What Can You Do With a Mathematics Degree?

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Mathematics is the language of science. Everything from biology to physics, from computer programming to economics, incorporates math in one way or another. Math is a critical component of work in a huge spectrum of fields, where it is used to make predictions, interpret data, and arrive at informed financial decisions. If you’re wondering what to do with a math degree, read on for more information about degrees in this interesting and varied field.

A math degree focuses on various math–related subjects, and depending on degree level, prepares you for careers in a variety of fields including education, statistics, engineering, accounting, and more. There are many types of math degrees, at every level, with specializations including applied mathematics, statistics, actuarial science, and more. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do with a math degree?” keep reading. There are many exciting possibilities ahead.

If you can master math, you’ll know more than just the “M” in STEM. You will also have the educational foundation needed to interpret and understand the rest of the STEM subjects, which often lead to big salaries and strong job security. Studying math gives you numerous opportunities in cutting edge scientific research, medicine, finance, data science, data analytics, technology, and innumerable other professional prospects. If flexibility is a major priority for you, it bears noting that many highly reputable schools around the country and the world offer online math degree programs.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
Certain fields and careers — such as law and medicine — require very specific degree program accreditations. But math is an extremely open–ended field, one where you’ll learn a set of skills applicable to a wide variety of career paths. Consequently, there is no special accrediting agency you need beyond that granted by a regional accreditation agency.

The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.

To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out this article: Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Types of Math Degrees are There?

Math degree programs are usually divided into several distinct approaches: applied mathematics, which blurs the lines between math and science; theoretical mathematics, which blurs the lines between math and philosophy; and education–based approaches, which focus on teaching methodology alongside the math itself. How you choose to integrate math into your own studies should be shaped by your set of skills and interests. While each of these degrees may deal in similar foundational subject matter, your level of degree attainment will have a direct impact on the professional opportunities available to you.

Associate Degree in Mathematics

An associate degree in mathematics is the first steppingstone to a world of opportunity. With just this introductory, two–year, 60–credit math degree program, you qualify to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or in most other STEM disciplines. Your courses will provide basic education in subjects such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. Each of these foundational subjects applies in myriad ways to the sciences. These topics can also help you take the first step if you ultimately hope to become an accountant, a policy consultant, an economist, or a math teacher. While you will need more than an associate degree to land one of these jobs, an associate degree in mathematics is a great way to get started.

What Courses Will I Take in a Math Associate Program?

  • Calculus I through III
  • Differential Equations
  • Discrete Math
  • Linear Algebra
  • Pre–Calculus
  • Statistics I and II

Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics

The typical bachelor’s degree in mathematics will require 120 credits. This should take you approximately four years to complete, though some may wish to take an accelerated three–year program. In addition to introductory level instruction in subjects like algebra, calculus and trigonometry, you will delve into increasingly complex material. You also can add a variety of specializations such as economics, business, computer science, or probability and statistics. The bachelor’s degree in mathematics is a comprehensive course of study that will open an array of opportunities in the job market. With a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you will qualify to work at the assistant level in an accounting firm, as a statistician, a political analyst, a census–taker, or in any number of positions requiring regular application of math skills. In many instances however, you will need an advanced math degree to achieve true career mobility and greater earning potential.

What Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s of Mathematics Program?

  • Analysis of Ordinary Differential Equations
  • Applied Partial Differential Equations
  • Computational Thinking and Doing
  • Formal Mathematical Reasoning and Writing
  • Introduction to Abstract Algebra
  • Theory of Complex Variables
  • Theory of Statistics
  • Vector Calculus

What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Mathematics?

Overall, the bachelor of arts (BA) in mathematics and the bachelor of science (BS) in mathematics are the same in terms of the mathematics requirements. You will be expected to take a mathematical core, some supporting classes from a related subject such as computer science, and the required courses for your chosen area of emphasis or specialization.

The difference between the degrees is a simple one. The bachelor of arts requires additional humanities classes and is not science–intensive while the bachelor of science is focused on science and includes additional laboratory requirements.

