Whether you call it ‘math’ or ‘maths’, or prefer the traditional ‘mathematics’, if you study numbers at university, your career opportunities are not only numerous, they’re also fairly lucrative.
Thanks to the growing importance placed on technology, big data and economic efficiency by all kinds of organizations, expert number crunchers are increasingly in demand. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2012 and 2022, the job market for mathematicians is expected to grow by a whopping 23%, with a predicted median salary of US$110,000.
But it’s not all about the money! Those who study maths are keen problem solvers, eager to make sense of even the most advanced equations. Academic research is a common career path, but so too are careers in business, economics and banking. This wide range of opportunities comes from the universal need for graduates with strong analytical and problem-solving skills – which math graduates should have by the bucket load.
What can you do with a math degree?
So, what can you do with a math degree? The answer to this question is as varied as you can get, as mathematical experts are in demand across all kinds of industries, the world over. Study math and you’ll have access to career opportunities in sectors you may never have even considered, including specialized fields such as in law or medicine. That said, a large number of math careers are still based within business or science and technology-related sectors, with math graduates occupying roles such as accountant, actuary, statistician, technician, economist or market researcher.
Below are a few potential answers to the question “what can you do with a mathematic degree?” - including information on what to expect and the skills you’ll need.
Careers in accountancy and finance
A career path spanning many industries, accountancy offers a range of choices for math degree graduates. Accountancy jobs include roles such as auditor, tax accountant, forensic accountant, management accountant and corporate advisor. To become a chartered accountant, in addition to an undergraduate degree in mathematics or a related area, you’ll also need to gain further professional qualifications. Often, however, if you start at a company as a trainee in this field, your employer will help you gain both the experience and the professional certification needed to develop in your role.
Careers in banking
Opportunities in banking range from the world of retail banking to corporate investment banking. Both arenas deal with financial assessment – public and private – with opportunities to specialize in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, bonds and shares, privatization, lending and IPOs (initial public offerings). Duties can include market research, creating new business opportunities, and developing financial models and solutions to present to clients. Math careers in banking can be lucrative, but again, professional qualifications in finance will be needed for some roles.
As an actuary, you will be evaluating financial risk in order to manage and advise clients. Combining risk analysis skills with in-depth knowledge of economics and business, actuaries are at the heart of business strategy, ensuring sound investments are made and commercial/business goals fulfilled. New actuaries will most likely be working within pensions and insurance, a relatively low-risk area, while in the future you may get to work in banking, healthcare or investment. Actuarial roles can be client-facing, as with consultancies and pensions/insurance companies, and all actuaries will require the skill of communicating complex data and analyses to non-specialists.
Statisticians are specialists in statistics – that is, the collation, analysis, interpretation and presentation of statistics and quantitative data. Statisticians’ skills are required in numerous industries, ranging from healthcare to government and from finance to sport. You'll be tasked with managing, collecting and arranging data by means of surveys, experiments and contextual analysis. With your findings, you may then be called upon to create reports and advise clients/colleagues on possible strategies, for example in order to make good financial decisions to further business goals. As a statistician, you'll have expert analytical skills as well as solid communication and IT skills.
Careers in academia and research
While it’s now clearly understood that careers in math go far beyond the realms of academia and research, these sectors are still very popular among mathematics students. This route may appeal to those who want the challenge of driving forward the next series of discoveries, theories and applications of the field – as well as the prestige of following some of history’s greatest mathematical minds.
Academic and research-based careers in math can be incredibly wide-ranging, and will depend on what area you wish to specialize in. While many are based within university departments, long-term academics are also often involved in publishing, contributing to journals and specialist periodicals, or helping to produce complete publications (while on sabbatical or alongside other commitments).
Other common math careers include; intelligence analysis, operational research, statistical research, logistics, financial analysis, market research (for business), management consultancy, IT (systems analysis, development or research), software engineering, computer programming, the public sector (advisory capacity as a scientist or statistician), scientific research and development (e.g. biotechnology, meteorology or oceanography).
Less typical math careers
While the most common way to enter the field of engineering is with a dedicated engineering degree, a math degree can also get you there, in some specialized roles. Math graduates, being adept in solving mathematical problems, are also often good at helping to solve real-world, physical problems, and can be found working in mechanical, structural, aeronautical and many other realms of engineering. That said, engineering careers often require specialized knowledge not covered during a math degree. Engineering internships and work experience can help if you want to improve your employability straight out of university.
Always wanted to be the person who tells the rest of the world whether to pack an umbrella or sunscreen? As a math graduate, that could be you! Although as a meteorologist, you might be a little overqualified for simply presenting the weather. This role involves studying weather conditions using data collected from weather stations, radar, remote sensors and satellite images across the globe, in order to interpret causes and to produce forecasts. You’ll need excellent IT skills, as well as strong skills in analyzing and interpreting complex mathematical data.
In addition to academic roles with a research focus, many rewarding math careers can be found in teaching. Numeracy is always a high priority within primary and secondary education systems, making highly numerate graduates with an interest in teaching highly sought-after. In order to teach in most countries, you'll require a formal teaching qualification. This can usually be gained in little over a year, and is often highly subsidized by the government, with grants often available to cover fees. To teach at university level, a postgraduate degree is often required, in a relevant specialism. If you choose this path, you may also get the chance to pursue your own academic research.
“What Can You Do With a Math Degree?” is part of our “What Can You Do With…” series. We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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