What Can You Do With a Math Major? 10 Great Jobs to Explore was originally published on uConnect External Content.
It’s not rocket science for me to guess that if you’re a math major—or potential math major—you likely love numbers and problem-solving. But what can you do with that passion once you get your degree? As someone who advises college students on career paths and job searches, I can share that the answer is: a lot!
“The types of skills that math majors develop really allow them to do nearly anything that they want to,” says Libby Doucet, a career advisor at MIT who supports math students (and a coworker of mine!). But while having numerous options is exciting, all these choices can also be a big cause of stress, confusion, and anxiety. If you’re like many other students, you may be overwhelmed by the possibilities or unsure what some of these jobs even are and what you’d be interested in.
We’ve compiled 10 jobs that are a great match if you have a math degree—but first let’s take a look at the skills that make math majors shine.
Top Skills Math Majors Bring to Any Job
Math majors develop many essential skills that are sought after by employers and—extra perk!—they’re transferable across jobs and industries. Here are six top skills you’ll likely gain by completing a math degree:
- Analytical and quantitative skills: Perhaps unsurprisingly, analytical and quantitative skills are key strengths of math majors. Math classes present you with many situations and problems that require an analytical eye—whether you need to determine the best equation, identify a pattern, or solve for a missing data point. And to come to accurate solutions, you need strong quantitative skills. Employers value analytical and quantitative skills, Doucet says. “Having that type of mindset when you’re working on problems is particularly important” in many jobs—especially those where you’ll need to make decisions based on large amounts of information.
- Critical thinking: While quantitative skills tend to be more rooted in facts and numbers, math majors also develop the ability to think critically by evaluating all types of evidence—or lack thereof—and drawing informed conclusions. Math majors constantly take in information, evaluate it, and make decisions. The ability to consider multiple variables or outcomes and to develop a comprehensive, clear, and logical position to share with others is invaluable in almost every job.
- Problem-solving skills: A top skill employers seek is problem-solving—as any organization or employee will encounter challenges during their work. Someone with the ability not only to point out a problem, but also to assess an issue, think of solutions, and propose the best approach is an employer’s dream come true. Math majors are inquisitive and have experience considering complex problems in different ways and thinking outside the box to develop creative solutions, Doucet says, which are incredibly useful skills across roles and industries.
- Attention to detail: In math, one flawed calculation can set off a reaction that invalidates the rest of your work and leads to the wrong answer. So math majors quickly learn how to pay attention to tiny details and take an organized approach to their work. Math majors are also skilled in identifying where an error may have occurred. I’ve heard employers mention frequently that they’re looking for detail-oriented employees because they’re reliable, produce excellent work, and avoid errors—and math majors often fit the bill.
- Communication skills: Math majors develop strong communication skills to defend the logic behind their proposals and solutions. They often need to break down larger problems into smaller ones, explain complex issues or thinking patterns, or offer clear reasoning behind their decision-making processes and outcomes, giving them practice in a range of communication skills they can apply to areas beyond math.
- Computer skills: Depending on your specific coursework, you may gain experience using statistical modeling, databases, programming, or algorithms to solve complex problems. Employers of all kinds—from online travel companies to trading firms—are looking for candidates with these skills, and they greatly expand the types of jobs you can land.
These skills position math majors as strong candidates for many jobs, and below are just a few options. (We’ve included salary info from PayScale, which updates its database nightly, so click on the average salary links to see up-to-date numbers!)
Average salary: $61,650
Data analysts wrangle vast sets of quantitative or qualitative information to extract useful insights and are in demand across all industries. Depending on their exact position and employer, they may or may not conduct data collection, but they frequently manage, interpret, and draw valuable conclusions and recommendations from data sets. For example, an entertainment company may want to know how consumers engage with a particular franchise across their business sectors. Are fans of the movie more likely to go to the theme park with related attractions or to purchase a comic book?
Critical thinking, curiosity, and the ability to communicate compelling stories from identified patterns are also desirable skills for this role, as are statistical skills, which you’ll likely gain in your coursework. Because of the large amount of information data analysts work with, it’s helpful to have experience with programming languages or software that can help parse or present the data, such as Structured Query Language (SQL), Tableau, or even Microsoft Excel. And if you’ve done some programming or data visualization, you can more easily land some entry-level roles.
