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Math and statistics savvy aren't just handy skills to have -- they are, and always have been, essential for human progress. Many of humanity's grand achievements, from architectural feats to space travel, rely heavily on math. Statistics helps us analyze and predict events, like political elections and life-threatening risk assessments.

While many professionals can benefit from a working understanding of basic mathematical and statistical principles, there are also specialist roles that require a much more advanced understanding of the subject. This is where math and statistics majors come in. Read on to learn more about mathematics and statistics degree programs (and the jobs that follow them).

Mathematics and Statistics Majors: What to Expect

Mathematics and statistics degree programs help students obtain an advanced understanding of various quantitative principles, including abstract concepts. Statistics majors also learn how to analyze data in a very practical way, helping them understand relationships between or the probability of certain trends and events.

Courses can and do vary depending on the institution offering them, but according to The College Board, may include the following subjects in addition to any other required general education courses:

  • Probability theory
  • Statistical theory
  • Statistical methods
  • Calculus
  • Technical writing
  • Modeling
  • Number theory
  • Linear algebra

Students can enroll in mathematics and statistics degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Which level they choose depends very much on their long-term career goals.

Math majors who hope to eventually work in high-tech research or academic fields, for example, are usually expected to hold master's degrees or higher. Graduate mathematics programs tend to be more focused, so students may not need to take many, if any, general education courses or non-math-related electives. Graduate-level math and statistics majors are often expected to complete special projects, theses or dissertations.

Mathematics and statistics degree programs tend to be very text- or computer-centric, regardless of degree level, making many of them well suited to an online learning format. Online programs can be an especially option for full-time professionals who decide to invest in a higher-level degree, or for those with major life and family obligations. Potential students can contact prospective schools directly to learn more about specific options.

Looking Ahead: Careers for Mathematics and Statistics Grads

While employers from virtually any industry can appreciate workers with strong math skills, there are a few specialist careers that suit statistics and mathematics majors particularly well.

The following are a few of the careers especially suited to statistics and mathematics graduates. Keep in mind that education requirements vary from one position to the next, so it can be helpful to research careers before settling on a degree program.

  • Statisticians: Statisticians use statistical methods to collect and analyze data to help solve real-world problems in areas like business, science and engineering. They can work for private, non-profit and even government firms, and across a wide breadth of industries. Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics place 2013 median income for statisticians at $79,290annually.

    While the BLS states that most prospective employers require that statisticians earn graduate degrees before entering the field, there are an increasing number of positions available for those with bachelor's degrees alone. The BLS projects that demand for statisticians will grow by 27 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations nationally. Job opportunities may be especially strong for candidates with master's degrees or above, and for those with strong quantitative and data analysis skills.

  • Actuaries: Actuaries use statistics to analyze and predict the financial cost associated with certain risks and uncertainties. They might, for instance, help certain businesses and clients develop policies that minimize risk-based costs. According to the BLS, actuaries are essential to the insurance industry.

    BLS statistics place the 2013 median annual salary for actuaries at $94,340. Most actuaries need at least a bachelor's degree to enter the field. Usually they must also be certified through a group such as the Casualty Actuarial Society or the Society of Actuaries.

    Candidates must typically meet certain education and professional requirements and pass a national exam before they can be certified. The BLS projects that demand for actuaries will grow by about 26 percent between 2012 and 2022, and will be especially strong in the health and property insurance sectors. The Bureau expects job prospects to be best for candidates who have successfully passed at least to actuarial exams and who have internship or professional experience in the field.

  • Postsecondary teachers: Just as the world needs more people who can use math and statistics effectively, so does it require professionals who can teach it. College mathematics and statistics professors can work for public or private colleges and universities, professional schools, community colleges and even career or vocational schools. They typically plan their courses, present lectures and design and grade assignments. They must also typically set time aside outside of the classroom to help students or mentor them through research activities.

    Median annual income for postsecondary mathematics teachers in 2013 was $65,930 according to BLS numbers. Education requirements vary. Instructors who hope to teach at four-year universities must often have doctoral degrees. Those teaching at two-year schools can often get by with a master's degree. Private career and vocational schools may be more willing to hire candidates with bachelor's degrees, but typically only in conjunction with solid experience working in a math-heavy field.

    The BLS projects that demand for postsecondary math and science professors will grow by 11 percent between 2012 and 2022. Competition for full-time and tenure-track positions is expected to be particularly fierce.

Though all of these positions are a solid fit for mathematics and statistics graduates, they are only a small sample: The College Board reports that financial analysts, mathematicians and even computer scientists can benefit from this type of training.

Prospective students can learn more about these and similar careers by visiting sites like The College Board and the BLS online, by joining a professional organization like the Mathematical Association of America, or by contacting potential schools directly to connect with an admissions or career adviser.

"Major: Statistics," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/math-statistics-statistics
"Major: Mathematics," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/math-statistics-mathematics
"Statisticians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/statisticians.htm
"15-2041 Statisticians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes152041.htm
"Actuaries," Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm
"15-2011 Actuaries," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes152011.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
"25-1022 Mathematical Science Teachers, Postsecondary," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251022.htm
Casualty Actuarial Society, http://www.casact.org/
Society of Actuaries, http://www.soa.org/
Mathematical Association of America, http://www.maa.org/

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