Master of Mathematics

A master’s degree in math can take a lot of different forms, and as such, the degree requirements can vary significantly, from a minimum of 24 credits up to 90 credits or more. This math degree will typically take one to two years, however slower part–time tracks are often available. If you’re interested in flexibility, pursuing an online master’s in mathematics may be the right choice for you. There are also programs that can bundle your undergraduate and graduate degrees into a single, accelerated five–year program. This is something you’ll want to consider as you pursue your bachelor’s degree. If your program makes this option available, it could be a great way to save money. Your master’s degree program will most often provide you with an opportunity to focus on your chosen area of specialization. This is the point at which your career ambitions and coursework should intersect. A master’s degree in math could qualify you for any number of well–paying jobs from actuarial work and data analysis to civil engineering and business planning. If you pair your degree program with the proper teaching courses, your master’s degree in math could also qualify you to sit for a teaching certification in your state.

What Courses Will I Take in a Master of Mathematics Program?

  • Analysis I and II
  • General Topology
  • History of Mathematics
  • Metric Spaces
  • Modern Algebra
  • Numerical Analysis
  • Theory of Functions of Real Variables

What’s the Difference Between an MA and an MS in Mathematics?

Similar to the bachelor’s degrees, the difference between the master of science (MS) and the master of arts (MA) in mathematics is a small one. The MS track will require more science based courses while the MA will focus on more liberal arts courses. An MS may focus on mathematics in relation to scientific computing, finance, or data science, whereas the MA might be a good choice if you plan to pair your focus on mathematics with education coursework.

Ph.D. of Mathematics

The Ph.D. in mathematics is the most in–depth and advanced degree in the field. It typically takes at least five years to complete, which includes two years of coursework and three years spent on your dissertation. Only, those interested in making research advances in the field should consider a Ph.D. as this is a deeply research–intensive math degree program. This degree is usually mandatory for anyone interested in becoming a tenured professor and is of value for those who intend to ultimately work in a research capacity, or in the development and assessment of public policy. The Ph.D. also grants a significant advantage in the job market over professionals with a master’s degree in math.

What Courses Will I Take in a Ph.D. Mathematics Program?

  • Advanced Numerical Analysis
  • Applied Ordinary/Partial Differential Equations
  • Complex Analysis
  • Differential Geometry
  • Differential Topology
  • Mathematical Logic
  • Real Analysis
  • Set Theory

What Can You Do With a Math Degree?

If you’re wondering, “What does a mathematician do?” the answers are vast. Your math degree can be the key to an array of intriguing and well–paying mathematics careers. Next time someone asks you, “what can you do with a math degree?” you can mention these top careers in your field:

For more information, visit our High–Paying, Interesting Careers in Mathematics.

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

As degree programs go, mathematics is certainly among the more lucrative. If you have the skills and the patience to advance through your math degree program, you could have a chance to earn a very comfortable living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the median annual salaries as of 2018 for some of the top jobs in your field:

Career Median Salary
Civil Engineer $52,580
Accounting $70,500
Operations Research Analyst $83,390
Financial Analyst $85,660
Mechanical Engineer $87,370
Mathematician and Statistician $88,190
Actuary $102,880

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Mathematics Associations or Societies I Should Join?

Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for mathematics associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.

American Mathematical Society
A national and international outreach group supporting mathematicians through publications, research, scholarships, education, meetings, and advocacy.
American Statistical Association
Currently the largest association for statisticians, this group encourages ethical use, proper application, and comprehensive education of the statistical science.
Association for Women in Mathematics
This non–profit entity encourages and supports women in all areas of the mathematical sciences by promoting equal opportunities.
Benjamin Banneker Association
A free resource providing additional mathematics practice in numerous areas as well as information on other supportive entities.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
For those looking to teach mathematics to others, this is a powerful resource providing information on publications, research, advocacy, classroom resources, conferences, professional development, and more.
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Encourages strong communication and positive interactions between mathematicians and other scientific communities.
Society of Actuaries
Provides advice and leadership strategies to Actuaries to improve financial outcomes for clients.

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