If you excelled in high school math classes, you might wonder what you could do with a college education in mathematics. Two popular math career paths and fields of study are mathematician and actuary. Mathematicians and statisticians are highly educated math professionals who analyze numerical data to develop math theories, concepts and rules, which can then be used to understand the world and solve problems, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. An actuary works with math in a more applied function, using their knowledge to analyze the costs that go along with risk for a lender, insurance company or other business, according to the BLS. Some benefits of choosing an actuarial science degree over a mathematics degree include higher salaries, opportunities with an undergraduate degree, more growth in overall jobs in the field and the opportunity to combine your love of math with the exciting world of business.

Earning Potential

It is difficult to ignore the benefit of a six-figure median wage for actuaries. The BLS reports that actuaries earn a median salary of $101,560. Perhaps even more encouraging, the highest paying industry for actuaries, finance and insurance, is also the one which employs 70 percent of workers in the occupation.

For mathematicians and statisticians, the median salary is only $84,760. Considering mathematicians only, the wage difference between industries of employment is very large. The seven percent of mathematicians working in management, scientific and technical consulting services enjoy a median wage of $120,840, and three of the four remaining top employing industries also offer six-figure median wages. However, the median salary for the 16 percent of mathematicians working at colleges and universities is only $56,320.

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The median salary is higher for mathematicians, at $103,010, than for statisticians, at $84,060. However, statisticians outnumber mathematicians 12 to one.

Graduate Education Not Required

If you want to be a mathematician or statistician, there is a good chance you will ultimately need to go to graduate school. The BLS reports that some mathematician and statistician positions do exist for candidates with only a bachelor’s degree, but that most roles in these occupations require at least a master’s degree. A doctoral degree in theoretical or applied mathematics is often needed to work in academia.

A bachelor’s degree is usually the only degree needed to work as an actuary. While actuaries do need to complete a series of tests to attain full professional certification, they don’t need to earn an entirely new degree, or study actuarial science at the graduate level, to do so. When actuaries do choose to pursue a Master of Science in Actuarial Science degree, they are often seeking to develop their leadership skills and cultivate specialized knowledge.

In the field of mathematics, earning a graduate degree raises your income as well as opening up opportunities. Mathematicians and statisticians with a master’s degree earn 33 percent more than those without, the BLS reported.

Greater Increase in Job Opportunities

The job outlook for both actuary and mathematician occupations is extremely positive. The BLS expects a much faster than average rate of job growth for both of these career paths. Mathematicians will see career opportunities grow by 30 percent over a decade, but because this occupation currently employs just 3,100 Americans, only 900 new jobs are expected. The BLS expects jobs for actuaries, already at 23,600, will grow by 22 percent, or 5,300 new jobs, in the same timeframe.

The mathematical science occupation seeing the most job growth is statistician, where the anticipated 34 percent increase in career opportunities would add 12,600 new jobs to the 37,200 existing jobs.          

Apply Math Skills to Business Field

Even some of the best math students just don’t find abstract mathematical concepts that interesting. Others might not mind focusing on the theory of math, but they have an equally strong interest in the world of business. In either case, for many students, an actuary’s role of using math skills for business purposes may seem like a big benefit over devoting your career to studying mathematical rules.

Besides finance and insurance, the top industries that employ actuaries are professional, scientific and technical services, management of companies and enterprises and the government. One percent of actuaries are self-employed, the BLS reported.

Additional Resources

What Is the Benefit of a Mathematics Degree Vs an Actuarial Science Degree?

What Is the Benefit of an Accounting Degree Vs a Mathematics Degree?

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Mathematician?

What Degree Do I Need to Be an Actuary?

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