When math is your favorite subject, your interest in this difficult field of study may seem inexplicable to students who aren’t so fond of the subject. The reality is that you actually like doing high-level math work in fields like calculus, linear algebra and trigonometry. Fortunately, when you earn a degree that puts you on the path to an occupation such as mathematician or operations research analyst, you are preparing for a career with high earning potential and rapid job growth expected. Trying to choose between a career as a mathematician and one in operations research is difficult, but taking into account the benefits of each option can help you figure out which degree path to choose. Benefits of choosing mathematics over operations research include a higher median salary, a faster rate of growth and more degree programs to consider.
Better Earning Potential for Mathematicians
A degree in math can pay quite well. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that operations research analysts earn a median salary of $81,390 per year. At first, it might appear that the wages for mathematicians and operations research analysts aren’t so different. As a whole, mathematicians and statisticians earn a median wage of $84,760, but that is because the larger career of statisticians earns nearly $20,000 per year less than mathematicians. Among mathematicians not including statisticians, the median salary is $103,010, the BLS reported. In the two highest paying of the top employing industries for the occupation, mathematicians earn median wages of $119,500 to $120,840.
Of the top employing industries for mathematicians, colleges and universities paid the least, with a median salary of just $56,320. About 16 percent of mathematicians in America work in this industry, the BLS reported.
Faster Rate of Job Growth
The average rate of growth expected across all occupations is just seven percent over a decade. Mathematical science occupations are seeing significantly faster rates of growth than workers in many other career fields. The BLS expects job opportunities for operations research analysts to increase by 27 percent in that same amount of time. The BLS has even higher expectations for mathematicians, predicting the number of jobs to increase by 30 percent. However, math majors who have strong analytical skills know that it isn’t only the percentage of job growth that matters, but also the current size of the occupation. As a larger occupation, operations research analyst will actually see more gains in jobs than mathematician, with an actual increase of 31,300 compared to just 900.
The federal government is the top employer of mathematicians, accounting for 35 percent of this profession, the BLS reported. Another 17 percent work in scientific research and development, 16 percent at colleges, eight percent for the finance and insurance industry and seven percent in management and technical consulting. For operations research analysts, the finance and insurance industry is the largest employer, with more than one in four professionals working in this industry. About 22 percent of operations research analysts are employed by the professional, scientific and technical services industry. Nine percent work in management and another nine in manufacturing, while the federal government accounts for five percent of operations research management jobs.
The BLS predicts that statisticians will see even higher growth rates than mathematicians, with a 34 percent increase that would result in 12,600 new opportunities.
More Degree Programs
For an aspiring mathematician, the educational path to your career may seem clear-cut. You need a bachelor’s degree in math and then, for most positions, a master’s degree or higher. The BLS reports that some jobs are available to candidates with only an undergraduate degree, but most employers will require a graduate education, and jobs in academia often require a doctorate. Math majors have some choices they must make, such as what specialization to pursue in an undergraduate program and whether to study theoretical or applied math in graduate school, but generally, they know what to major in and can easily find a school that offers their program of study.
Aspiring operations research analysts may have a more difficult time choosing a major. The BLS reported that “some schools” have specific operations research majors at the bachelor’s degree level, but that it’s not unusual for operations research analysts to approach the field with a background in another quantitative field of study that is more widely available. Analytics, engineering and computer science are popular choices, as is a degree in general mathematics.
Whether students actually major in operations research or end up with another major due to the scarcity of specialized undergraduate programs, they should take classes in advanced multivariable calculus, advanced linear algebra, trigonometry and linear programming.