Although you like math, you might be wary of choosing the subject as your college major. If you worry that there aren’t any jobs with a degree in mathematics or that the field of math doesn’t have enough real-world applications to make it a viable subject to earn a degree in, you might be pleasantly surprised. The job outlook for math careers is better than average, and the broad and versatile skills you learn as a math major can appeal to prospective employers in a wide range of industries.
What Can I Do With a Math Degree?
More than 176,000 Americans worked in math careers as of 2020, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Countless others who earn a math degree go on to work in industries such as education, legal, business, economics, finance and engineering.
A math degree program can focus on abstract or applied mathematics, which means that your potential career options may emphasize strictly theoretical research to advance the field or purely practical applications of mathematical principles and methods. Generally, more prospective employers will be looking for applied math skills than knowledge of theoretical math concepts, since exploring the field of math purely for math’s sake isn’t beneficial in most companies and organizations outside of academia. Your potential work environments may be limited to universities and their provided research labs if you pursue a degree in theoretical mathematics, according to The Houston Chronicle.
However, if you opt for an applied mathematics program, your work options are virtually limitless. A few of the fields that applied mathematicians could consider include systems biology, data mining, materials science, computer animation, climatology, finance and economics and the connected fields of ecology, epidemiology and environment, according to the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
Whatever career direction you decide to pursue with a math degree, you should look for an opportunity that allows you to use skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, logic and reasoning – the same set of versatile skills that you developed by studying math.
The Best Jobs for Mathematics Majors
There are numerous potential jobs for math degrees. If you want to really devote your professional life to the field of mathematics, pursuing a career in what the BLS categorizes as math occupations may be your best option. These jobs include mathematician, statistician, actuary and operations research analyst.
Job Prospects for Math Majors
The math occupational career paths all pay well, with median salaries at least twice the median wage across all occupations in the United States. The BLS predicted that job opportunities for the math occupational group as a whole would increase by 28 percent between 2020 and 2030. Not only is this growth rate 3.5 times the job growth rate predicted for all occupations, but it also stands to add approximately 67,200 new jobs to the field by the end of this decade.
Mathematician and Statistician Jobs
Mathematician might be the career that first comes to mind when you think about college degree programs in math, but it’s far from the most common occupation. Only 2,700 workers in the United States held the job title of mathematician as of 2020, the BLS reported.
Mathematician Job Outlook
Job growth rates for mathematicians aren’t ideal. Despite high rates of growth being projected across the mathematician and statistician occupational grouping as a whole, the BLS predicted that jobs for mathematicians specifically would rise by just three percent, putting the job growth rate at less than half of the average rate for all careers. As a prospective mathematics major, you can probably do the math to realize that this small amount of growth, applied to such a small occupation to begin with, will only lead to a fairly small improvement in job opportunities. By 2030, the BLS has predicted only 100 new job opportunities for mathematicians, bringing the total number of mathematicians to 2,800.
Statistician Job Outlook
Statistician, the occupation most closely related to mathematician, is seeing a much higher growth rate. With 42,000 jobs already established in America as of 2020, the statistician career is already more than 15 times larger than the mathematician career. Further, the BLS had predicted that jobs for statisticians would increase by a much faster than average rate of 35 percent between 2020 and 2030. If accurate, this rate of growth would result in 14,900 new jobs for statisticians, or 56,900 total jobs in the field.
Jobs in Actuarial Science and Operations Research Analysis
Beyond mathematician and statistician, the occupations of actuary and operations research analyst are among the best-suited for math majors. Both roles apply math skills to the analysis of real-world issues: computing the financial cost of risk, for actuaries, and identifying ways to solve problems and streamline activities, for operations research analysts.
Actuary Job Outlook
Actuary is the smaller occupation, with just 27,700 workers as of 2020. However, the BLS expects jobs in this career field to grow by 24 percent, a much faster than average rate that works out to three times the rate of job growth anticipated for all occupations. Under the projected rate of job growth, there would be 6,800 new jobs for actuaries between 2020 and 2030. Actuaries may work in the areas of life insurance, health insurance, property and casualty insurance (including home and auto insurance) and pension and retirement.
The work actuaries do by putting mathematical and statistical concepts and methods into practice assessing the risk of financial losses is particularly valued in industries like finance and insurance. The complex knowledge of mathematics and statistics that is required makes this job a challenging one. Equally difficult is the requirement to pass a series of professional certification exams – seven to ten exams, depending on the field of actuary work in which you’re seeking certification – to reach full status as an actuarial fellow.
Operations Research Analyst Job Outlook
Opportunities will be even more plentiful for operations research analysts, who already occupied 104,100 jobs in 2020 and were predicted to see an increase of 25 percent, or 25,600 new jobs, over the decade between 2020 and 2030. Companies and occasionally government agencies turn to operations research analysts to do exactly what the job title suggests: research and analyze the organization’s operations to identify solutions to known problems or opportunities to streamline and improve operations. Jobs that fit into the category of operations research analysis include optimization analyst, analytical strategist, decision analyst and advanced analytics analyst, according to O*NET.
