How to Spend Your Summer As a Prospective Math Major (And Why Math is a Great Career Path)
The school year is a busy time for any high schooler, and it’s even more so if you’re a self-motivated planner who’s juggling the rigorous academics and full suite of extracurriculars that you’ll need to be a competitive college applicant. You might be enrolled in AP or honors coursework, you could be a leader in student government or a dedicated student athlete. Whatever the case may be, there’s no shortage of activities during the school year.
If you’re a student who’s interested in pursuing a career in math, the story is the no different. It’s likely that you are taking challenging math and science classes, juggling a math club or two, and participating in any other extracurriculars that make you tick. But when summer rolls around, how can you carry this momentum forward? After all the hard work you put in during the school year, you might be tempted to land on the couch for a 3-month Netflix binge. But don’t be fooled.
You can continue to build a strong college application and grow as a person over the summer, even while stepping back from your usual rigorous schedule. Read on for more information about a career in math and CollegeVine’s advice for how you prospective math majors can make the most of your summer vacation.
Is Math a Good Career Path?
Before you can really think about activities that might contribute to a future path in math, you should have a good understanding of what a math career actually looks like.
Right now, you probably spend a lot of time solving math problems from a book or, preferably, working together with peers to tackle more complex problems. In the real world, math becomes even more hands-on and engaging. And the good news doesn’t end there.
In 2016, CareerCast ranked mathematics as the most desirable career path. In fact, four of its top 10 jobs for 2016 were math-related, with the top ranked job being data scientist. These rankings are based on a number of factors including work environment, job stress, income potential, and hiring outlook. The high demand for data scientists and statisticians is expected to become even more pronounced in the near future due to an increasing emphasis on collecting and evaluating massive amounts of data in an increasingly digital world.
The popularity of math careers is also due in part to the breadth of possibilities it affords. It’s easy to think of math as an isolated skill set, carried out in cubicles with the company of a calculator. But math-based jobs actually require broad skill sets that, depending on the direction you go, could include communications, science or engineering, and even social sciences. Math is a valuable skill that can be applied in almost any discipline.
Some common career paths for math majors include:
Finances or Actuarial Science:
These jobs apply math and statistics to better understand financial investments and insurance. Insurance relies on a balance of probability, statistics, and economics, and students who like playing games of chance might enjoy learning more about it.
Tech jobs are always in demand. Computer scientists implement and apply computation to computer programming. These jobs will appeal to students who like experimenting with technology.
This is an exciting and expanding branch of computer science and math that involves the science of hiding data. These jobs are those of security analysts, security system developers, and even the people who develop password systems. You’ll like this line of work if you grew up playing spy.
This is another interdisciplinary field of study, merging biology and math to model natural and biological processes. The work includes epidemic modeling, population genetic studies, and more. If you’re fascinated by the expert scientists on The Walking Dead, this is the job for you.
This is one of the more common math jobs that is used by nearly any industry. Operations researchers apply mathematical methods to maximize or minimize things like costs or profits. A mathematician in this field is of value to any company that buys or sells products.
Of course, in order for math to continue its upward trajectory as a top career, we need to continue to produce top mathematicians. And this isn’t possible without great math teachers. Math enthusiasts who love communicating with and helping others should consider a career in academics.
So, are you sold on the math track yet? It’s clearly a diverse track that offers a little of something for everyone, and its long-term growth and job outlook are positive.
If you’re an aspiring math major who’s wondering how to make the most of the your summer break, read on.
Five Great Summer Activities for the Prospective Math Major
1. Enroll in a summer math program.
There are tons of summer math programs out there, and some are quite prestigious and positively viewed by college admissions committees. If you can get into a prestigious summer math program, not only will you develop some of the most advanced math skills taught to high school students, but also you’ll score a major selling point on your college application. Here are a few of the best summer math programs for high schoolers in the U.S.:
- Mathcamp: This program is held on a different college campus each year and introduces students to the various branches of advanced mathematics that they are otherwise unlikely to discover until their college years. 120 participants are accepted annually, with about 65-75 being new to the program and the other 45-55 being returning alums. The application process for new students includes an entrance exam, personal essay, and two letters of recommendation, but no grade reports are required. Admissions is selective with an approximately 20% acceptance rate.
- MOSP – This is the Math Olympiad Summer Program, and it may just be the most competitive summer math program in the nation. It is free to accepted students, but open only by invitation to top performers on the United States of America Math Olympiad test. Held each year at Carnegie Mellon University, MOSP serves as a selection camp for the International Math Olympiad Team, which consists of the top six students in the country.
- SUMaC – The Stanford University Mathematics Camp hosts rising high school juniors and seniors each year to spend a four-week session focused on advanced undergraduate math topics. Admissions are competitive and based on your grades in math courses, your performance on standardized math exams and math contests, teacher recommendations, your reasons for wanting to attend SUMaC as expressed on the application, and your performance on the SUMaC admission exam. Particular weight is placed on your admissions exam score.