Average salary: $82,234
Equity traders buy and sell public or private company stocks and other equities—or advise investment team members who do so. They monitor market trends, develop trading strategies, and determine whether or not a company, bond, or fund might be a worthwhile investment. They also try to control risk, reduce transaction costs, and increase profits. Like data analysts, they’re dealing with a high volume of data.
Math majors can leverage their strong analytical and critical thinking skills in this role. It’s important to enjoy research, understand financial markets, and be able to conduct financial analyses with strong attention to detail. Knowledge of programming languages such as Python, R, or SQL lends itself well to the data analysis conducted in this work. And equity traders often collaborate closely with others, such as financial advisors or portfolio managers, which requires clear communication in a fast-paced environment. In some job descriptions, you may see passing certain exams, such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 7 Exam, listed as a qualification. Luckily, some employers offer to sponsor qualified entry-level candidates to take these exams, so be on the lookout for that in job postings.
If you’re intrigued by this role, stock broker, quantitative analyst, investment banker, or other jobs in finance may also be of interest!
Average salary: $51,893
Accountants keep track of finances. Common tasks may include reviewing contracts or invoices, reconciling accounts, processing payments or payroll, conducting financial reviews, developing reports, and preparing tax filings and other required documents. They may also provide analysis and strategy recommendations to improve financial processes. Accountants have many work environments to choose from. They can work in-house for companies of all kinds, at a firm that does accounting for other businesses, or even have their own practices serving individuals or small businesses.
Accountants need to be extremely detail-oriented. If you love working with numbers, maintaining accurate records, or hunting for the root cause of something that doesn’t look quite right, this could be an excellent role. For entry-level jobs, adding relevant accounting or financial classes to your coursework can help you break into this field. Obtaining a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license—or starting on the path—will also help. The CPA exam is issued by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), but each state has its own requirements to sit for the exam and receive licensure so be sure to check your state’s regulations. Some employers will pay and support you as you pursue your CPA, so getting a job at one of these companies can be a good first move.
Average salary: $51,026
Mathematics teachers educate others on a variety of math subjects like algebra, calculus, trigonometry, statistics, and geometry. They create engaging lesson plans and curricula, build relationships with students, develop teaching approaches for different learning styles, conduct assessments, and provide feedback and grades on assignments.
Teaching can be rewarding for math majors because you get to share your fundamental knowledge and excitement about math. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with students and share your analytical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills with them. Strong communication is also essential as you explain concepts, adapt to different grade levels and individual student learning styles, and interact with parents.
With a bachelor’s degree in math, you’re most likely to teach classes from middle through high school levels at public, private, charter, or specialty schools. Requirements for teaching differ by state, and you may need to obtain a state-issued certification or license. Your college may also offer the opportunity to gain the necessary credentials through a pre-professional program or as a major or minor that you add to your math degree. If you aspire to teach at a college level, you’ll need to invest additional time in earning an advanced degree. With a master’s degree and teaching experience, you can qualify for some teaching jobs at certain types of schools, like community colleges. A PhD will open up opportunities to teach at all types of educational institutions at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Average salary: $61,883
Financial analysts evaluate historical and current financial expenditures as well as forecast and project the future financial performance of a company. They develop recommendations to improve strategies and financial outcomes and help shape short- or long-term budgeting or investments. A financial analyst might, for example, gather data sets that allow them to look for trends, review and create company financial reports, and/or conduct industry or stock market research. They may also draft reports that compare their company with others in the industry and develop budget models and projections.
This is a role that’ll allow you the room to do research, keep up to date on business news, and apply the analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills you gained in your coursework to conduct financial modeling and influence business decisions to accelerate company growth. You’d also employ communication skills when presenting this information clearly—and often visually—to colleagues and executives.
