What Does a Career in Math/Science Entail?
A degree in math/science opens up countless career opportunities, most of which pay well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for employees in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – is expected to grow by 13.5% by 2026. Math majors may find employment as statisticians, actuaries, computer scientists, systems analysts, financial analysts, or any job that involves crunching numbers for data purposes. Of course, teaching math is another option, and one in high demand whether on the middle school, high school, or college level. Science majors can find jobs in their respective fields, whether it is biology, chemistry, environmental science, or the host of other scientific disciplines. They may work in government, academia, the pharmaceutical industry, medical device companies, and many other industries.
Math/science majors must possess a thirst for knowledge along with the ability to communicate well. This field is so wide, and the demand so great, that math/science majors may work virtually anywhere in the country and internationally.
Components of A Successful Career in Math or Science
Since careers in the math/science field are so varied, a successful career depends on the path the student decides to follow. Overall, a successful career involves helping humanity in some way, whether it is through scientific advances, teaching, information technology, or a better understanding of our world. A degree in math/science opens opportunities in many fields, including engineering, accounting, finance, economics, agriculture, ecology, research, and medicine. Some of these careers require additional higher education, such as the completion of a master’s or doctoral degree, but there are still many careers available in math/science for those with a two-year or four-year degree.
How to Earn a Degree in Math or Science
A candidate for a math/science degree must have a knack for these fields. They must possess the discipline needed for studying rigorous subjects. For practical purposes, a student pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in math/science must have earned a high school diploma or GED. For a bachelor’s degree in math, students can choose between a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). For the former, students pursue more courses in humanities while obtaining their degree, while the latter concentrates on science courses or those dealing with business and similar subjects.
Science majors receive a B.A. or B.S. depending on their major. Common science majors include biology, biochemistry, chemistry, chemical engineering, computer science, earth science, environmental studies, geology, neuroscience, and physics.
Again, this will depend on your field. A math or science teacher of any kind will need certification from their state of residence. An accountant may obtain CPA certification to gain higher paying positions. Those devoted to the sciences can earn certification in hazmat response, as a forester, a pathologist, a laboratory animal tech, or any number of other focuses. It is important, no matter what area you choose to specialize in, that you search for pertinent certifications. The boost to your career will be worth it.
Schools may require that entering students have a minimum GPA or a minimum score on the math section of the SAT. Each school has its own academic standards students must meet in order to receive credit for coursework and graduate. Most colleges require a minimum GPA of 2.0 for a student to graduate. Most colleges also have certain standards of conduct that they require you to follow, such as rules against cheating, plagiarism, and other disruptive behaviors.
Exams and Experience Needed
While exams are generally not necessary to major in math/science, students will have to meet all school requirements and pass relevant examinations to graduate. Many math/science jobs do require the passing of an examination to obtain a license, such as the one for actuaries, but it all depends on the type of career involved.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Math or Science degree?
It is possible to earn a bachelor’s degree online in less than the four years traditionally required in a brick and mortar school, as the student may take classes year-round. For the student balancing work and/or family obligations, it may take longer. One of the advantages of earning an online degree is that the student may work at his or her own pace. However, you should be aware that some rigorous programs or majors may require you to complete your degree within a certain time frame from the start of your courses. You should check with the department your major falls under and ask if they have any such requirement.
How much does a degree in Math or Science cost?
How much a math/science bachelor’s degree costs depends upon the school. An associate’s degree at a community college may cost roughly $7,500, while an associate’s degree from a private college may cost $14,500 or more. A bachelor’s degree may range from approximately $40,000 for four years for in-state residents at a public university, and $140,000 or more for students attending private colleges. Online school tuition also varies, but students do not have to pay for housing, meals or transportation, and costs are generally lower because online classes cost less for a college or university to operate. To determine the actual costs of your education, perform a budget analysis and investigate all the costs involved with earning a degree at a school you wish to attend.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
Virtually every brick and mortar college or university offers math and science majors, and the same holds true for most online colleges. Math and science degrees are among the most popular and useful majors currently available. What you want to pay close attention to are the specializations/focuses or minors that you have to choose from in any given school. If you want to study aerospace engineering, you may have to choose an engineering-heavy school or even attend graduate school for the specialization, as there aren’t many programs that offer this specialization.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
A school’s graduation rate reveals important information about the institution. For best results, avoid schools with low four-year graduation rates. The low rates could mean students are not receiving the best academic support, or there are faculty or affordability issues. While it is just one aspect of a school for you to look into, it can indicate the school’s overall quality.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Math and science programs are not accredited by any agency per se, but the college or university itself should be accredited. Look for a regionally accredited school based on that school’s location. The six regional accreditation agencies are The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, The North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, and The Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Online-only schools should have accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, the Distance Education and Training Council, or the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges but they should also hold regional accreditation.
Software, Technology & Skills Needed
Students will perform much of their work on their computers and online, so each student should bring a laptop to class if they are able and if the school does not provide them. Other than that, you’ll need basic knowledge in all online communication technology, like email and forums.
An associate of science or math degree is generally completed in two years and consists of approximately 60 credit hours or 20 courses. Students may earn an associate’s degree online, at a community college or a public or private college or university. The first two options are the least expensive. Students select a concentration – biology, chemistry, physics, etc. – when studying for an associate’s degree in science.
