What Can You Do With A Math Degree?

"I just finished Calculus I, and I loved it. I never thought I’d be fascinated with math, but I just can’t get over how awesome it is. I’m signed up for four more math classes next semester, and it seems like I’m probably on my way to becoming a mathematics major. This makes me extremely happy for the time being … but worried about my future. There seems to be a prevalent attitude that there are no jobs for math majors except for teaching. Even my math professors tell me this. Is it true? Do I have to basically plan to be a teacher? Because I don’t think I want to do that, but I really don’t want to give up on this major."

asked by Brad from Des Moines, IA

I won’t tell you that it isn’t a challenge to figure out a career path with a math degree, because it is. I’ve known too many mathematicians to try to claim otherwise, and your professors aren’t off base in their considerations—obviously. They would know, having been there themselves.

Does that mean teaching is your only option? Not necessarily. It’s probably the most obvious career choice, and it does provide certain benefits, especially at the college level. Many universities will fund mathematical research of their faculty members, which can help you to continue exploring mathematics in creative ways as you teach.

There are other jobs you can do with a mathematics degree as well, in a variety of fields. In business, you might consider any of the following roles: business analyst, financial analyst, investment analyst, benefits specialist, market researcher, product developer, investment manager. These are all roles which involve some understanding of accounting and financing, and a good mathematical knowledge is the backbone of accurate accounting.

You can also look into jobs which involve statistics:

As you can tell, these jobs are in all different sectors, so you have the chance to work in a variety of industries.

Most of the opportunities outside of teaching are in computer sciences and engineering.

Some examples include computer systems analyst, cryptanalyst, database administrator, operations research analyst, or software developer (though additional CS classes would be required for many of these).

You also may find jobs in emerging fields like computational biology or neuroscience. Make no mistake. A lot of people find math difficult, and value the skills of a trained mathematician.

So is it tough to find an application for your mathematics degree? Probably, yes. But is it a lost cause? Not necessarily. It’s a good idea to try to figure out what you might want to do as early as you can, so you can take specific classes you might need (like those computer science classes).

Talk to an advisor to get advice on internships and other steps you can take to make it more likely that you’ll get into the industry and position which interests you, and good luck finding a job which suits you!

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