Mathematician is a career that requires a great deal of college education. To perform the advanced mathematical calculations used to solve real-world problems or better understand the mysteries of the mathematical sciences, you first need a strong foundation in the many branches of math. While the right major for an aspiring mathematician may seem obvious – math – the curriculum you will study and the level of degree needed to work as a mathematician may not.

A Mathematics Curriculum

When you major in mathematics, you will take college-level coursework in numerous mathematics branches and subfields, as well as distinct fields of mathematical science such as statistics. Classes such as Calculus I, II and III are common, as are specialized courses in differential equations or multivariate calculus. Algebra courses, too, are valuable. Most students take at least a linear algebra class, and some also complete required or elective courses such as modern algebra, matrix algebra and abstract algebra. Math majors usually take a mandatory course in probability and statistics. Other coursework in a math degree program might include geometry, topology, graph theory, number theory, complex variables, applied math and mathematical modeling.

Some universities encourage math majors to pursue a concentration or sequence of courses in another area of interest to develop more specialized skills. These minors or concentrations should be career-focused and might include statistics, computation, the life or physical sciences, business or secondary education.

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Whether your mathematics degree is a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program may affect the curriculum. Generally, B.A. degrees in math are part of liberal arts schools and include more studies in the humanities than B.S. degrees do.

Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees in Math

Most mathematicians have an advanced degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics can prepare students for some mathematician careers. In particular, the federal government offers opportunities for mathematicians with only an undergraduate degree. Government mathematicians gather and analyze data to draw conclusions about matters related to public policy. They may create, compile the results to and interpret the findings of surveys designed to glean numerical data about employment, the economy, environmental issues and public health concerns. The work that government mathematicians do can help influence laws and policies. The federal government is the top employer of mathematicians, accounting for 35 percent of jobs in this occupation. These government roles can be quite lucrative, offering a median salary of $111,990, several thousand dollars per year more than the overall median mathematician wage of $103,010.

Going to graduate school can expand your job prospects quite a bit. With a master’s degree, you may be qualified for some roles in private industry, such as mathematician in research and development, consulting or finance and insurance. Mathematicians in management, scientific and technical consulting services earn the highest median salary in the occupation, at $120,840 per year, and those working in scientific research and development make a similarly high median wage of $119,500, the BLS reported.  A Ph.D. can offer even more opportunities, such as the chance to educate students or work in academic mathematical research at a college or university. However, these advanced academic roles aren’t the most profitable jobs out there. Though college and university positions account for 16 percent of mathematician roles, they offer a much lower median salary of just $56,320 per year.

At the graduate level of study, math students typically must choose between abstract math and applied math, the BLS reported.

Math Careers Beyond Mathematician

Only 3,100 American workers hold the job title of mathematician, the BLS reported. Although the occupation is growing rapidly, with an expected 30 percent rate of job growth, only 900 new jobs in the field will become available.

However, math majors shouldn’t despair. The possibilities for work with a mathematics degree extend far beyond this one career path. Studying math can also prepare you for the similar, but somewhat larger, occupation of statistician. There are currently 37,200 statisticians working in America, and the BLS predicts opportunities to grow by 34 percent, adding another 12,600 jobs within a decade.

If you would like to apply your math skills to the business world, consider a career as an actuary or operations research analyst. Actuaries use high-level mathematics and statistics to calculate risk and its financial implications, most often for employers in the insurance and finance industry. Operations research analysts delve into the data surrounding every part of an organization’s operations and activities. Through their analyses, these math professionals find ways to improve business operations, efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Math degrees also prepare students for other jobs that require great reasoning or analytical skills. Math majors may go on to become lawyers, doctors and even astronauts.

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