What Is a Math Degree? Mathematics Degree Guide

by Doug Wintemute
• 6 min read
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A math degree prepares students to make quantitative predictions, analyze data, and solve complex mathematical problems.

Students interested in earning a math degree can start by distinguishing between pure math and applied math fields. Pure or theoretical math is largely academic, while applied math examines interdisciplinary approaches, such as applications in economics, technology, healthcare, and business.

Large organizations are increasingly reliant on data analysis and mathematical reasoning, which means more job opportunities for both pure and applied math graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 27% growth in mathematics occupations from 2019-2029.

This guide explores the various types of math degrees available and the career pathways they present.

What Kinds of Math Degrees Are There?

Mathematics is relevant to many fields and disciplines, so math students have similarly varied program and degree options. These degrees may focus on applied mathematics, which relates to statistics, engineering, medicine, and technology, or pure mathematics, which delves into more philosophical topics and often leads to more academic careers. A student's chosen education influences their career path.

Degree-seekers at every level can pursue mathematics. The best mathematics programs offer specializations, which allow learners to focus on a subdiscipline or specific application, such as discrete mathematics, mechanics, or mathematical physics. Below, we'll explore the major degree levels and types and discuss some of their unique qualities.


Associate Degree in Math

Math programs typically span about 60 credits at the associate degree level, taking students less than two years to complete. Since most math-related professions require a four-year degree or more, many students choose associate degrees as the first step toward careers in business, finance, economics, and engineering.

Associate degree graduates can still enter the workforce directly after graduation. Some employers hire these candidates for business and financial occupations, especially if they have relevant experience. Some of the more common entry-level careers include financial clerks, claims adjusters, and actuaries.


Bachelor's Degree in Math

A bachelor's degree in math runs for four years and includes 120 credits. Coursework varies, but programs typically offer fundamental training in the first two years. In the third and fourth years, learners progress into more advanced topics, such as intermediate calculus, complex variables, computational algebra, and statistics.

After completing a bachelor's degree, graduates can pursue different careers depending on their training and interests. Many of the best online bachelor's in mathematics help students pursue careers like operations research analyst, financial analyst, and accountant or auditor.

What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Math?

Degree type can impact a program's curriculum and student careers, even when the topic is the same. A bachelor of art (BA) in math usually covers more general topics, including a variety of liberal arts courses, while a bachelor of science (BS) offers more specialized training specifically in mathematics.

Professionally, BA graduates often pursue more interdisciplinary fields, such as teaching or business. BS graduates are more prepared for analytical careers, such as finance or computer science. It is more common to earn a BA in mathematics, but many schools offer both degrees.


Master's Degree in Math

A master's degree in math covers advanced study and research beyond entry-level careers. The training takes 1-2 years, and learners can take courses in topics like complex and numerical analysis, differential equations, and probability. Some careers available to master's graduates include mathematicians and statisticians, survey researchers, and economists.

At the master's level, specializations play a large role in curricula. Students can often create their own concentrations based on their research interests or choose a focus from among the popular options, which include mathematical finance, modeling, computer science, statistics, and business analytics. Graduate students can also pursue related programs, like a master's in actuarial science or a master's in math education.


Doctoral Degree in Math

A doctoral degree is the highest level of education available in mathematics, often taking 4-7 years to complete. Like a master's degree, these programs offer specializations in many areas, including computer algebra, mathematical theory analysis, and differential geometry. Doctoral-level courses usually culminate with an original dissertation.

A Ph.D. in mathematics can lead to nearly any career in the field, though only a few require it. Career options include postsecondary teacher, physicist or astronomer, and some economist positions. Most doctoral students pursue teaching and research positions after graduation, so many programs focus on mathematics education.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Math?

Graduates with math degrees have exceptional career possibilities, both in quality and quantity. They can apply their training to many of the largest industries, including engineering, technology, and finance. For example, mathematicians and statisticians can work in research and development, healthcare, and consulting services.

