Why Get a Degree in Mathematics?

Many people ask what a math major can do besides teach, and many counselors, teachers, and parents say to young people, "You like math, you should be an engineer!" But Mathematics and Statistics majors are well prepared for a large variety of occupations and further training. There is, however, a "door problem": there are not many doors with the label "Mathematician" on them. But there are mathematicians sitting behind doors with lots of other job titles on them!

Why Study Mathematics?

Why would a person want to study mathematics? There are many answers to this simple question, and many of them are not obvious. Here is a link to help you find an answer.

  • Why Do Math? - Mathematics has proven to be uniquely insightful for solving a myriad of problems in science, society and our everyday lives. This site claims to highlight "solutions to many of these problems in an engaging, layered, multimedia website and shows that an undergraduate mathematics education can be an entryway to rewarding and engaging career opportunities."
  • When Will I Use Math? - This site should be useful to students, faculty, parents, and others trying understand how important math is in real life. The goal of the site is not necessarily to encourage students to become math majors, but rather to help students understand that math is extremely useful even if they want to be a lawyer or a doctor or a stock broker or something else.
  • AMS "Headlines & Deadlines for Students" - The American Mathematical Society invites you to sign up for "Headlines & Deadlines for Students," a free monthly email service that includes news, links to helpful resources, and deadlines for applications for fellowships and grants, meeting registrations, and more. Each email news or deadline item links to a site for details, or to more information on the "Headlines & Deadlines for Students" web page.

Best Occupations for Mathematicians

There are some job titles below for you to see. They could all be filled by mathematicians. You may be surprised by this, but Mathematics is one of the most employable majors you can have. You may also be surprised that Mathematician was recently named the "Best Occupation" by the Wall Street Journal. Also, Actuary and Statistician are second and third, respectively.

 Money Magazine has also created a ranking of "Best Jobs in America". Not surprisingly, several of the Top 10 are jobs for mathematicians.

Careers in Mathematics

You can join these successful individuals.

Some obvious titles include:

  • Teacher
  • Professor
  • Mathematician
  • Statistician
  • Actuary

Some less obvious titles include:

  • Analyst
  • Lawyer
  • Economist
  • Cryptologist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Demographer
  • Underwriter
  • Information Architect
  • Investment Advisor
  • Market Specialist
  • Risk Arbitrageur
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Systems Engineer
  • Information Systems Consultant
  • Robotics Specialist
  • Scientific Systems Programmer
  • Cost Estimator
  • Troubleshooter

There are many "real world" applications of mathematical research. 

How to Get There

  1. Take lots of courses and get good grades!
  2. Computer literacy! Knowledge of various special programs such as Maple and Matlab, special languages such as Java and C are a must and basic web skills are a must.
  3. Writing skills and good communication skills are essential. Keep your best work in a portfolio. If writing is a barrier, take writing intensive courses. Be a presenter in some of our various forums like the poster sessions or undergraduate research symposium. The Geneseo's annual G.R.E.A.T. Research Symposium  gives students excellent opportunities for honing presentation skills! Proficiency in a foreign language might open international doors.
  4. A double major or significant course work in an additional area are essential for paths into areas like management and engineering and economics. The math student has the advantage if strong complementary skills are also there. Good complementary areas of study:  any of the sciences, economics, management and finance. Less obvious alternatives: political science, psychology, and geography.
  5. Take the actuarial exams. The actuarial field itself still offers good employment opportunities. Getting good grades on the exams (the first and second if possible) serves as a good recommendation in other fields as well. Dr. Chi Ming Tang offers a seminar (Math 366) every semester that prepares students for the exams.
  6. Internships (internal and external), undergraduate research, interdisciplinary research experiences, summer employment in industry, and REUs are becoming a vital part of the "good" resume! Besides, they are valuable educational experiences! There are research experiences available on campus and internships off campus. Ask us!

More Opportunities Open up With Graduate Study

Graduate study puts many different fields in reach. Within mathematics there are many different concentrations: Pure math, applied (or applicable) math, statistics. But there are many interdisciplinary programs as well: Actuarial science, operations research, biostatistics. There are programs with other names that accept well-trained math students, especially those with strong additional studies: computer science, engineering, economics, business, management, financing, architecture, law, and industrial mathematics. For the most part, you will NOT have to pay for graduate study. Support for research and teaching assistants is plentiful. Try to work in the Math Learning Center or private tutor. This reinforces your own skills and strengthens your credentials as a potential TA.

To get into graduate school:

  1. Do all of the things suggested for getting a job with a BA.
  2. Do well on the GRE's. There is an interactive site on the net where you can practice for the general exams. The general GRE's are particularly important if you are branching out from mathematics. Inquire about our practice sessions for the subject area exam in math.
  3. Get good recommendations. This means: Get to know the faculty well.
  4. Get good grades!!! But you know that. Go beyond the minimal major. Try to get in as many of our upper level courses as possible. We have guidelines for what to study for your various interests.
  5. Resources: Most of the math professors serve as graduate school consultants. They would be glad to talk with you! Check out the Graduate School Bulletin Board to get an idea of the scope of programs offered.

Don't forget that there are plenty of books and other written resources available through the Mathematic faculty departmental offices. Ask around, you're bound to find some that are both useful and interesting to you!

External Links

Math Associations

Actuary and Statistics

Career Links

Back to top