What do math majors (actually) do after graduation?



It's the time of year for prospective college freshman in the US to make campus visits, and I'm once again confronted with my lamentable ignorance when the students and their parents ask, "So what do math majors do after graduation?"

A web search easily turns up dozens of pages talking about what you can do with a math major, but here I'm more interested in practice than theory.

Does anyone know of any statistics about what jobs/careers undergraduate math majors actually do go into?

(Before anyone else suggests it, it would certainly also be useful for me to know what the math majors at my university specifically do after graduation; I don't know whether anyone here collects data on such things, but I plan to look into it.)

Added: I don't see how I could have been any clearer, but many of the answers below suggest that some people haven't understood my question. I am not asking for information about what people can do with a math major, nor for anecdotes about what any specific individuals have done. What I want is statistics about which jobs math majors actually do go into, and at what rates. Jessica B's answer is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for, but since I'm in the US, something comparable for US math majors would be even better.

Mark Meckes

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 1 026

12The question seems immediately motivated by and related to OP's work as a mathematics educator. The question is close to asking 'What could/should I answer to the question "So what do math majors do after graduation?", which I get asked by students and their parents.' Except that the question as actually asked is less opinion based than this, which is an advantage. I would tend to consider this in scope.quid 2016-04-10T17:43:18.150

2I know math majors that double majored or minored in computer science and went on to code just like those who only studied CS and not math.Mehrdad 2016-04-10T22:36:17.227

4There's a huge demand for people who know both statistics and programming. So maybe a related question is "what do math majors who don't like statistics do?"Aeryk 2016-04-11T00:19:16.750

2A math degree is considered to be difficult to get, even if it's not more difficult for people who are fascinated by mathematics enough to get such a degree. That being the case, having a math degree is generally seen as a good thing for many technical fields, especially those that do not require more specific training or licensing. It is also an ideal foundation for a large number of graduate degrees.Todd Wilcox 2016-04-11T01:09:14.837

For me, tech. They should really get good at programming, no matter what they want to do...djechlin 2016-04-11T03:39:53.213

4IME the usual destination is the finance and insurance industries. There's a lot of training but it's extraordinarily well-paid.pjc50 2016-04-11T10:21:57.550

Short answer: whatever we want.QED 2016-04-11T19:53:21.243

Personal view : As math majors we learn to break down extremely complex logical problems into manageable pieces that can be used to further extend and explore the system. This knowledge of •how to learn• has given me the upper hand when it comes to getting all the work I have as a professional programmer.typewriter 2016-04-11T21:57:35.780

A degree in Mathematics may look impressive, but it's not going to get you a job without being paired with concrete, marketable skills (unless you want to teach). I learned that the hard way. Pick a good minor that works well with math, like statistics or computer science. A year or two in, maybe you'll even find out that you like your minor better than your major and you can switch the two without much extra effort. – None – 2016-04-11T01:33:47.113

This remark by Jonathan Chang is not universally true. I got a great job within days of my graduation with a BS in math, and my minor was French. Math is definitely a concrete, marketable skill. (minimal modification by quid to integrate it in the cmnt thread)Kathy 2016-04-11T14:17:15.997

Continuing on the subject raise by Jonathan Chang, I earned a B.S. in pure Mathematics (no actuarial science, no statistics) and had a job a week after graduation - I worked that job for nine years and still work in the field. I wouldn't say that the degree is what got me the job, but it certainly wasn't any marketable skills, since I had virtually none in the field at that time. (minimal modification by quid to integrate it in the cmnt thread)Todd Wilcox 2016-04-11T18:35:16.480



From the UK:

Prospects offer some very basic stats. This CMS report has some graphs broken down a bit further, from p36 onwards. For instance, the graph below shows that of majors in math, statistics or operations research, about half went into education and financial services.

enter image description here

Jessica B

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 3 522

4I'd very much like to see something comparable for the US, but I'm accepting this answer because it's the only one so far that actually answers the question I asked!Mark Meckes 2016-04-12T12:17:21.047



Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 2 873


In particular, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians.htm#tab-3 lists a few percentages.

J W 2016-04-12T15:47:23.017


High school students may well ask the same thing... One recommendation is to have available (in your classroom, or in the school library) books like

101 Careers in Mathematics

Gerald Edgar

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 2 618

9I am downvoting because this book doesn't answer the question: it's a showcase for the variety of jobs that math majors can do, rather than the statistical profile of the jobs where they are actually concentrated. – None – 2016-04-11T14:01:43.967

1It would be great to have a US chart like Jessica's.Gerald Edgar 2016-04-11T19:47:41.667

2I upvoted because, while I do not believe this answers the OP's well-formulated question, I find the response "on topic" as it provides a fair amount of information related to different jobs for math majors. Anecdotal, yes, but (is "the plural of anecdote" = "data"?) there are many anecdotes, they are well-organized via the MAA, and (perhaps) have the potential for one to investigate further these various careers for add'l statistical information.Benjamin Dickman 2016-04-12T17:33:08.703


At http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/sestat/sestat.html you can query the National Science Foundation's database for the National Survey of College Graduates. For example, it indicates that only about 1% of those graduating with undergraduate degrees in mathematics end up with "mathematician" as their job title.

