If math is your favorite subject, you might be wondering what you could do with a math or similar degree at the college level. While you can certainly choose to major in mathematics or statistics, you can also consider other math-related fields of study, such as actuarial science. Actuaries use their math skills to analyze risk, often in an industry such as finance and insurance. There are benefits to working as either a mathematician or an actuary, but the pros of choosing a mathematics degree include a faster rate of job growth, not having to jump through huge hoops to attain professional certification and being able to focus on pure mathematics work without the distraction of a business application.
Higher Rate of Job Growth
Careers in math are seeing rapid growth right now. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for mathematicians and statisticians as a whole to rise by 33 percent over a decade. Statisticians will see greater gains than mathematicians, with 34 percent anticipated job growth compared to 30 percent. For actuaries, the BLS predicts a 22 percent job growth rate that, while still much faster than average, is considerably slower than that for mathematicians and statisticians.
It is worth noting, though, that percentages don’t tell the whole story. The context of those percentages matters. In a tiny occupation such as mathematician, which encompasses just 3,100, a 30 percent rise in career opportunities adds up to just 900 new jobs. For the occupation of statistician, which already employs some 37,200 workers in the U.S., the similar growth rate of 34 percent will mean an additional 12,600 job opportunities.
Mathematician, statistician and actuary are all relatively small occupations. The other mathematics occupation recognized by the BLS, operations research analyst, includes more American workers (114,000) than mathematician, statistician and actuary combined.
No Professional Certification Needed
A college education is essential to becoming a mathematician or statistician. Earning a bachelor’s degree in math typically requires four years of full-time study in high-level disciplines of math such as linear algebra, abstract algebra, calculus and differential equations, the BLS reported. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient to qualify you for some positions, including mathematician roles with the federal government, which account for 35 percent of employment among mathematicians. For many jobs as a mathematician or statistician, candidates must have a master’s degree or higher. However, once you complete your education, you are qualified to be a mathematician. You don’t need special certifications, licenses or professional examinations to work in the field.
For an actuary, earning your bachelor’s degree in actuarial science is one important step toward the career path. To achieve full professional status as actuary, you need to complete a lengthy and challenging certification process that begins even before you finish your degree. To progress to the first level of certification, associate, actuaries must pass seven exams. Students begin taking at least one or two of these tests before they graduate, the BLS reported. For all seven of these exams, actuarial science students, and later graduates, should expect to spend hundreds of hours spread out over months of study preparing for the test, according to the BLS. Attaining certification as an associate will likely take you four to seven years, then another two to three years to reach fellowship status. Becoming a fully qualified actuary is no easy feat.
Actuaries may not need to go back to school to earn a graduate degree, but they still need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their professional certification.
No Distraction From Pure Mathematics
For some mathematically-inclined students, the abstract concepts and theories of high-level mathematics are precisely what makes the field so appealing. Some students are drawn to the pure mathematics side of the field. For them, getting bogged down in the details of the finance and insurance industry could prevent them from making the next mathematical breakthrough. These students often consider the opportunity to focus on the mathematical rules and theory, and on basic application of mathematical concepts without the distraction of calculating risks for businesses, to be an important benefit of earning a mathematics degree.
Most mathematicians don’t work in the business world, but their work still includes some focus on applying the mathematical concepts they develop and test to problems in the healthcare, business and engineering industries, the BLS reported.