Undergraduate Academics

Careers in Math

As all avenues of human endeavor become more technologically oriented, the demand for employees with expertise in mathematics expands. For students interested in careers in industry, government, business, and education, mathematics is an excellent major.

Mathematical societies that maintain lists of job opportunities and government job listings:

Career Services

The Office of Career and Student Employment Services offers assistance with career questions and job search preparation to all mathematics and statistics majors.

Three different majors for different career areas

Applied Mathematics

Applied Mathematics covers a vast territory, but basically it means using mathematics to solve problems in some discipline other than mathematics. The applied mathematician is primarily concerned with concrete solutions to real-world problems, whereas the pure mathematician may often need to extend "pure" mathematics to fit current situations. An applied mathematician, if not employed by an academic institution, is probably working either for industry or government. Frequently an applied mathematician works as a member of a team of engineers and scientists modeling problems. Systems analysis and quality control are examples of fields relying heavily on applied mathematics. Two decades ago industrial mathematicians were primarily concerned with problems requiring advanced calculus, differential equations, mechanics, or statistics for their solution. Recently applications involving combinatorics, probability, numerical analysis, or linear programming have grown much more common. The applied mathematician in government service is likely to be working with statistics, numerical analysis, differential equations or operations research. In all these areas, facility with the computer is indispensable. Training in some area of science is also essential. Starting salaries for those holding a bachelor's or master's degree in mathematics are comparable to those in other science related areas. The job market for applied mathematicians is expanding. Henry O. Pollak, head of the math research center at AT&T, ranks mathematics as "one of the most important driving forces creating new technologies."

Actuarial Science

Another field in which you can apply your mathematical knowledge is actuarial science. An actuary is a mathematician in the insurance industry who combines mathematical training (calculus of both finite and infinitesimal differences, probability, and a heavy emphasis on statistics) with a business background (accounting, insurance law, underwriting procedures, investment, etc.) in order to conduct the financial affairs of an insurance company, including matters pertaining to premiums, cash values, dividends, etc. Actuarial positions also exist in government and in consulting firms.

There continues to be a pressing need for actuaries across the country. Typically, as a graduate with a bachelor's degree, you would accept emplyment while preparing yourself for the series of ten examinations presecribed by the Society of Actuaries (you can take the first two of these as an undergraduate). Passing all the exams is roughly equivalent in prestige and salary (and degree of difficulty) to attaining the Ph.D. in other areas. The obvious advantage here is that as an actuarial trainee you earn a full salary and gain valuable on-the-job experience throughout the several years it takes you to pass the exams.

Starting salaries (bachelor's level) are highly competitive with other careers for mathematics majors, and they increase steeply, depending on the number of exams passed, with expectations in excess of $50,000 per year for actuaries who eventually become senior executive officers of their companies. If you are a prospective actuary, you should probably major in statistics, with Math 5700, Advanced Calculus, as an elective, and take appropriate courses in the College of Business. For more information, contact the Mathematics Department.


Mathematics teaching positions exist at all levels from elementary schools through universities. For those interested in teaching in the elementary grades, the minor in science and mathematics provides excellent preparation. Future high school mathematics teachers will choose the Secondary Mathematics Teaching Major. Positions in two-year colleges and universities generally require graduate work in Mathematics. Undergraduate preparation for a career in college or university teaching would usually be the General Mathematics Major.

Although starting salaries for mathematics teachers are not always competitive with those in industry, teaching can be an interesting and satisfying career. An advantage of teaching is that summers provide opportunities for study in advanced degree or enrichment programs, supplementing income with summer work, or independent study and relaxation.


Job opportunities exist for the trained, competent mathematician in all of the broad areas we have discussed. In general, both opportunities and rewards are enhanced by graduate study and/or the development of competence in mathematics related areas, especially in computer science. So if you have a love for mathematics and want to put it to work for you (and for society) seek advice, select your major option, and prepare for the adventure of being a mathematician.






Department of Mathematics
3319 Everett Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5248 USA
(269) 387-4510 | (269) 387-4530 Fax