Just as most history majors are not going to be "historians," most math majors will not be "mathematicians." But a major in math, as part of a liberal arts degree, develops quantitative skills and analytical abilities that are an asset in many careers. Of course, there are also possibilities more directly tied to the math major. Here is some data about what some of our WU math majors planned at the time of graduation.
You should visit the Mathematics Careers page from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and the web pages Careers in Mathematics and Women Doing Mathematics maintained by the American Mathematical Society (AMS). They talk about what some recent bachelors-level graduates in mathematics are doing. The AMS sites about The Profession is also worth a visit. You might also like the article Working Your Degree from the editors of CNN and Money Magazine and the 2009 article about careers in the Wall Street Journal (in this study, mathematician, actuary and stastician rank among the "best" jobs).
Some Reasons to Major in Math is a useful collection of information compiled at Duke University.
Washington University students should also visit The Career Center (110 Danforth University Center, 935-5930).
Some of the more popular career options are discussed below.
Teaching mathematics is a challenging and rewarding job for those who get excited by communicating ideas and working with people. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education site contains a lot of information, including Missouri certification requirements employment opportunities. Click here for information about the occupational outlook for teachers (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Students interested in secondary education should consult with the Department of Education as early as possible. (Contact Madonna Riesenmy, Seigle 154, 935-6702). This is important in planning your program, since certification requirements vary from state to state and are often complex. The Education Department can also help in relating the certification requirements to specific courses at Washington University. The Department of Education also has information on the Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) and post A.B. certification programs.
Teaching mathematics above the secondary level involves no "certification" but usually requires a graduate degree in mathematics.
People trained in mathematics play a variety of roles in industry and government. Their ability to handle quantitative problems in many different areas complements the more specialized training of an engineer. Look at the article Should You Prepare Differently for a Nonacademic Career? Additional information is available from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). In particular, look at Thinking of a Career in Applied Mathematics? The Department of Labor Statistics also has information about the occupational outlook for such related work as computer science and systems analysis, operations research, and computer programming. Students interested in applied mathematics should take at least elementary background courses chosen from computer science as well as in other areas of their interests such as physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences, or economics. Additional concentration in some area is helpful.
A statistician is a person trained in the mathematical aspects of the collection and analysis of data. Of course, students who have an interest in a special applied field of statistics such as computational biology or psychometrics should also take course work in the appropriate department. You can get ideas by browsing the career site of the American Statistical Association. You should also check out sites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for ideas. Click here for information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the occupational outlook for statisticians.
An actuary is a person with the training and experience to deal with the mathematical problems of insurance, pensions and annuities. Actuaries are employed by insurance companies, governments, labor unions, private industry and consulting firms. The actuary's basic training is in mathematics and statistics, economics, finance and accounting. Good communication skills, oral and written, are also essential. Specialized training is usually acquired while the individual is employed as an actuarial trainee. You should read comments from Prof. Spitznagel for students interested in the actuarial profession. Also look at the site Be an Actuary, maintained by the Society of Actuaries and Casualty Actuarial Society and About Actuaries (from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries). Click here for information about the job outlook for actuaries (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Math majors interested in the actuarial profession usually follow the major plan "B" (Probability and Statistics) described on the Major Requirements page. Elective math courses that might be useful background for actuaries include Math 434 (Survival Analysis) and Math 475 (Statistical Computation). Courses in economics (1011, 1021, 4011, 4021), accounting and business (finance and marketing) are useful. Certainly any courses which strengthen your communication skills are also a plus. Students might also find other electives, including additional upper level probability and statistics courses, helpful. Here is an overall list of recommended courses from the Society of Actuaries.
Graduate Work in Mathematics
Graduate work in mathematics can be relevant to any of the types of career options mentioned above, and it is essential for those planning academic careers in mathematics, doing teaching or research. Students planning on graduate work in mathematics should try to do the strongest possible major, particularly in theoretical areas. This is true even if the student's main interest in graduate study is more oriented to probability and statistics, or applications. Click here for information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the occupational outlook for mathematicians.
Such students usually follow major track "A" (Traditional) described below. They should try to get a good introduction to the major areas of modern mathematical research, (e.g., 4111-4121, 416, 4171-4181, 407, 429-430, 493-494). A course in some kind of discrete mathematics (combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, ... ) is also a nice addition. If time permits, consider taking one or two of our introductory graduate level courses (5021-5022, 5031-5032, 5041-5042 -5043, 5051-5052, 5061-5062). Many Ph.D. programs require a reading knowledge of at least one other language, often chosen from French, German or Russian. Now is a good time to start on that requirement. Some research experience (for example, a summer "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" (REU) program or a senior honors thesis) is a boost in applying to stronger graduate programs.
Almost all mathematical manuscripts and books today are written using TeX, a mathematical typesetting and word processing system that produces beautiful, professional looking output. TeX has many slightly different versions, some of which are available free online. Every student planning on graduate school in mathematics should get acquainted with TeX and practice using it.
During the spring semester of your junior year you should collect information about graduate schools you might like to apply to. One way to start is to look at the Links to Home Pages of US Math Departments. Get a feel for what they expect of applicants. Get information about the Graduate Record Examinations. Also collect advice about graduate programs from your favorite faculty, especially those who work in research areas you think you might be interested in. The Notices of the American Mathematical Society publishes statistical reports each year about PhD's granted by American universities, fellowships and assistantships, and employment trends in mathematics: search there for "annual statistical report." The Career Center also provides information and resources in the process of finding and applying to graduate programs. You should talk to your advisor no later than the end of October in your senior year about recommendations, applications, etc. Look for related information on our web pages for math students.
Here's a rough timetable for applying to graduate school (from the Princeton Review).
Of course, most math majors don't plan to be mathematicians. They simply find math an enjoyable field of study and recognize that a strong quantitative background can be an asset in many different fields. Each year, some of our majors go on to professional schools in unrelated areas such as medicine, law and business. Students with such plans should especially consider taking 3200 (and possibly 493-494).
Students who expect to do statistical work with data should make an effort to learn SAS—the premier software for statistical analysis (see Math 475). In senior exit interviews, many students have commented how valuable it was to learn SAS, or said that they wished they had learned it.
All majors would probably find some work with computers helpful (e.g., CSE 131). Please read the comments on picking a CSE course. This advice was formulated with the help of Professor Ron Cytron of the CSE Department. You could also look at a minor or second major in CSE. See Career Paths in Computer Science.
Students whose primary interest is in a field such as engineering or physics should consider the "Applied" track of the major described described on the page Major Requirements.
If you'd like to check the occupational outlook for other fields, visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.