Choosing between a degree in mathematics and a degree in math education can be a challenge. The decision to make affects what you will study in school as well as what your future career will entail, in both the day-to-day tasks and your big-picture progress. Both degree programs certainly have their merits. When you opt for a mathematics degree over a math education degree, you enjoy benefits like not having to split your educational focus, earning a higher salary, seeing faster rates of job growth and contributing to the advancement of the mathematical sciences.
A Single Focus for Your Education
In any program of college study, you will take a group of core courses in your major and related fields as well as classes in other disciplines. However, one crucial difference between mathematics and math education degrees is the focus of the degree program. A math major has just one main subject area to study. Math students still complete general education requirements and, often, a sequence of studies in a career-related field of study such as business or computer science. However, students of math education programs must split their focus between learning college-level mathematics and learning how to teach young students.
Some schools offer mathematics education degree programs through a math department, others through a college of education, and still others as a double major.
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Better Earning Potential
Generally, mathematicians earn considerably more money than teachers at the elementary school, middle school or high school level. The overall median salary for mathematical science occupations, which encompasses both statistician and the smaller occupation of mathematician, is $84,760, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. When you separate out just mathematicians, that median wage rises to $103,010 – almost double that of teachers. Certain industries offer even higher salaries. Among mathematicians who work for the federal government, the median wage is $111,990, the BLS reported. Mathematicians who work in scientific research and development and management, scientific and technical consulting services earn $119,500 and $120,840, respectively.
The median wage for teachers as a whole is $55,790, according to the BLS. High school teachers tend to earn the highest salaries, with a median wage of $59,170, compared to $57,720 for middle school teachers and $57,160 for elementary school teachers. Public school teachers earn thousands of dollars more per year than their counterparts who teach at private schools and who don’t necessarily need to have a teaching license.
The one exception to the fact of mathematicians earning more than math teachers occurs among mathematicians working at colleges and universities. The median wage in this industry, which employs 16 percent of mathematicians, is just $56,320 per year.
Above-Average Job Growth
There will always be demand for excellent teachers who have the skills to engage students at every grade level with their math subject matter. However, the job outlook for teachers is average, though positive. The BLS expects opportunities to grow by seven percent for elementary school teachers, mirroring the job growth rate for all occupations, and by eight percent for middle school and high school teachers.
Mathematicians are seeing a much faster than average rate of job growth. Over a decade, the BLS expects career opportunities for mathematicians to increase by 30 percent. As it is, more than one in three mathematicians works for the federal government. Jobs are expected to grow particularly in the field of scientific research and development, which already employs 17 percent of mathematicians, and in business, including the finance and insurance industry, which employs eight percent of mathematicians.
Despite this rapid job growth, just 900 new mathematician jobs will emerge, compared to 228,200 jobs for teachers at the elementary through high school levels.
The Chance to Make Real Discoveries
Mathematician and teacher are both very fulfilling jobs, but in different ways. Math teachers change the world through the impressions they make on students, teaching them not only the subject matter of their courses but also a love of learning and valuable life lessons. For mathematicians, fulfillment instead comes in the form of the contributions they make to the field of mathematics. In branches of mathematics such as geometry and algebra, the work mathematicians do can lead to this knowledge of new theories, concepts and mathematical rules. While a mathematician who develops a new theory might not get the joy of helping a child cultivate a love of math, few math teachers will have the opportunity to directly advance the field of mathematics, since they focus on teaching known math subject matter at a grade level appropriate to their students’ ages. Both career paths are rewarding, but the question prospective college students must ask themselves is which job best fits their passions.
What strangers to the field of mathematics might not realize is that, despite thousands of years of mathematical inquiry, new mathematics and mathematical applications are constantly being discovered even today.