Although both of these jobs are roles you could pursue with a math degree, they may require a different level of education. While most actuaries have only a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree isn’t even in the top three most commonly reported levels of education for this career, 70 percent of all operations research analysts report having a master’s degree, according to O*NET.
The Best Jobs Math Majors Can Get in Other Fields
Each year, tens of thousands of new math degrees are awarded. For example, for the 2017 through 2018 academic year, students were awarded 25,256 bachelor’s degrees, 10,443 master’s degrees and 2,010 doctoral degrees in the category of mathematics and statistics, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Given that the number of undergraduate math degrees awarded in this single year is more than three times the total number of mathematicians in America, it probably comes as no surprise that many math majors wind up using skills that they gained while studying math as undergraduate students in careers outside of the traditional math occupations. Here are some of the alternative career paths you could pursue as a math major.
If you’re great at doing math, you might also excel at teaching math. Math majors sometimes go on to become teachers, leveraging their bachelor’s in mathematics degrees to get started seeking alternate-route teaching certification. Most teachers who focus on math specifically work in the middle school and high school grades, but elementary teachers typically teach their class all subjects, including math.
The demand for teachers depends on the grade level you’re interested in teaching. As of 2020, high school teachers earned a median wage of $62,870, and the BLS anticipated an 8 percent increase in jobs, leading to 78,200 new job roles by 2030. For middle school teachers, the BLS reported a $60,810 salary per year and predicted that jobs opportunities would increase by 7 percent, or 44,800 new jobs, during this decade. Elementary school teachers, not including special education teachers, earned a median wage of $60,940 per year in 2020, and the BLS was projecting a 7 percent rate of job growth that would add 101,700 new opportunities by 2030.
Studying math as an undergraduate student doesn’t directly contribute to your knowledge of the law, but it does help you develop strong skills in logic and reasoning. These are the same skills you would need to become a lawyer, applying to situations like building a case or constructing a legal argument. Math has become a common choice of major for students who intend to go to law school.
Among lawyers, the median annual pay rate was $126,930 in 2020, the BLS reported. Career opportunities for attorneys were expected to increase by 9 percent, or 71,500 new jobs.
Engineers use the principles of math and science to design and develop solutions to different kinds of problems. An undergraduate degree in mathematics could help put you on the path to an engineering job – but there’s a catch. Not having a formal education or experience in the use of math concepts and techniques for the purposes of engineering design could put you at a disadvantage. However, if you decide that the field of engineering is right for you, you may be able to build upon your undergraduate math knowledge with a master’s degree program in engineering.
For the architecture and engineering occupational group as a whole, the BLS expected job opportunities to rise by 6 percent, or 146,000 new jobs, from 2020 through 2030.
Math majors often end up in other roles in business and finance besides actuary and operations research analyst. Math skills are important for jobs like budget analyst, cost estimator and financial analyst.
Top Industries for Math Careers
Graduates of mathematics degree programs find work in a wide array of industries, including marketing, entertainment, healthcare, business and even legal. However, some industries are far more likely to be among the top employers of math majors than others.
For example, as of 2020, the finance and insurance industry employed 76 percent of all actuaries and 27 percent of operations research analysts, while insurance carriers and related activities hired 8 percent of statisticians. Around 22 percent of operations research analysts and 11 percent of actuaries worked in the professional, scientific and technical services industry in 2020, while the related management, scientific and technical consulting services industry employed 26 percent of mathematicians.
The federal government is another major employer, accounting for 47 percent of mathematician jobs, 12 percent of statistician jobs, 6 percent of operations research analyst roles and 4 percent of actuary positions in 2020.
The research and development industry employed 14 percent of statisticians, while management of companies and enterprises accounts for 9 percent of operations research analyst jobs and 5 percent of actuary jobs.
Earning Potential With a Math Degree
Math degree graduates have some serious income potential. Mathematicians earn a median salary of $110,860 in 2020, while the median wage for those in the best-paying industries rose to $121,140 per year or more, the BLS reported. Actuary is another math role that offers a six-figure salary, with a median wage of $111,030.
Statisticians earn a median wage of $92,270, but a six-figure salary is well within the realm of possibility for the 12 percent of statisticians who work for the federal government and even the 14 percent of statisticians who work in the research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences industry.
Even the lowest-paid of the mathematical science occupations, operations research analyst, enjoys an $86,200 median salary, which is still more than twice as high as the median wage for all occupations. Like statisticians, operations research analysts who work for the federal government – about 6 percent of the entire occupation – are the best-paid. The operations research analysts in this industry earned a median salary of $119,720 per year as of 2020.
Historically, mathematicians and statisticians who earned a master’s degree have seen a significant pay boost in the form of a wage premium of 33 percent, the BLS reported in 2015. According to O*NET, 25 percent of mathematicians have a master’s degree and 50 percent have a doctorate, while 65 percent of statisticians have a master’s degree and 20 percent have a doctorate. If you choose one of these roles, you may need to consider graduate school in the future.
For mathematicians, one of the industries that have the most rigorous education requirements happens to be one of the least lucrative. Mathematicians who work in colleges and universities earn a median wage of just $63,600 per year, the BLS reported in 2020.