Even before they start college, many students are already eager to get out into the workforce. If you’re wondering how long it is going to take you to get your math degree, you’re not alone. One factor you need to consider is what level of degree you will need for the career you want. Most math majors will spend no less than four years, and potentially a good deal longer, in school for their mathematics degree.
An Undergraduate Degree in Mathematics
A bachelor’s degree is sometimes called a four-year degree, because a traditional bachelor’s degree requires 120 college credits, or four years of full-time study. However, many students take longer than four years to finish their bachelor’s degrees, especially if they studied part-time, switched majors or took extra time to complete a minor, second major or internship or co-op program.
A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics usually includes several high-level courses in college mathematics, such as calculus, linear algebra, abstract algebra and differential equations. Among the jobs you can get with a bachelor’s degree in math are mathematician or statistician for the federal government, actuary and operations research analyst, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Math teachers, also, typically need a bachelor’s degree, as well as a teaching license.
Even a math job that doesn’t require an advanced degree can require other forms of preparation, including practical experience or professional certification exams.
A Master’s Degree in Math
Most opportunities for mathematicians and statisticians require a master’s degree, the BLS reported. These jobs include private sector mathematician and statistician roles in industries such as scientific research and development, finance and insurance, healthcare and social assistance and management, scientific and technical consulting services.
Most master’s degrees in math take two years to complete. When you go to graduate school for mathematics, you will need to choose whether you want to study theoretical or applied mathematics. A professional master’s degree may be a terminal degree, or the highest level of degree you can attain in the field. In math, professional graduate degrees are usually offered in applied mathematics, while a traditional research-based master’s degree might serve as preparation for a doctoral program in theoretical math.
Mathematics at the Ph.D. Level
There are some roles that only mathematicians with a Ph.D. degree can attain. If you want to teach or work in mathematical research at a college or university, a doctoral degree may be your only option. A Ph.D. graduate may also decide to work for the government or in private industry roles in fields such as business.
Earning a Ph.D. in mathematics is a considerable undertaking. Generally, doctoral degrees take even longer to complete than bachelor’s degrees do. Students may spend two to three years taking classes and potentially several more years engaged in research before they finally attain their degrees. The average time it takes a Ph.D. student to graduate is more than eight years – and many students who enroll in doctoral programs never graduate at all, according to CBS News.
Just 57 percent of students who are accepted into a Ph.D. program actually complete their degree within 10 years, CBS reported. Others end up dropping out, often after incurring tens of thousands of dollars in debt and devoting years to their doctoral studies.
Ways to Get Your Math Degree Faster
As you can see, a student planning to pursue a math degree should expect to spend at least a few years – and potentially, more than a decade – in college. However, there are steps you can take early on that can help you graduate quicker and get out into the workforce sooner. Nontraditional students who have prior college credits or substantial work or life experience can look for degree programs with generous transfer credit policies or competency-based curricula. A competency-based program allows students to skip courses for which they already know the subject matter by testing out of certain modules, attaining their credits more quickly. You can also start taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in math and other subjects as a high school student. If you earn a passing score on your AP exam, you may be able to receive credit toward your degree.
While community colleges do offer two-year associate’s degree programs in math, these programs are more likely to prepare students to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree than to work in a math-related career field.