To many students, majoring in an analytical subject like math doesn’t sound easy. However, if you’re naturally a numbers person and find that a lot of math concepts and practices just “click” for you, then you might wonder what math program would award you a marketable degree without being overly strenuous. The level of difficulty is subjective, and not all math students will agree about what makes a degree easier or harder to attain. However, it makes sense to weigh the differences between liberal-arts-based and science-based math programs, consider a math education major rather than a general math major and think critically about thesis and non-thesis master’s programs when exploring graduate school options.
Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science in Math
When you start earning your undergraduate degree in mathematics, you will have to decide whether to enroll in a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) program or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program. Neither the B.A. nor the B.S. math degree is inherently better or more prestigious than the other, and employers generally look favorably upon graduates regardless of which type of bachelor’s degree they earned. However, a B.A. degree is generally considered somewhat easier because it is a broader field of study traditionally offered by a liberal arts school. Math students in a B.A. program might take slightly fewer advanced mathematics and physical science courses. Instead, they may take more courses in the social sciences and humanities, including a foreign language.
What would you want to study if you went to graduate school? If you want a graduate degree in math, a B.S. degree may be a better choice, while a B.A. education would offer a broader background for a degree in a different field, such as business or education.
Mathematics Education Degree Programs
Suppose you like math, but you find the most complex advanced math courses to be a little daunting. You might make an excellent math teacher at the elementary school, middle school or high school level. While math education majors still need to take courses in calculus, algebra and statistics, much of their curriculum involves teacher preparation coursework and specialized classes in teaching math. This degree program allows you to still take the math classes you love without having to struggle through the most advanced math theories. In your education courses, you will learn useful skills for teaching math, including classroom management strategies, techniques for designing instructional materials and approaches to assessment and evaluation.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a math education degree program is student-teaching. In this semester-long hands-on experience requirement, you will work full-time in the classroom educating students under the guidance of a certified teacher.
Thesis and Non-Thesis Master’s Degrees in Math
Graduate school isn’t known for being easy, but if you do want a post-baccalaureate degree, you should know that some options are easier than others. Ph.D. programs tend to be the most challenging, and not only because the coursework for this terminal degree is at the most advanced level possible. On average, Ph.D. students take more than eight years to complete their doctoral degrees, and nearly half of these students won’t finish their degree even in 10 years, CBS News reported.
Unless you want to work in academic research or postsecondary teaching – which is one of the lowest-paying mathematician roles, with the BLS reporting a median wage of $56,320 per year – you may not even need a Ph.D. A master’s degree is enough education for many private sector mathematician roles, and government roles are available even for mathematicians with only a bachelor’s degree, the BLS reported. Master’s degree programs often cover either pure mathematics or applied mathematics. Which branch of graduate-level mathematics studies remains a matter of debate, with some students finding pure math to be too esoteric to be meaningful and others seeing applied math as too mundane to pursue at advanced levels.
One factor to consider is whether you should pursue a master’s degree that requires a thesis or one that does not. On the surface, it might sound obvious that a non-thesis program would be easier purely because you don’t need to endure the grueling process of writing a master’s thesis. However, in place of the thesis and its corresponding coursework, students will have to take additional coursework in advanced mathematics. At some schools, a non-thesis master’s degree program in mathematics has an even more demanding curriculum than the corresponding thesis program, perhaps even nearing the same degree of difficulty as a Ph.D. program. On the other hand, the thesis degree option might not be as demanding as it sounds, since mathematics theses are sometimes expository in nature, rather than containing original research. The requirements for thesis and non-thesis master’s degree programs vary from school to school. Prospective graduate students should always research both options at their intended college, rather than blindly choosing the option that sounds easier.
To choose whether pure or applied math will seem easier to you, consider what type of math work you prefer, abstract and theoretical work or practical problem-solving tasks like engineering and computation.