Guide for Mathematics and Statistics Majors

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
--Albert Einstein

What is Mathematics and Statistics?

The schedules of airline flights. Interest rates on home loans. Political polls. Grades received on English papers. The calculation of minimum wage. Blueprints for the construction of a church. Funding for the neighborhood park. While each of these systems may seem totally unrelated, all of them are based on numbers.

It has been said that math rules our lives. From the number of years of school required to do one thing, to the amount of money someone wants to earn, to the average number of children to have, to the number of cars owned--our lives are, to a great extent, measured, planned, and organized according to mathematical principles.

In both its applied and theoretical forms, mathematics is one of the oldest forms of scientific inquiry. Its crucial importance to logic, planning, and the prevention of social chaos essentially guarantees that mathematical study and statistical skills will always be in demand. This classical subject of thought, experimentation, and exploration is continuously updated as technology advances and breaks through new barriers. As such, computer science, economics, and engineering all hinge on the talents of mathematicians.

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Preparing for a Program in Math and Statistics

The most important way to prepare for a math or statistics degree program is to make the most of science, math, and computer courses offered by your high school. Take every algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and calculus class available. Not only will such an intensive study of math provide you with a solid background, but it will also prepare you for the rigorous, thorough requirements of college degree programs.

In addition, consider your personal interests. Ask yourself why you are drawn to studying math and statistics. Think about your career hopes and personal goals to determine if pursuing your interest in mathematics will lead to a happy and productive career. This personal quest is an important part of preparing for a degree program, because the happiest and most successful employees are those who are truly care about their work. This is certainly true of the field of math and statistics. Many students are drawn to this degree program because they genuinely want to study and apply the principles of mathematics to the practical world.

Third, research each of the math and statistics schools you're interested in attending. This research should be as detailed and as thorough as possible. Make it a point to speak with admissions counselors at each school and to research available financial aid and career service programs. Another way to learn a lot about a school is to contact a current student and ask her about her experience. While this may seem like a lot of effort, it's definitely worth it when you find the ideal math degree program for you.

Career Education in Math and Statistics

Math and statistics degree programs cover a lot of ground, so students might choose to obtain broad-based, fundamental training, or specialize in a particular field, such as algebra, theoretical mathematics, or statistical modeling. Degree programs may be designed for newcomers to the field, or for professionals who want to improve their career prospects with additional study.

Online Degrees in Mathematics and Statistics

It's easier than ever for students to earn their math or statistics degrees online. Online degree programs are a boon for working professionals and parents, as well as students from around the world (including remote U.S. locations) who don't have access to good colleges nearby. Online degrees in math or statistics may involve video lectures, online discussions, downloadable assignments and virtual "office hours." Since this type of degree does not require hands-on training or laboratory work, it's ideal for the online format.

Certificate Programs in Mathematics and Statistics

Math and statistics certificate programs are generally designed to provide a) a very basic introduction to concepts, for newcomers to the field, or b) specialized training in specific sub-areas for current professionals. For example, if a math teacher wants to start teaching more specialized courses, she might get a certificate in geometry, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, or statistics, depending on her current certifications. Introductory certificates may be helpful to career changers who aren't ready to commit to a full-time degree program, or professionals from other fields who need to augment their basic math skills.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Mathematics and Statistics

Bachelor's degrees are typically the minimum requirement for most professional careers. Some math and statistics degree programs focus on a specific segment of the field, and allow students to develop an expertise in the applications and techniques associated with that area. Others are more general in nature, providing a broad overall foundation in core concepts. Both types of programs should cover general mathematical principles, science concepts, computers, and technology.

Students should expect a bachelor's degree program to take approximately eight semesters of study. BS programs are thorough, intense, and rigorous. They include general education courses in the humanities, liberal arts and social sciences, so that math students are well-rounded and learn important skills in writing, critical thinking and communication. This latter is extremely important in the professional world; mathematicians and statisticians must often be able to explain their ideas to managers, students, teachers and policymakers.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Math and Statistics?

Math and statistics skills are valued in a wide range of occupations, including business, physics, accounting, drafting and design, finance, operations research, engineering and even healthcare. Any research field, in particular, needs the assistance of qualified statisticians. Below are a few of the most common careers pursued by math & statistics grads:

  • An actuary helps businesses assess the risk of certain events or courses of action. They formulate policies and procedures to minimize the financial costs of such risks. Actuaries primarily work in the insurance industry, analyzing data and approximating the likelihood of death, illness, disability, injury, or loss of property. Their assessment is used to determine whether or not an individual is a good candidate for insurance coverage. Additionally, actuaries may also find employment in the financial sector. The skills of an actuary can help individuals determine how much money to invest in order to produce a desired result. Most actuaries have bachelor's degrees in math or a related subject area.
  • Simply, a mathematician's work involves using the principles and techniques of advanced mathematics to solve various types of problems. Theoretical mathematicians seek to develop new theories and to uncover relationships between existing principles. Commonly, theoretical mathematicians work as university professors, teaching students and conducting research. Applied mathematicians use mathematical principles, models, and techniques to solve practical problems. Applied mathematicians are in demand in government, economics, engineering, and science. In almost all cases, a doctorate is needed to qualify for top-tier mathematician positions.
  • Applying the principles of math to the collection, analysis and utility of numerical information, statisticians design surveys, interpret information, and process data. Statistical work is imperative for many medical, governmental, political, and social decisions. A statistician employed by the government might develop a survey to measure population growth, consumer prices, or unemployment. Or, he might work for a scientific, environmental, or agricultural agency, determining the amount of pesticides found in drinking water, or calculating the number of people with a particular medical condition in a certain area. Additionally, statisticians work for defense agencies and test the accuracy of new military weaponry and/or predict the effectiveness of defense strategies. Individuals hoping to enjoy a career in statistics should plan to obtain at least a master's degree in mathematics.
  • Math teachers instruct and present mathematical theories, techniques, problem solving steps, and examples. The majority of educators are employed by schools, but some also work as private tutors. Teachers must not only be knowledgeable about math, but must also have strong communication skills and a desire to work with students. Math teachers must obtain a bachelor's degree and a state-approved teaching certification, but the possibility of greater income depends on a teacher continually updating her training and level of education.

Certification, Licensure, and Associations

Certification and licensure requirements vary widely by field. For example, if a graduate decides to work in engineering, he will be required to obtain certification specific to his trade. If he is hoping to work as a theoretical mathematician, however, certification is not required. Instead, he will need to focus on earning more academic training and expertise.

Students who venture into the field of math education will need to obtain teaching credentials and proper certification. Generally, the prerequisites necessary to become a certified teacher are determined by local or state governing bodies. For the most accurate information, it is best to check with your state's Department of Education.

Math and Statistics Professional Organizations and Associations
Whether or not certification or licensing is required, potential students should note that it is always a good idea to become involved with available math and statistics associations and organizations. Joining a professional mathematical organization presents opportunities to network, discuss new innovations, and update skills and knowledge.

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