- Ross Mathematics Program: Hosted by Ohio State University, this eight-week program is known for its intensity, and is considered one of the most rigorous number theory programs in the nation. Admission is based on school transcripts, teacher recommendations, essays outlining your interests and goals, and your work on provided challenging math problems.
- PROMYS – The Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists is a six-week summer program at Boston University designed “to encourage strongly motivated high school students to explore in depth the creative world of mathematics.” Admissions are competitive, (only 80 students admitted each year,) and are based on a challenging problem set, recommendation from a mathematics teacher, transcript, and short essays.
2. Take some summer college classes.
Even if you aren’t able to attend a prestigious summer math program, summer college classes can help you to gain mathematical skills beyond the scope of high school math classes, and they can sometimes help you to form valuable, lasting relationships with mentors as well. There are two possible goals for summer college classes.
- If the colleges you’re interested in attending don’t offer a summer math program, it may be worth it to enroll in an alternative program, even if it’s not explicitly geared towards future math majors. Forging relationships with faculty and staff at a school you’re interested in attending is a great idea. These mentors can provide insight to the school, answer any questions you might have, and even put in a good word for you when application time rolls around. If you attend the same program for more than one summer and maintain a relationship with your mentors during the school year, they may also know you well enough to write a college recommendation for you.
- If you can’t attend summer classes at a school that you’re interested in attending, taking summer math classes at a local community college is another good option. College math curriculum will expose you to another level of numerical thinking, and even if the credits don’t transfer, you will still have a clearer idea of the content covered in college-level math. Your participation alone serves as evidence of your dedication to the subject .
3. Gain real world experience.
Programs and classes are a good way to stretch your mind and gain exposure to new and more complex math thinking, but getting some real world experience in a math-centered career holds a different type of value. Experiencing and participating in math-centered professional activities will give you a better idea of math as it happens on a daily basis in the workplace. You will come out of these experiences with a better idea of what you do (and maybe what you do not) want out of your potential career.
If you’re interested in teaching, become a math tutor or get a job teaching math at a kids’ summer program. If you’re interested in computer science, watch some online tutorials and spend your summer developing a marketable app or computer program. If you need a job and can’t find anything specifically related to math, offer to help your employer with math-based tasks like accounting.
4. Try a STEM-based program to see how you like it.
STEM programs represent the intersection of science, math and technology and they generally combine these skills in engaging, hands-on projects. You might be able to program a robot or build a drone. STEM careers tend to be in high demand and the compensation is typically generous, but a career in STEM will also demand a broad base in science, math, and engineering coursework. It’s best to set your sights on it earlier rather than later if you want to pursue it.
For this reason, participating in a STEM-based program is a great choice. Whether you realize a STEM career isn’t for you or you fall in love with it, you’ll come out of a STEM program with a better idea of your intended direction. Talk with your math or science teachers about programs that might be available to you locally, or check out the list of high school programs compiled by Pathways to Science.
5. Set Your Sights on a Math Competition.
Math competitions, much like science fairs, give you an opportunity to expand your knowledge, share your knowledge, and network with like-minded peers. If you’re interested in participating in a math competition, it’s never too early to get started and the unplanned summer months ahead are a great time to get organized.
Start by talking to an adviser or math teacher about competitions in which your school may already take part. If your school already competes in these types of competitions, maybe you can join the team and even organize team members to meet weekly during the summer to begin studying or preparations.
If your school doesn’t already compete in any math competitions, choose one that you think will be a good fit. A few things to consider are individual vs. team competitions, locality of the competition, and entry fees or travel costs. Once you’ve found a good match, get started with studying, recruiting teammates, or finding an adviser or mentor. Many of these competitions progress to national or even international platforms and allow you not only to gain experience and knowledge that would otherwise be outside your standard curriculum, but also to gain recognition and sometimes even prizes or scholarships for your success. You can find a list of competitions to consider here.
If you’re a prospective math major, opportunities to expand your knowledge or hone your focus abound. Math-based careers are thriving, with positively projected job growth and expansion expected to continue. Math skills prepare you for success in a wide range of disciplines and can potentially land you one of the most highly ranked jobs in the country. To stay on track for success, plan your summer mindfully by selecting one or two of the opportunities discussed above.
If you are a high school student who is considering your options for summer activities, find more information from CollegeVine here:
- What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior – Part II: Extracurriculars and Summer Activities
- 6 Things You Should Do the Summer Before Senior Year
- 5 Things You Can Do this Summer Instead of an Internship
- How to Spend Your Summer as an Aspiring Engineer
- How to Spend Your Summer as a Prospective Poli Sci Major
- How to Spend Your Summer as a Prospective Econ Major
- Summer Activities for the Prospective Pre-Med Student
For more information about Math programs and preparation check out these CollegeVine articles:
- Which SAT II Math Should You Take?
- What Math Courses Should I Take?
- Majors, Minors, and More: Which Degree Should You Pursue?
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