are many math-related professional endeavors outside academia.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage among U.S. mathematicians in May 2019 was $105,030. The BLS predicts that the number of employed mathematicians will be 26% higher in 2028 than it was in 2018: a job growth forecast that the bureau characterizes as “much faster” than the norm among all occupations combined, which is only 5%.
“I would say that you can do just about anything with a math degree,” says Jason Howell, director of undergraduate studies in mathematical sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
A degree in the field “does a really good job of preparing students to be all-purpose problem-solvers,” Howell says. Although math grads don’t necessarily use “advanced mathematics” in their careers, he explains, the analytical skills cultivated via a math degree are valuable in nearly any field since those skills can help identify solutions in challenging situations.
According to Howell, math differs in a meaningful way from pure science disciplines in STEM such as chemistry, physics and biology. “We work in more general terms on more abstract problems, whereas in the sciences, like the wet lab sciences, you’re working specifically with materials or chemicals or life’s biological systems.”
Math contrasts with technology and engineering disciplines as well, he says, because those two fields tend to focus on “specialized training” while math is not as specialized.
“I would say that a math degree is maybe the most flexible out of all of the STEM degrees because it doesn’t usually lead to a specific application area, and it’s just a more general degree to help prepare problem-solvers,” Howell says.
One field where a math degree often comes in handy is operations research, which focuses on determining organizational procedures that will maximize efficiency, Howell says. A math education can also provide a solid foundation for a software career or another job in the tech sector, he adds, noting that Google recruits mathematicians to create search algorithms.
In addition, a math credential can lead to a lucrative finance position and prepares the holder for a job as an analyst within nearly any industry, Howell suggests.
Experts say a math degree is helpful for obtaining the following types of jobs. However, it should be noted that there are other occupations that math grads may pursue besides these:
— Algorithmic engineer.
— College or university math professor.
— Data scientist.
— High school math teacher.
— Investment banking analyst.
— Management consultant.
— Operations research analyst.
— Process engineer.
— Project manager.
— Quality assurance manager.
— Software developer.
Noah Giansiracusa, an assistant professor of mathematics at Bentley University in Massachusetts, says that a math degree has long been “quite versatile and marketable.”
“I foresee this trend continuing and even expanding as data science blossoms into such a massive field,” he explained in an email. “Employers tend to trust that if a student can finish a math degree, then they are capable of learning almost any technical subject. So usually what math majors are hired for isn’t the direct knowledge they’ve picked up in college as much as the ability to quickly learn new, difficult, technical, abstract topics — and also the stamp that they are probably bright and capable that a math degree provides. Employers are usually happy to ‘retrain’ math students in whatever domain-specific expertise they need for the job.”
Giansiracusa suggests that increases in the number of data scientist positions have benefited math majors by giving them a greater variety of job options. Although quantitative analyst, or quant, positions “were exclusively in finance and almost entirely on Wall Street, data science jobs run the gamut from big tech companies to smaller companies and nonprofits, and from federal government jobs even to local municipalities, even journalism,” he says. “Data science is everywhere and it will last — it is transforming the professional outlook and opportunities for math majors very quickly.”
Jen Hood, an analytics consultant and founder of The Career Force, an organization that provides data analytics training, notes that individuals with a math education had plenty of job options even before the data revolution.
“With the ever increasing amounts of data we’re generating each year, these degrees have become even more popular with employers,” Hood, who has a bachelor’s degree in math, wrote in an email. “Roles like data analyst, data scientist, and business analyst continue to grow in number and are great choices for individuals with a math degree. These roles can be found in nearly every industry — from healthcare to tech to manufacturing.”
Workers with a college math degree often find jobs at government agencies. For instance, math majors are frequently hired by the National Security Agency since their education is useful for encryption, code-breaking, data mining, coding and supercomputing.
“Governmental work is not always associated with mathematics, but it is an important field in which to put mathematical skills to use,” wrote Matthew Davis, an associate professor of math and chair of mathematics and computer science at Muskingum University in Ohio. “In the information age, governmental agencies need to analyze huge amounts of data and predict far-reaching effects of policy decisions. The ability to model large problems with rigorous thinking is invaluable.”
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