Are You Thinking of Majoring in Mathematics?

One of the big misconceptions about mathematics is that the only thing you can do with a math degree is become a high school math teacher or an actuary. This could not be further from the truth!

Mathematics provides a great preparation for a variety of jobs, and in the current job market many employers are desperate for applicants that have mathematics backgrounds and problem solving skills. Math majors are increasingly in demand and a mathematics major from UH can provide you with critical thinking skills and technical training that will give you access to numerous fulfilling, higher-paid jobs.

Here are some questions that students frequently ask when they are considering a mathematics major.

    Question #1: Can I get a decent job if I major in mathematics?

    Question #2: What kinds of careers are available to me if I major in mathematics?

    Question #3: Will a mathematics major help me if I want a job in Business or Finance? What if I want to become a Lawyer?

    Question #4: What are the demographics of UH math majors? How many are female? How many are minorities?

    Question #5: Are there any special degree programs or concentrations that the UH Math Department offers?

    Question #6: What is it like being a math major? What is mathematics like beyond calculus?

    Question #7: I'm in Precalculus/Calculus right now, and I'm not the best student in the class. Can I still be a math major?

    Question #8: What about a double major with Mathematics?

    Question #9: Can I talk to someone about being a math major?

Question #1: Can I get a decent job if I major in mathematics?

Answer: Not only can you get a decent job, you can get one of the best jobs. If you look at the jobs that repeatedly make it to the top of the "best jobs" lists in terms of salary, growth potential, and job satisfaction, the job of "mathematician" is often number one, and furthermore, all the tops jobs involve significant amounts of mathematics.

Question #2: What kinds of careers are available to me if I major in mathematics?

Answer: Math is used in so many different careers that it is difficult to provide a list covering all the possibilities. Take a look at the following links to get an idea of all the different kinds of career options that are available.

Question #3: Will a mathematics major help me if I want to get a job in Business or Finance? What if I want to become a Lawyer?

Answer: If you're interested in business, a math major supplemented with some business courses may be a better for you than a business major. Jeff Immelt, the CEO of the Fortune 500 Company GE, was an undergraduate math major at Dartmouth and afterward earned an MBA at Harvard, but as described in this article (copy here), he says his most invaluable qualification is not the MBA — it's his undergraduate degree in math. As he says in the article, "I use my math major every day — I don't use the MBA quite as much . . . " Running a company, to Immelt, is really about problem solving. And that's something he learned about in his undergraduate studies, due to "the inherent intellectual curiosity around math and physics."

If you're interested in a job in Finance, you may be interested to know that Wall Street has become a major employer of math majors. Trying to match the outstanding success of multibillionaire Differential Geometer, James Simons (founder of the Renaissance Technologies Corporation and the top hedge fund, the Medallion Fund), many investment and financial firms consider mathematicians prized hires. Mathematics is used on Wall Street for mortgage backing, financial derivatives, and stock market analysis. Sometimes people in this profession are referred to as "quants". SUNY Stony Brook has some excellent information on careers in Quantitative Finance. The field is fairly new, and there are many professional masters programs springing up, and numerous math majors being hired as traders, or to work in stocks, commodities, or foreign exchange.

In addition, the proliferation of statistics in everything ranging from business to government has induced many organizations to seek math majors. Statisticians often seek to predict the patterns of behavior of large groups based on relatively small samples, and Probability theory provides the theoretical foundation for statistics. One business with an extreme interest in statistics is insurance. Actuaries are (highly paid) professionals that serve as specialist statisticians and consultants responsible for computing insurance rates.

If you're interested in being a lawyer, the critical thinking skills and training in logic that are ubiquitous in all math classes will help you prepare for law school. The proofs one does in mathematics classes are arguments used to convince someone that a theorem or mathematical statement is true. This is not all that different from creating logical arguments to convince a judge or jury to rule in your favor.

Furthermore, if you are interested in going to Law School or continuing your education in Business or Finance, you will have to take either the LSAT or the GMAT. (The LSAT is the standardized test one must take before applying to law school, and the GMAT is the standardized test used by business schools as an admission criterion for a wide range of graduate management programs, including MBA, Master of Accountancy, and Master of Finance programs.) Math majors perform better on the LSAT and the GMAT than students from other majors (even business, accounting, political science, or pre-law). This is because a math major helps one develop analytical skills and the ability to work in a problem solving environment. A study of college students' scores on admission tests for graduate and professional schools confirms this, and shows that students majoring in mathematics earned scores substantially higher than the average on each of the tests studied.

The table below excerpts data from a study done by the National Institute of Education, which compared the scores of 550,000 college students who took the LSAT and GMAT with data collected over the previous eighteen years. 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. As you can see, students who major in mathematics have higher mean scores on these tests than any other major.

Interested in Law School?

LSAT scores
Interested in Business School?

