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What is a mathematics degree?
Encyclopedia Britannica defines mathematics as the science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects. It deals with logical reasoning and quantitative calculation.
Degree programs in mathematics typically teach both the theory and abstract of pure mathematics and its practical application to the world, known as applied mathematics. In other words, math majors study algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics; but most pair this mathematics concentration with classes that reveal how math concepts are used in business management, computer science, economics, finance, music, philosophy, physics, and sports science.
Associate Degree in Mathematics
Mathematics degree programs at the associate level provide students with fundamental math skills that prepare them to work as research assistants, bookkeepers, and surveyors.
Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics
Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics generally qualify for positions as actuaries, financial analysts, controllers, and researchers. With the required teaching certificate, they may also teach math.
Coursework at this level includes:
- Probability and Statistics
- Abstract Algebra
- Advanced Calculus
- Applied Regression Analysis
- Complex Variables
- Applied Probability
Master’s Degree in Mathematics
Master’s degree programs in mathematics are typically aimed at students who wish to teach the subject at the college or university level, or conduct advanced research in the field. Other career opportunities for holders of this graduate level degree include statistician, engineering analyst, and systems analyst.
These are some of the advanced courses that make up a mathematics master’s program:
- Computer (Symbolic) Algebra
- Real Analysis and Complex Analysis
- Categorical Data Analysis
- Coding Theory
- Graph Theory
Doctoral Degree in Mathematics
Ph.D. graduates in mathematics most often become math researchers and scholars. Doctoral programs offer specializations like engineering and computational science. The curriculum at this level is designed to help students conduct independent research.
Here are some sample classes:
Degrees similar to mathematics
The field of accounting is focused on analyzing income and expenditure records; on tracking budgets and revenue; and on producing financial records for individuals, businesses, industries, and governments
Actuarial (Applied) Mathematics
This degree program provides students with in-depth training in mathematics, statistics, and probability. It teaches the use of models in analyzing and solving financial problems and includes coursework in economics, finance, accounting, and computer science.
Computer science programs teach students about computer systems and the way humans and computers interact. Coursework covers mathematics for computer science, artificial intelligence, data structures and algorithms, introduction to program design, and the theory of formal languages.
Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field of business and managerial economics is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve problems in business.
The finance field is concerned with how individuals, businesses, and organizations raise, distribute, and use money. Majors in this field learn how to make financial decisions concerning raising funds, investments, and cost control for organizations. Topics covered include budgets, stocks and bonds, and interest rates.
Management Science / Systems Engineering
This degree program is concerned with how to use math and science to develop innovative technologies that help run businesses. Students of management science take courses in operations management, computer-based simulation systems, and statistical applications in business.
It has been said that a degree program in philosophy teaches students how to think, not what to think. And there is certainly truth to the statement, because philosophy doesn’t just encourage the asking of questions. It encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we believe? Why do we believe it? What is right and wrong in life? What is true and false? What is real and unreal? Philosophy is concerned with the nature of existence and knowledge. Both mathematics and philosophy aim to answer questions by pure reasoning.
This degree field is focused on the study of probability theory and sampling theory. Students use techniques like sample survey theory and variance analysis (the quantitative investigation of the difference between actual and planned behavior) to examine the relationships between measurements.
Skills you'll learn
According to Kaye Stacey of the University of Melbourne in Australia, studying mathematics and thinking mathematically involve four fundamental processes:
- Specializing – looking at examples and special cases
- Generalizing – looking for patterns and relationships
- Conjecturing – predicting relationships and results
- Convincing – finding and communicating reasons why something is true
It is not difficult to see how these processes can be applied to almost any field of work and how they leave mathematics graduates with the following set of transferable skills:
- Analytical Thinking
- Critical Thinking
- Problem Solving
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Ability to manipulate precise and intricate ideas
- Ability to construct logical arguments and expose illogical arguments
- Time Management
What can you do with a mathematics degree?
There is a reason that ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic’ have long been promoted as the essential ‘Three Rs’ of education. Quite simply, it is because these three skills are the foundational skills of learning and of working in any field. In fact, 94 percent of all workers use some sort of math in their jobs. Therefore, graduates of mathematics – or advanced arithmetic – can apply their knowledge in this diverse, though not exhaustive list of occupational categories:
Mathematics and Statistics
These two closely aligned fields are the most obvious employers of math majors. In many cases, working in roles directly related to math and statistics requires an advanced degree and involves solving business problems by developing statistical models to collect and analyze data and draw conclusions.
The insurance sector employs a significant number of mathematics graduates. Many work as actuaries, using advanced math to calculate and manage risks for insurance companies. The job involves figuring out how likely it is that specific events – illness, death, car accidents, natural disasters – will occur; and using those determined probabilities to predict the risk and the cost of insuring against such events.
Math training is often the first step that aspiring accountants take in preparing for a career in the field and ultimately becoming a certified public accountant (CPA).
Banking / Finance / Investment
A background in mathematics is very valuable in these business sectors. Financial analysts apply their knowledge in identifying financial market trends and making investment recommendations and decisions.
Construction, Manufacturing, and Merchandising
These fields hire cost estimators to determine project costs, timelines, and required resources. They also employ inventory control specialists whose job it is to maintain the right amount of stock to operate efficiently. Both roles require mathematical analysis skills.
In this sector, economists use mathematical and statistical methodologies to examine financial data and advise businesses on the production and distribution of goods and services.
Mathematics majors who combine their math concentration with the required teaching certificate can find employment as math, statistics, and economics teachers at the postsecondary level. Graduate degree holders may find employment as university math professors.
This is another field that calls for the mathematical and analytical skills that mathematicians offer.
Many government departments hire mathematics graduates to manage funding of government programs. The role involves analyzing the costs and potential impacts of budget proposals.
Mathematical and statistical analysis can help companies figure out which products consumers want to buy and how much they are willing to pay for them.
The analytical skills of mathematics graduates are especially important in operations research. Individuals working in this field use mathematical models to improve business operations. For example, in the transportation industry, they may help airlines or railways determine the most efficient schedules.
Software Development and Computer Programming
The fields of software development and computer programming are concerned with testing for and identifying product bugs and performance problems. Mathematicians bring analytical thinking skills that this work demands.
Energy and water companies, for example, hire people with mathematics backgrounds to apply their knowledge to estimate usage and pricing of these public utilities.