Average salary: $96,823
Actuaries conduct analyses to determine costs and evaluate the risk and uncertainty inherent in different scenarios. Many actuaries work for insurance companies—whether they focus on life, health, home, or auto insurance. For example, what’s the likelihood that a natural disaster might damage or destroy a home and what appropriate rate should be set for coverage? Actuaries help answer these questions using probability and other prediction methods. Their goal is to decrease risk, increase the financial stability of the company they work for, and—hopefully—lower overall insurance rates for customers.
In this role, you can expect to work with large amounts of data to identify and predict trends, which means data analysis and modeling are essential tools of the trade. If you love being immersed in data and conducting statistical analysis, this could be an excellent fit.
Actuaries need additional certifications beyond their degrees—and many decide the extra work is worth the high salary you can net! Depending on the industry you’re going into, you’ll need to take a series of exams through the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or the Society of Actuaries (SOA). Actuaries can start their careers as trainees and land a role after passing a few of the exams. As with other positions, many employers will support new actuaries as they work toward certification.
Average salary: $88,343
Management consultants typically work at large consulting firms that other companies hire to provide advice and offer solutions to critical business problems. They often work in teams and are assigned client projects where they identify, evaluate, and recommend solutions to improve the organization’s performance. They gather information, conduct interviews, perform research and analysis, develop reports, and present insights and recommendations clearly and concisely to clients.
For math majors who love diverse problem-solving, management consulting is attractive because you’ll work on a variety of problems with different organizations and even within different industries. One client project might have you evaluating ideal locations for new fast-casual restaurant franchises, while another client project might focus on which budget cuts could prevent a law firm from filing for bankruptcy. Each project will provide complex challenges where critical thinking skills are crucial. And you’ll use your qualitative and analytical skills whenever you’re digging into a company, department, or team’s financials or other data. Communication is also a key skill as you’ll need to collaborate with stakeholders and team members and present your recommendations to company leadership. Management consulting firms look to hire analytically minded individuals who demonstrate leadership and the ability to drive impact. If you enjoy working in a fast-paced environment, meeting new people, solving problems, and traveling a lot, this is a role to consider!
Average salary: $66,928
A loan underwriter reviews documentation for loans, such as home mortgages, and makes recommendations or decisions on whether to approve or deny the applications. They ensure documentation meets lending guidelines, review and verify the application and financial data, conduct risk assessment, and decide if there is a high probability the client will pay back the company or financial institution they work for. If an underwriter gives their approval, they also determine the amount to loan, identify what—if any—conditions need to be applied, and ensure that laws and regulations are followed.
Many skills you obtain from a math degree come in handy for this role including analytical skills, critical thinking, and attention to detail. Although additional certifications may not be required for underwriters, some job listings will indicate that particular credentials, such as a Mortgage Loan Origination (MLO) license, are preferred.
Average salary: $87,349
A software engineer writes code using computer languages to create new programs, applications, tools, and websites, or to update existing software. Daily tasks involve reviewing, writing, and debugging code as well as collaborating with others, such as designers, data scientists, and product managers.
As a math major, your college coursework, research, or internships will likely expose you to software engineering skills that are in demand. Math majors often pick up MATLAB, Python, and R to implement algorithms, statistical and data analysis, and more. These transferable skills can help position you to move into software engineering roles even without a computer science or engineering degree. If you’ve dabbled a bit in these skills, but know you need a tad more experience to make the full transition, then bootcamps can increase your skills to help you land an entry-level software engineering job.
Market Research Analyst
Average Salary: $54,735
Market research analysts dive deep into data and extract insights to help companies better position their products or services for their current and target consumers. They may collect data through surveys to identify trends and patterns that help with a marketing department’s decision-making. Their goal may be identifying what product, service, or new features the market wants, who would buy it, and what price they’d be willing to pay. They may do exploratory research to consider repositioning their brand when dealing with an oversaturated market or to learn something that might increase customer interest. For example, could adding a purple M&M increase sales?
Although you might not hear “market research analyst” and immediately think of it as a “math” job, this is a role where you’ll leverage what you’ve learned in class to create forecast models, manage complex datasets, and conduct statistical analysis. Through market research, you’ll use quantitative and critical thinking skills to assess opportunity and present information and solutions clearly.