William & Mary

After College

Majoring in mathematics prepares students for jobs. Contrary to a prevailing stereotype, teaching is one of the things that mathematics majors do least! And if salary is a measure of employability, mathematics majors do very well indeed. 

What do mathematics majors do after college? The three main mathematics professional societies (the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM)) use the World Wide Web to publicize what mathematics students do in the outside world. A good place to start your search is to use some network software to review a career-related site of the American Mathematical Society.

The Mathematics Department also maintains a library of career publications prepared by our professional societies. Just as important are the resources available through the College's Career Services Office. These include commercially available publications (e.g., Careers for Number Crunchers and Other Quantitative Types) and publications of the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics about career opportunities. Students sometimes wait until their senior years to contact the Career Center, and that is probably a mistake.

The outlook for mathematics majors in business, industry, and government has been strong for many years, with fluctuations from year to year depending upon the general economic outlook. Mathematics majors who plan to enter business or government positions immediately after their bachelor’s degrees would do well to link their mathematics studies with related course work in science, computer science, economics, or business.

There is a perennial shortage of high school mathematics teachers with strong mathematics backgrounds, and high school teaching is an employment option for mathematics students. State certification normally requires a fixed set of courses taken in the School of Education as well as a mathematics major.  However, there are other routes to teaching for mathematics majors, e.g., through the national "Teach for America" program [MA], or through the Peace Corps. Furthermore, teaching in private high schools often does not require state certification.

Post-baccalaureate study in professional schools has always been an option for mathematics majors. For further information about Medicine students should consult the College's pre-professional advisors.  Medical schools, Law schools, and MBA programs welcome students with strong quantitative backgrounds, and some draw a majority of their students from undergraduate programs in science, engineering, and mathematics. 

Recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of mathematics majors who pursue graduate study in disciplines such as engineering, economics, or other sciences.  Students contemplating these options must carefully plan their undergraduate programs to make sure that they have the required basic courses in the other field to make it clear to graduate admissions officers that they have a reasonable chance of success in that other field. 

Study of the mathematical sciences in graduate school is an excellent option for some students. A masters degree in operations research, statistics, applied mathematics, or computer science is a strong employment credential. In many cases, students can obtain financial aid during such study through tuition waivers, graduate assistantships, and fellowships. A listing of such fellowship possibilities is published annually by the American Mathematical Society and is available through the department. In other cases, a student decides on graduate study after a year or two of employment, and in such cases, the student's employer may have programs to offset the cost of graduate study considered relevant to the employer's needs.

Finally, about 25% of our mathematics majors pursue doctoral study in mathematics. It is hard to know how to advise undergraduates about doctoral study in mathematics. A doctoral program usually takes five or six years of additional study. From time to time, the job market for mathematics Ph.D.s has been terrible, and sometimes very good. Six years from now, who knows? In addition, there are major changes afoot regarding the kinds of employment available to new mathematics doctoral recipients. In the past, the goal of mathematics doctoral study was to produce academic mathematicians, but that is changing as industry and government discover that they have problems that we can help solve. As a result, a number of students decide to pursue doctoral study after a year or two of employment.  One thing that we can assure prospective doctoral students is that very few students pay for their doctoral study in mathematics. Fellowships and assistantships are normally available to support such study.