GMAT scores
Arts and Music
Foreign Languages
Political Science

Question #4: What are the demographics of UH math majors like? How many are female? How many are minorities?

Answer: Over 45% of the math majors at the University of Houston are female, and approximately 40% are minorities. The UH Math department encourages both women and minorities, as well as members of other historically underrepresented groups, to consider majoring in mathematics. The UH Math Department is dedicated to providing additional support and encouragement for students from underrepresented groups who want to major in math. For example, some of our faculty serve as Mentors in the Math Alliance, and each year our department provides funds for some of our math majors to attend national conferences specifically aimed at supporting women and minorities in mathematics.

Question #5: Are there any special degree programs or concentrations that the UH Math Department offers?

Answer: Yes. See the list of degree programs offered by the UH Mathematics Department and their requirements.

Question #6: What is it like being a math major? What is mathematics like beyond calculus?

Answer: As a field of study, mathematics is like nothing else. Mathematics is often referred to as "The Queen of the Sciences", and uses a great deal of logic and quantitative reasoning. As a result, mathematics has applications in numerous other subjects. In fact, many other subjects rely so heavily on mathematics that their most important questions are, fundamentally, math problems.

Mathematicians seek out patterns and use mathematical structures as models. Mathematicians often want to prove that certain statements about mathematical structures are true, and if the models are good approximations of the real world, mathematical reasoning can provide insight about nature and make predictions about the world around us. Mathematics involves a great deal of logic, abstraction, problem-solving, counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of shapes and motion. Many math majors and students of advanced mathematics tend to use words such as "beautiful", "powerful", and "useful" when describing how they feel about the mathematics they learn.

The mathematics that you see in Calculus is only a small slice of the mathematics that exists and that you can study in college. As a UH mathematics major, you will have the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses. After completing a set of core classes, you can develop breadth by sampling from different classes representing the main areas of mathematics, and you can develop depth by taking 4000-level sequences that help you specialize in an advanced aspect of mathematics. Also, if you progress quickly enough through the courses, it is even possible to take graduate math courses as an undergraduate. This can give you a wonderful jump start for graduate school, or make you more qualified and more employable for future jobs.

If you are interested, math majors also have the opportunity to take directed reading courses and to participate in undergraduate research working with faculty members.

Here is a list of undergraduate math courses and a list of graduate math courses offered at UH.

Question #7: I'm in Precalculus/Calculus right now, and I'm not the best student in the class. Can I still be a math major?

Answer: Absolutely! There is plenty of time in a typical schedule to finish a math major if you begin in Precalculus or Calculus. In addition, you do not need to be a top student or have any kind of special talent to be a math major. Anyone who is interested in mathematics, and willing to put in the time to learn the material, can succeed as a math major.

When majoring in mathematics, hard work is more important than talent. In addition, many students blossom after they get past the introductory courses and have more experience and practice with mathematical ideas. Some of our most successful math majors began as average students in PreCalculus or Calculus classes and went on to be the top students in advanced math courses.

Although mathematics courses can sometimes be difficult, the hard work you put into them pays off. In fact, the classes or parts of your education that make you work the hardest are often the parts you get the most out of. As a math major you will not only learn a lot of mathematics, but you will strengthen your problem-solving abilities, sharpen your critical thinking skills, and be better prepared for life after college.

Question #8: What about a double major with Mathematics?

Answer: Combining a mathematics major with another major can be a great idea. Mathematics can complement the study of many other subjects, and it can make job applications or applications to graduate programs in any subject look much stronger. Employers and graduate school admissions committees know that the study of mathematics develops strong problem solving skills, comprehension of abstract concepts, and creative thinking ability. These are all highly desired qualities in applicants to almost any field or industry.

If you are majoring in science, engineering, finance, economics, political science, or a social science, such as psychology or sociology, then you will find that the coursework in your major relies heavily on math. In order to have the best opportunity to do well in those courses and absorb the material in these subjects, it can be very beneficial to take math courses that have applications to these subjects. In fact, it is often the case that in disciplines such as these the use of mathematics becomes more pronounced as one studies the subject further. Consequently, students in these subjects are often limited by the amount of mathematics they know. The more math you know, the further you can progress in any discipline that uses mathematics.

Besides these majors, it is also common to have double majors who combine their math major with a subject that is very different from math, such as Music, Dance, Art, English, Theater, or Journalism. Mathematics can often serve as a nice counterbalance to majors in the arts or other creative fields. The study of mathematics involves a great deal of creativity, and it is not uncommon for math students to also be interested in other creative endeavors, such as art or music. In addition, since jobs in the arts and many other creative fields are often difficult to get, a double major with math can help diversify your skills and provide greater assurance of getting a job after graduation.

Question #9: Can I talk to someone about being a math major at the University of Houston?

Answer: If you are interested in having an informal conversation about majoring in mathematics at the University of Houston, talk to your professors during their office hours or make an appointment to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the UH Math Department.

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