Timothy Peck 4 min read 12th Grade, Academic Tips and Info

A Guide to the Different Math Majors in College

Math majors are a diverse bunch. Pure math majors wrestle with mathematical theories and concepts to create elegant proofs. Applied math majors take the concepts learned in the classroom and apply them to real-world situations, in sectors across a wide range of industries. 

 

Potential math majors have several options for their specific field of study, as “math” can mean anything from pure math to statistics to computer science. 

 

If you’re interested in earning a math degree, but unsure which math major to choose, keep reading for insight into the various majors and career paths certain degrees can set you on. 

 

What Can You Do With a Math Major in College?

 

Aside from the obvious skills developed in earning a math degree—such as an understanding of numbers, equations, and methodology—the study of math also nurtures other important skill sets that are applicable to a broad spectrum of fields. Critical and analytical thought top the list of skills that math majors possess, as do problem solving and quantitative reasoning. Cumulatively, these skills allow math majors to form and manipulate complex ideas, construct logical arguments, and take apart illogical ones. 

 

Who Should Major in Math in College?

 

Students who enjoyed (and were successful in) high school math classes are good candidates to become math majors in college. This is particularly true for students who took high-level and advanced placement math courses. Math majors in college typically possess an affinity for problem solving, and are not deterred when answers don’t appear easily—a willingness to wrestle through challenging questions is a must.

 

Math majors will study a wide breadth of mathematical topics, as most math programs have undergraduates take classes in everything from algebra to calculus to geometry. Much of this coursework occurs over a series of classes in these fields, with each one building on the previous class. Math is not a solitary field; the most successful students are team players, good communicators, and willing to work within a team or with TAs and professors to solve tricky problems and concepts. 

 

Different Types of Math Majors

 

While there is the general math major, there are several other types of majors that might be offered under the math department. These degrees allow students to follow specific interests and prepare them for the unique needs of the fields they hope to enter. 

 

This list includes some of the most common specialties offered in math departments, including applied math, pure math, statistics, and computer science. We won’t be covering majors like Finance, Physics, or Economics, as these often are offered through other departments.

 

Applied Mathematics 

 

A degree in applied mathematics is a common course for students hoping to pursue careers in engineering, science, and computers, as it provides students with the functional knowledge necessary to apply mathematical ideas and techniques to problems. Many applied mathematics programs are designed for flexibility, allowing individuals to shape their coursework toward their areas of interest. Computer savviness  is required of applied mathematics majors since computational methods and application of algorithms are key components of coursework. 

 

Applied mathematics majors can expect to take classes such as: 

 

  • Numerical analysis
  • Optimization theory
  • Differential equations
  • Numerical analysis
  • Linear algebra
  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Computer science
  • Computational mathematics
  • Systems design

 

Because of the flexible nature of applied mathematics, a degree in the field can lead to a career in a wide range of industries, while also laying the foundation for many students to further their education in graduate programs. 

 

Common careers for applied mathematics degree holders include: 

 

  • Actuary 
  • Auditor
  • Banker 
  • Engineer
  • Financial analyst or advisor 
  • Researcher 
  • Statistician

 

Pure Mathematics 

 

Students studying pure mathematics develop an understanding of the concepts and structures that underlie all mathematics. Over the course of their study, they will work in mathematical fields such as algebra, analysis, and geometry, along with developing core competencies such as problem solving, critical thinking, and modeling. 

 

Pure mathematics majors can expect to take classes such as: 

 

  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Differential equations
  • Analysis (real and complex)
  • Linear algebra
  • Calculus
  • Multivariable calculus
  • Geometry/Topology 
  • Modeling 

 

The problem-solving and analytical skills possessed by those holding a degree in pure mathematics opens doors in many industries. Common fields to find pure mathematics degree holders in are: 

 

  • Teaching 
  • Finance 
  • Computing 
  • Insurance 
  • Medical and scientific research 

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Computer Science 

 

Students graduating with degrees in computer science have the ability to solve complex problems using computer-based tools, such as software and artificial intelligence. Computer science students are required to use a solid base of math skills to form probabilities and create statistical models. All types of personalities are attracted to the field of computer science—some are excited by the possibility of long days in the lab developing new algorithms, while others are drawn to the idea of working as a team on projects, like developing autonomous driving cars.

 

Computer science majors can expect to take classes such as: 

 

  • Calculus 
  • Programming 
  • Algorithms 
  • Data structures 
  • Logic 
  • Programming languages 
  • Operating systems 
  • Computer science theory 

 

Computer science is not only a rewarding major, it’s also one of the most financially beneficial—in 2017, CBS ranked it the most lucrative college major. Some jobs that are typically filled by computer science majors include: 

 

  • Computer engineer
  • Information system professional 
  • Human-computer interaction (HCI) professional
  • Information technical specialist 
  • Software engineer
  • Computer scientist 

 

Statistics 

 

At the heart of quantitative reasoning there is statistics—students studying statistics in college learn how to collect, analyze, and interpret data. Additionally, students learn how to effectively communicate and present data-based arguments and conclusions. Possessing an in-demand skill set, students graduating with a degree in statistics will find opportunities in all sectors, from government to business and industry to universities and research labs.

 

Common coursework for statistic majors includes classes such as: 

 

  • Calculus 
  • Linear algebra 
  • Probability 
  • Analysis 
  • Applied statistics 
  • Theoretical statics 
  • Statistical computing 

 

Because statistics has a huge amount of practical applications, there are a multitude of career paths available to holders of a degree in statistics. Common careers include:

 

  • Actuary
  • Business Analyst
  • Cost Estimator
  • Database Administrator
  • Data Scientist
  • Economist
  • Financial Analyst
  • Market Researcher
  • Software Engineer
  • Statistician

 

Be sure to also check out these posts:

 

The 10 Easiest and 10 Hardest Majors

Easiest and Hardest Engineering Majors

Easiest and Hardest Science Majors

 

Luckily for high school students interested in becoming a math major in college, you don’t need a statistics degree to know your chances of acceptance at your dream school. Our free chancing engine can tell you your odds of admission at over 500 colleges. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to put this powerful tool to work for you.

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.