The following sections explore some major professional outlets for mathematics graduates.

Government

According to BLS employment data, 40% of mathematicians and 11% of statisticians work with the federal government. These professionals analyze public data, identify trends, and work with scientists and public health officials.

Students aiming for this field typically choose applied mathematics degrees and minor or specialize in political science, economics, or public health. While some agencies hire bachelor's-level candidates, most of these positions go to master's degree graduates.

Education and Academia

BLS occupational data indicates that 18% of mathematicians and 7% of statisticians work for colleges and universities. These professionals conduct research, publish their work, and educate the next generation of mathematicians.

For high school teacher positions, students often pursue bachelor's degrees in applied mathematics in geometry, algebra, or math education. Postsecondary teachers may have either applied or pure mathematics degrees, typically at the doctoral level.

Business, Finance, and Insurance

Mathematics professionals can use their advanced skills and training to help businesses and financial organizations perform better and make more informed decisions. Careers like operations research analysts, budget analysts, and actuaries use mathematical models, statistics, and data analysis to determine risk and solve problems.

Most of these positions require applied mathematics degrees at the bachelor's level, though pure mathematics programs can also qualify. Some employers require a graduate degree or training in a specific mathematics discipline.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Math Degree?

Math degree graduates can access very high-paying jobs, though exact pay rates vary by candidate, location, and employer. The following information explores some of the more common careers available to math graduates, along with their median annual salaries, projected job growth numbers, and educational requirements.

This data may not represent every region, so students should research local employers and job information to get a more accurate portrayal.

Math Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary (2020) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) Degree Required
Computer and Information Research Scientists $126,830 15% Master's
Physicists $128,950 7% Doctoral
Actuaries $111,030 18% Bachelor's
Economists $108,350 14% Master's
Mathematicians and Statisticians $93,290 33% Master's
Civil Engineers $88,570 2% Bachelor's
Operations Research Analysts $86,200 25% Bachelor's
Mathematics College Professors $80,790 9% Master's
Mathematics High School Teachers $62,870 4% Bachelor's
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Established in 1888, AMS unites mathematics professionals and institutions to advance the field of mathematics. This organization provides advocacy efforts, promotes research and scholarship, and sponsors mathematics groups. Members have access to events, publications, and professional services. Comprising more than 1,000 K-12 mathematics teachers and educators, AMTE aims to improve math education through better policies and practices, advocacy, and program development. Members benefit from access to events and professional development opportunities. Founded in 1971, AWM connects more than 3,500 women from around the mathematics world. The organization promotes diversity in the field and advancement opportunities for women working in mathematics and sciences. AWM members receive access to a mentor network, industry events, and professional support resources. Established in 1973, SHPE supports more than 13,000 Hispanic students and professionals in STEM fields, including mathematics. The organization promotes diversity through effective leadership and advocacy programs. Members have access to research and scholarship, career services, and professional development and training programs.

Accreditation for Math Programs

Always ensure that any prospective school or program is accredited; your financial aid, transfer credits, and student employment often depend on it. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize the agencies that offer regional accreditation for the high-achieving institutions, making it easy to look up the credentials of a school before enrolling.

Math degrees do not require programmatic accreditation, so students should focus on checking for regional recognition.

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Should a Math Major Have a Minor in?

Having a minor can broaden your education and add an interdisciplinary specialization to your credentials. Common minors for math majors include statistics, economics, and business.

Are Math Majors in Demand?

The BLS projects a 27% job growth rate for math occupations from 2019-2029, which is nearly seven times faster than the average rate for all occupations.

What Are Entry-Level Jobs for Math Majors?

Math majors can pursue entry-level careers in fields like mathematics, business and finance, and technology. Depending on degree and specialization, new graduates can pursue careers as actuaries, operations research analysts, and cost estimators.

Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Header Image Credit: PeopleImages | Getty Images

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