Both mathematics and statistics are appealing majors for students who enjoy working with numbers. Despite the many similarities between the studies of these two mathematical sciences, there are also important differences to keep in mind. Considering factors such as the different coursework required to graduate, the education options available at the master’s degree level and the differences between working as a mathematician and a statistician can help you choose which major is right for you.
Whether you choose to major in mathematics or in statistics, you will most likely take at least some coursework in both subjects of study. The two fields are closely related, with statisticians needing a strong mathematical background and mathematicians benefiting from a solid understanding of probability and statistics.
A bachelor’s degree program in mathematics usually includes core coursework in linear algebra, abstract algebra, calculus and differential equations but will often cover material in statistics, physics, computer science and engineering as well, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BSL) reported. Statisticians also need to know calculus and linear algebra, but they are more likely to study topics such as probability, statistical theory, experimental design and survey methodology than other advanced mathematics courses, according to the BLS. If you compare the mathematics major requirements and statistics major requirements of a school side-by-side, you will see a lot of similarities. Both degree programs expect students to complete core courses in their major, like multiple calculus and algebra courses for math majors and intermediate statistics, theoretical statistics and advanced data analysis for statistics majors. In either major, students complete their education by choosing math electives or electives in fields such as computer science that match their career and personal interests.
Undergraduate degree programs in statistics are not as common as those in mathematics, so some statisticians start out with math degrees, economics degrees or computer science degrees.
Graduate School Options
When it comes to choosing between a math major and a statistics major, it is important to include your intentions for graduate school into the decision. Most mathematician and statistician roles require a master’s degree or Ph.D., according to the BLS, so many students who choose either of these majors will eventually go to graduate school. Mathematics and statistics degree programs at the graduate level tend to be more specialized. In math, graduate students have to choose between theoretical mathematics or applied mathematics. Statistics tends to be a more applied field of study, but there is also a theoretical field of statistics as well as a great deal of math theory to learn for a graduate degree.
Students who are unsure which subject they want to go to graduate school may do better to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, since math is the broader subject of study. Having this strong math background will allow students in a graduate statistics program to grasp the statistical theory work as well as provide a solid foundation for students who choose a master’s or Ph.D. degree in applied or theoretical mathematics. If you know that the theory component of pure mathematics doesn’t interest you, studying statistics at the undergraduate level instead, and possibly applied statistics at the graduate level, can offer you the chance to take valuable computer science and data analysis coursework rather than more abstract math classes.
If you don’t want to go to graduate school at all, one industry where you can look for mathematician and statistician jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree is the federal government, according to the BLS.
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Career Differences for Mathematicians and Statisticians
While mathematicians and statisticians perform somewhat similar work, applying mathematical and statistical methods to the analysis of data, the career paths also have some differences. For one thing, statistician is a larger occupation than mathematician in the United States, with statisticians holding 37,200 compared to just 3,100 mathematician jobs. Both careers are growing rapidly, but the BLS predicts a higher rate of growth and a much larger increase in overall career opportunities for statisticians than for mathematicians. Over a decade, mathematicians will likely see a much faster than average 30 percent rate of job growth that adds 900 new jobs, but the 34 percent job growth rate predicted for statisticians will translate to 12,600 new career opportunities.
There may be fewer mathematicians than statisticians, but mathematicians earn higher wages. The median salary for statisticians in all industries is $84,060, compared to a $103,010 median salary for mathematicians.
In the highest paying industries for these respective careers, mathematicians earn a median wage of $120,840 annually, compared to $103,630 for statisticians.