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Major in Mathematics!

Why study mathematics? For starters, please visit the YouTube videos *Video1* and *Video2*, which were produced by Time Warner Cable in their connectamillionminds campaign. Every American high school student should watch these videos! As our National Scientific Foundation points out, more than 80% of all jobs created in America in the next decade will require math and science skills. Currently, the USA is 35th in the world in math skills...and falling. Watch the videos to see the differences in student attitudes about mathematics in other countries compared to the United States. In other countries it is normal for students to like and to study mathematics but, culturally in the United States, it is very 'uncool' to study mathematics. For this country's future success, this attitude realistically must change. Going back more than fifty years (to the late 1950's Sputnik era), there has never been a more perfect opportunity in this country to address the problems that we are currently experiencing in mathematics.

Did you know that Michael Jordan was a math major? OK, maybe he did a little better in his other career as a basketball player....but he enjoyed studying mathematics! Other noteworthy names of math majors are Florence Nightingale (nursing pioneer), Harry Blackmun (U.S. Supreme Court), Ralph Abernathy (civil rights leader), Danica McKellar (actress), Teri Hatcher (actress), Corazon Aquino (former President of the Philippines), Alberto Fujimori (former President of Peru), Leon Trotsky (Russian revolutionary), Alexander Solzhenitsyn (author of The Gulag Archipelago), Art Garfunkel (musician), Carole King (musician), Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland), Bram Stoker (author of Dracula), David Robinson (basketball star), Davey Johnson (baseball star), Virginia Wade (Wimbledon tennis champion), J. P. Morgan (banking, steel, and railroad magnate), John Maynard Keynes (famous economist), and Christopher Wren (famous architect).

What can I do with a math degree? Can I do anything with a math degree besides teach? These are the two most often asked questions from students. The truth is that a math degree opens up plenty of doors. In addition to wonderful careers in teaching and education, it is the case that businesses, industries, and government agencies clamor for math majors, in part, because of their problem-solving skills and because of their training to think, and argue, logically.

As reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, being a mathematician is considered the top job in a comparison of 200 occupations in the United States. In fact the top three jobs in the country, according to a survey conducted by CareerCast.com, are (1) Mathematician, (2) Actuary, and (3) Statistician. All math related! For more information, click here.

For more information on careers in mathematics, please see our link at Math Careers and Opportunities.

For those of you who wish to take your undergraduate degree directly to the job market after graduation, the chart below, extracted from the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2005 salary survey, provides a comparison of average starting salaries for students by undergraduate major.


Major
Salary Differential
Mathematics
+37.7%
Biology
+0.8%
Chemistry
+22.8%
Economics
+33.5%
English
0%
Foreign Languages
+5.1%
History
+0.9%
Political Science
+4.9%
Psychology
-4.4%
Sociology
-0.3%

Professional graduate schools (business, law, medicine) think it's a great major because they realize that studying mathematics develops analytical skills and the ability to work in a problem solving environment; these are skills and experience which rank high on their list of assets. Their entrance tests support this bias. A study of college students' scores on admission tests for graduate and professional schools showed that students majoring in mathematics received scores substantially higher than the average on each of the tests studied. The study, by the National Institute of Education, compared the scores of 550,000 college students who took the LSAT and GMAT with data collected over the previous eighteen years. The table below excerpts some of these data from The Chronicle of Higher Education. 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.

Major
LSAT
GMAT
Mathematics
+12.8%
+13.3%
Arts and Music
-0.05%
-1.2%
Biology
+4.0%
+3.3%
Business
-4.5%
-0.8%
Chemistry
+7.6%
+7.5%
Economics
+9.6%
+7.3%
Education
-8.7%
-4.2%
English
+5.6%
+4.1%
Foreign Languages
+5.7%
+3.3%
History
+2.9%
+4.6%
Philosophy
+8.7%
+11.0%
Political Science
-1.6%
+0.06%
Psychology
+0.9%
+0.8%
Sociology
-7.0%
-5.0%

Jobs in the private sector abound: Whether you're interested in developing models and interpreting their results, or are interested in developing efficient algorithms to expedite known processes, mathematics and computer science are the tools of choice.
  • Modeling: Models are needed to investigate air flow across the surface of aircraft wings, chemical and biological processes, astronomical trajectories and urban development. These models need to be designed, created, the data from them collected and analyzed, conclusions drawn and predictions made from them.
  • Finance: 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.
  • Cryptography and Security: One area that is particularly "hot" these days is cryptography - the making and breaking of secret codes. Not only the CIA, NSA, and other spy agencies are devotees. Numerous businesses also require cryptography. For example, the cable TV companies encode their signals, forcing the viewer to rent their decoding devices in order to turn the signals back into a television picture. Banks also employ cryptography in order to protect the privacy and integrity of their transactions. Number theory is the  branch of pure mathematics which provides the theoretical underpinnings for much of the recent progress in cryptography. 
  • Biotech: Recent breakthroughs in the study of  DNA and proteins have generated a great deal of interest in mathematical biology. Many biotech companies hire mathematics majors because of the high (and growing) mathematical content of the field.
  • Where Mathematics Meets Computer Science: The computer industry provides many lucrative jobs for math majors. Beyond mere proficiency in computer programming, math majors are trained to address the more fundamental issues involved in the creation of new algorithms. Furthermore, many sophisticated applications of computers such as creation of computer graphics and the compression of video and audio signals (to name a few examples) involve a great deal of deep mathematics, and, as a result, many computer companies specifically hire math majors.

If you are interested in majoring in mathematics, contact any of us in the department or email Lance Littlejohn. We would love to hear from you!