As you plan your path to the career you want, you are already aware of the importance of going to college. Any math-related occupation will require college-level studies, not only in mathematics but also in related fields of study as well as the physical and social sciences, the humanities and the liberal arts. What you might not know yet about studying math is whether your plan should include graduate school or jump straight from an undergraduate education to the workforce. Both of these options are viable, depending on what you want to do with your math degree. However, there are important differences, in terms of coursework and career opportunities, between stopping your studies up earning a bachelor’s degree and moving forward with earning a master’s degree.

General vs. Specialized Curriculum

The first difference you will encounter when comparing a bachelor’s degree in math to a master’s degree is in the curricula of these programs. Math degree programs at the undergraduate level tend to be more general, while those at the graduate level are more specific. There is a crucial reason for the difference. Undergraduate programs equip students with a breadth of knowledge, both in mathematics and outside their major program of study. At this level, students are still developing a solid foundation in math. Later, those who choose to pursue an advanced degree will build upon what they already know, adding depth to their already broad education.

Bachelor’s degree programs in math usually include coursework in calculus, algebra and differential equations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More specifically, most undergraduate math programs require at least three or four semesters of calculus at levels of increasing difficulty. Coursework in linear and abstract algebra is common. Students might also take classes like in discrete mathematics, real analysis and complex analysis.

What is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s Degree in Math and a Master’s Degree in Math?

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Part of the beauty of an undergraduate math degree is its breadth and versatility. However, there are ways to narrow your focus somewhat by completing studies in an emphasis area or an academic track. In fact, to increase the marketability of the bachelor’s degree in mathematics, many schools are now encouraging or mandating some sort of concentration or sequence of non-math career-related. For example, students might take several courses in computer science, business, statistics or another discipline that complements the math curriculum.

At the graduate level, favoring theoretical or applied math is more than an option. Graduate students routinely have to make this decision. In fact, students working toward a master’s degree may choose to focus their education even further, earning graduate degrees in subjects such as applied computational mathematics, industrial mathematics, financial mathematics and applied mathematics in engineering.

Of course, other differences between pursuing an undergraduate degree only and going on to earn a master’s degree include the time you spend in school – usually an additional two years – and the cost of your graduate tuition.

Career Opportunities With Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

Most mathematician roles both in private industry and academic settings require a graduate degree, the BLS reported. That means you can look forward to having more plentiful career opportunities with a master’s degree, at least if you are eyeing a career as a mathematician. The industries that require an advanced degree are also among the top employing industries for mathematicians as well as some of the best paying industries for the occupation. For example, mathematician roles in management, scientific and technical consulting services make up seven percent of all mathematician jobs in the U.S. and have a median annual wage of $120,840, the BLS reported. The next most lucrative industry, scientific research and development, accounts for 17 percent of mathematician jobs and pays a median salary of $119,500. For the eight percent of mathematicians who work in finance and insurance, the median salary is $106,070.

Job opportunities for mathematicians with only a bachelor’s degree are more challenging to find, but they are out there. Federal government jobs in the occupation often require only a bachelor’s degree in math, or “significant” math coursework if your degree is in another subject, the BLS reported. Fortunately for mathematicians, this exception to the rule still offers good job prospects. The federal government pays a median wage of $111,990, more than $10,000 per year above the median for the entire occupation, the BLS reported. The federal government is already the top employer of mathematicians, accounting for 35 percent of jobs in this field.

Government mathematicians use their math knowledge to study and interpret matters of public policy, including economic and environmental issues and public health concerns.

Additional Resources

What Is the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics Degree and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Math?  

What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Degree in Math?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone with a Math Degree?