Why Study Math?

Mathematics is a rigorous and demanding intellectual pursuit. It is also interesting, exciting and challenging. People like its clarity and the satisfaction of knowing when you have the right answer to a problem. Why should a student major in math?

Math as a Basis for Other Career Paths – Entrance Exam Scores

Test Performance on Graduate School Entrance Exams by Major

(% Relative to Mean Scores of All Test Takers)

Mathematics +12.8% +13.3%
Philosophy +8.7% +11.0%
Economics +9.6% +7.3%
Chemistry +7.6% +7.5%
English +5.6% +4.1%
Foreign Languages +5.7% +3.3%
History +2.9% +4.6%
Biology +4.0% +3.3%
Psychology +0.9% +0.8%
Political Science -1.6% +.06%
Arts & Music -0.5% -1.2%
Business -4.5% -0.8%
Sociology -7.0% -5.0%
Education -8.7% -4.2%

Suppose you love mathematics, but ultimately see yourself pursuing a career as a doctor, lawyer, or in business. You should be aware that professional graduate schools in medicine, law, and business think mathematics is a great major because it develops analytical skills and the ability to work in a problem-solving environment. Their entrance tests support this bias, so the more math you know the better you will do on their exams.

The National Institute of Education conducted a study comparing the scores of 550,000 college students who took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), with data collected over the previous eighteen years. The study showed that students majoring in mathematics received scores substantially higher than the average on each of the tests.

The table on the right excerpts some of this data from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The entries show the percentage by which the mean score of test takers from specific undergraduate majors differs from the mean score of all test takers. The results are in – math helps you become competitive for graduate school.

Starting Salaries – Get the Math

For those of you who wish to take your undergraduate degree directly to the job market after graduation, the chart below, extracted from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, shows you how well a math background will serve you. The September 2014 Salary Survey report contains employer-based data from approximately 400,000 employers; gathered from government and other sources, the data are actual starting salaries, not offers.

Graduates earning degrees in the math and sciences disciplines saw reasonable movement in their average starting salary. The overall average salary for the group rose 3.7 percent over last year, making it $44,299. Contributing to the healthy gain is the fact that all reported majors in the group posted increases, which ranged from a 1.4 percent increase for mathematics majors (to $50,500) to 10.1 percent for architecture majors (to $45,900).

Average Salaries by Discipline (Nationally) – Class of 2014

Broad Category 2014 Average Starting Salary 2013 Average Starting Salary Percent Change
Business $57,229 $55,635 2.9%
Communications $48,253 $43,835 10.1%
Computer Science $62,103 $58,547 6.1%
Education $40,267 $40,337 -0.2%
Engineering $62,891 $62,062 1.3%
Humanities & Social Sciences $38,049 $37,791 0.7%
Math & Sciences $44,299 $42,731 3.7%
Overall $48,707 $45,327 7.5%

Job Satisfaction

In addition to higher pay, a math major's employment promises higher levels of job satisfaction. CareerCast ranks 200 jobs in 2014 according to environment, income, outlook, physical demands, and stress. Based on these criteria, "Mathematician" takes the number one spot on the list – outranking jobs in medicine, finance, engineering, and law. Careers in mathematics are diverse and rewarding. Mathematicians rank among the more well-compensated in the 2014 Jobs Rated report. The field also has a positive outlook for continued future growth.

Best Jobs of 2014 by CareerCast

(Top Ten out of 200)
Rank Job Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth by 2022
1 Mathematician $101,360 23%
2 University Professor (Tenured) $68,970 19%
3 Statistician $75,560 27%
4 Actuary $93,680 26%
5 Audiologist $69,720 34%
6 Dental Hygienist $70,210 33%
7 Software Engineer $93,350 22%
8 Computer Systems Analyst $79,680 25%
9 Occupational Therapist $75,400 29%
10 Speech Pathologist $69,870 19%