By Emily Sokol

Ever wonder what goes into being a mathematics major? If you are anything like me, a math major sounds like calculus on steroids. In other words: torture. Yet, so many students choose to major in mathematics. Why?

What You’ll be Doing

Mathematics is a major filled with problem sets and fewer numbers the more advanced your classes get. Think of your AP calculus class to the thousandth power. Now double that. 

What are all those symbols? Can a proof really be three pages long?  Get ready to have your evenings filled with problem set after problem set and bookshelf after bookshelf of once blank notebooks now scribbled to the max. Kiss papers goodbye, hello tests, and pop quizzes.

It isn’t all bad. As a math major, you learn invaluable problem-solving skills, logical reasoning, and infinite ways to think. These are universal skills to arm you against the very scary real world.

The Upsides

1. “The skills of logic, problem-solving, and mathematical thinking are very desirable and marketable traits to have when applying for jobs after college.” –Allison Rosshirt, Math Teacher at Boston College High School

2. “Mathematics is a great playground for developing the skills of analytic thinking.” –Alexander Walker, Ph.D. in mathematics at Brown University

3. “Like a lot of math majors, I think I was attracted to the problem-solving aspect. But there is more to math than just problem-solving, and formulating good questions. Making connections between different areas of math can be just as rewarding as working on problems.” –Michael Belfanti, Mathematics Graduate Student at Ohio State

The Downsides

1. “Complex Variables was my least favorite math elective. In my opinion, it was one of the most complicated math classes I’ve ever taken and it took the most work for me to really understand the topics.” –Allison Rosshirt, Math Teacher at Boston College High School

2. “The coursework.” –Alexander Walker, PhD in mathematics at Brown University

3. “Anyone who has taken a math course has realized that they tend to build on themselves. It is impossible to know what is happening unless you have understood previous material.” –Michael Belfanti, Mathematics Graduate Student at Ohio State

Career Opportunities

Don’t think you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to find the value of “x” (Well, you might). A degree in mathematics opens the door to a wide variety of number-crunching careers.

  • Teacher – You can cater your undergrad study to whatever age group you want to teach. Love the youngsters? Elementary school is for you. Moody teenagers more your style? Prepare to relive the glory of high school math.

  • Actuary – For this job, you need the skills to apply math and statistics to finance and insurance. Sounds terrifyingly difficult, I know. But actuaries make bank so if you’re willing to tough it out, you’ll be rolling in cash one day.

  • Stockbroker – If you’ve dreamed of wearing business suits every day and running through the busy streets of New York, then this career is for you. You’ll get to apply your love of numbers and observing trends to the stocks that make or break savings accounts.  Just make sure you don’t end up like the Wolf of Wall Street.

  • Computer Programmer – No, you do not need to wear glasses for the job. It requires your skills in statistics and problem-solving. And don’t forget quick hands for typing. Have the Advil ready; screen glare is not your friend.

  • Cryptographer – For all you spy wannabes, cryptography isn’t just for Dan Brown characters. With its focus on logic and algorithms, the field has long been popular with math majors. You could work in everything from securing ATM cards to working with the FBI and CIA (but I didn’t tell you that).