Chris Grant

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 41


Earned a BS in Mathematics with CS minor from a Liberal Arts University. I was interested in a career in software development. I found in my interviews that my degree in Mathematics was a competitive edge over CS Majors due to the difficulty and rigor. Any deficiency in my CS background would be made up with on-the-job experience and training.

I have to say that there hasn't been a need for my experience in Real or Complex Analysis in my 16 years of professional experience, but my degree gave me a competitive edge, a boost at the beginning of my career, that has paid off very well over the years.


Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 139


Web developers!

Having a PhD in applied mathematics and having struggled quite a lot just last year in order to find my first job outside of the academia (guess what), I felt somehow compelled to post this answer. :)

Let me add some context and background to back it up. First of all, what follows is purely based on personal experience. However, I believe that having spent 10 years in the "math environment", hunted for a job in the industry, and eventually found one, should give enough credit to what I'll say.


  1. I have been doing research/working in Japan for the past 4 years, but I think this should not be a big discriminant.

  2. I will focus on the private sector, that is, I will not consider research centers etc. that are also an obvious career possibility. I also won't consider the education sector (public or private) in general.

Anyway, what I realized during my job-hunting quest as a mathematician is that the majority of jobs for what you will be actually considered (in my case meaning that I had at least one interview) comes from the following type of industries:

  • IT;
  • Insurance;
  • Finance;
  • Pharmaceutical;
  • Consulting.

I would say that more or less that's it. In most cases though, whatever the type of industry, most of the employers will be interested in two things when looking at a mathematician: programming and problem solving (mindset) skills.

The only area in which I honestly have the feeling that some serious mathematics is actually employed on a regular basis is finance (you can google for "quant jobs" and find tons of information). I had a few quant interviews and I was actually asked quite high-level purely mathematical questions. Those times only. Even in the quant case though, often programming skills are essential... At this point you should be able to start seeing where my original answer is coming from.

In the end, I have started working in a Fintech company, where eventually I might join a quantitative team and at least have the feeling of doing a job that is related to my background. For now, I am working as a web developer doing web applications. The level of mathematics I use is zero, and math comes into play only in the sense that it helps when it comes to logical thinking (that is obviously at the core of programming). So although there is an obvious pinch of irony in my first answer, there is at the same time a little bit of disappointment. The truth is that the business world and mathematics are still quite far from each other, despite what some will say. At least in the majority of cases.

Even among friends or former colleagues, if I think about people that now work in the industry they all belong to one of the above categories (many of them not doing or using any math at all). So I guess it is quite true in the end, you indeed find math majors in a variety of fields. It is how you get there to be tricky.

Off topic: The above was just my personal experience to give a small insight of what math majors do after graduation. However, I would like to add that what I have learned, in the end, is that the most helpful thing a math major could do to himself/herself is to understand in advance what he/she wants to do next and work his/her math in that direction.

I never really given too much thought to that and when I decided to drop research I realized the hard way that finding a job was much more difficult than I expected. Definitely having a PhD and research experience was a double edged sword for many reasons, but this is another story.

Anyway, I would boil it all down to this:

  • If you love math as a subject and that's what you want to do, I hardly see any career other than the standard academic one.

  • If you want to find a regular job in a company, it definitely helps to improve coding skills focusing on maybe numerical analysis and/or applied mathematics. And be prepared not to see any math at all again.

  • When it comes to money, maybe the most financially rewarding career for a mathematician is still in the financial field working as a quant. They are notoriously tough jobs to get, but knowing in advance that that's your goal might be an advantage so that you can for example drop that algebraic topology class and attend stochastic calculus instead.


Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 131

Or just maybe do both algebraic topology and stochastic calculus. The former is used in topological data analysis (TDA). See http://www.ayasdi.com/technology/ for an example of a company using TDA in various domains, including financial services.

J W 2016-04-13T20:22:25.740

Look at that, interesting.. You see, that's the beauty of math. It always turns out to be much more powerful than you could imagine.Tommy 2016-04-14T04:31:45.543


No one mentioned NSA, which reportedly employs more mathematicians than anyone else in the US. They're also Baltimore Gas and Electric's biggest customer.

john connell

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 131

1I noticed this as well. But maybe the question is about bachelor's degrees in math, whereas NSA hires Ph.D.s (which are only a tiny percentage of that).Gerald Edgar 2016-04-13T15:21:24.050


My brother is a Math major, from the Old Dominion University, Virginia and now he is in the strategy management department in the US navy. Math can get you anywhere in any field because as long as you have a good logical mind, you will be welcomed anywhere. The organizations look for specialisations in a particular field so that the one who they are hiring doesn't need a lot of time to come in pace but in the long shot, everyone kinda know that the people with Math majors can pay off better that the others.

This list provided by UCI shows various areas you can think to work in.

rohit nair

Posted 2016-04-10T17:18:25.473

Reputation: 151

4As you long as you have a logical mind....and a friendly disposition, and reliable work habits, and sensitive communication skills, and an understanding of the business goals, and up-to-date technological skills, and relevant formal credentials, and an appropriate citizenship or work permit, and nothing to set off the prejudices of an employer, and perhaps a connection or two...yes, you will be welcomed anywhere. – None – 2016-04-13T12:34:08.677