- Foundations of Math
- Calculus 1
- Discrete Mathematics
- Health Science
- Computer Science
A bachelor’s degree in math or science consists of 120 credits hours, or 40 courses. Students may earn this degree online – although not all science majors are 100% available online due to the amount of lab work required – or at a public or private college or university. Bachelor’s degrees are designed for completion within four years, although it is not uncommon for students to need another year or two to complete their degree.
- Differential Equations
- Complex Variables
- Probability and Statistics
A master’s degree is required for many math/science careers. Since these fields are so varied, master’s degree courses focus on the student’s particular field of study. The most popular masters’ of science degrees include biotechnology, food science, and physics, but they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to masters’ of science degrees. A master’s degree generally consists of 45 credits, and is usually completed within two years.
- Algebraic Geometry
- Probability, Stochastic Processes, and Combinatorics
- Number Theory
- Cell Biology
- Aeronautics and Astronautics
- Chemical Thermodynamics
Math/Science Fields of Study:
– This branch of science deals with the physical universe as well as space and celestial objects, and with their development and evolution. While astronomers are generally employed in academia, in laboratories, or by the federal government, students majoring in astronomy may pursue advanced degrees and work in the field of astrophysics. Students interested in this field should double major in both astronomy and physics.
– This field of science includes zoology, or animal studies; botany, the study of plants; and microbiology, the study of microscopic organisms. The branches of biology are vast, including molecular biology, which focuses on DNA and genetics; cell biology; physiology, the study of various organ functions; embryology; anatomy; paleontology, the study of fossils; and biotechnology, the use of biological processes for technological purposes.
– The study of plants and their place in ecology, botanists examine the properties of all types of these organisms, including ferns, moss, and lichens. Botanical research is used in many fields, including medicine, pharmacology, food, and public and environmental health. Botanists may work in laboratories or in the field. Botanical knowledge is necessary not only for scientists, but for conservationists managing natural resources. This major is also known as plant biology.
– In the simplest terms, this branch of mathematics is the study of change. It contains two major forms: differential calculus, which involves instantaneous change rates and slopes or curves, and integral calculus, which is concerned with quantity accumulations between curves. For practical purposes, calculus is used in virtually every type of science as long as a problem is capable of mathematical modeling. Calculus is used in fields as varied as computer science, actuarial science, business, medicine, and statistics.
– The study of matter and its properties, chemistry has five main branches: organic, the study of life via carbon and compounds; inorganic, compounds not included in organic chemistry; analytical, the study of matter and tools for measuring its properties; physical, the application of physics to chemistry; and biochemistry, the study of the chemical processes of living organisms.
- Computer Science
– Computer science majors learn not only basic programming, but various computer languages, including Java and C++. This major opens a host of career possibilities, including information technology consultant, systems analyst, video game developer, software developer, and database administration.
– Geometry concerns the relations of angles, curves, points, circles, solids, surfaces, and lines, as well as their properties. Geometry also deals with set theory and algebraic concepts. For practical purposes, geometry is used in architecture, computer imaging, animation, mapping, mechanical engineering, and urban planning.
– This is the study of the brain and nervous system and their structure and function. It is particularly focused on how the brain and nervous system behave in those with neurological or psychiatric disorders. However, there are numerous sub-branches of neuroscience, including cellular neuroscience, or the study of neurons; behavioral neuroscience, or the biological basis of human behavior; and computational neuroscience, the study of how the brain works.
– This branch of science concerns the properties of energy and matter. Physics majors study heat, light, electricity, sound, and atomic structure. More specialized topics in physics include quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, and special relativity. Students majoring in physics may go on to careers in research; various types of engineering, including laser, optics, design and applications, data analysis, software developer, and many information technology positions.
– This mathematics field deals with data collection and data analysis. The statistician may use experimental study, which involves measuring the system studied, manipulating this system and, using the identical procedure, taking new measurements to determine if manipulation changes the measurements’ values. Alternatively, the statistician may use the observational method, which involves collecting information about a subject via a survey, and then performing a statistical analysis.
Earning Potential and Career Salaries for Math and Science Major Graduates
With a math/science degree, there is no limit on earnings potential. However, an advanced degree, such as an MBA, boosts earnings considerably.
Here is just a small sampling of math/science career opportunities:
- Actuary :
Actuaries analyze risk. Although their role is synonymous with insurance companies, there are many industries employing people in this field. Actuaries may find employment in the government, hospitals, consulting companies, investment firms and banks, or any business requiring financial risk management. For math-minded individuals who like business, a career as an actuary is a good choice.
- Biologist :
Since biology is a broad science dealing with living organisms, a biologist may work in any number of fields. This includes research, healthcare, veterinary medicine, conservation, pharmaceutical companies, and more. Someone with a bachelor’s degree in biology may want to further their career prospects by earning a master’s degree or Ph.D. and work in biotechnology, molecular biology, biological engineering, or related fields.
- Chemist :
As with the other sciences, chemists may embark on a wide range of careers. While many chemists work in research laboratories, either private or government-funded, others are employed in industries as varied as pharmaceutical, agricultural, engineering, petroleum, waste management, and textiles. A degree in chemistry can prove the springboard for a rewarding career in many fields.
- Computer Programmer :
Programmers create the code for operating systems and software applications. They perform all activities needed for the construction, design, testing, and implementation of computer systems. For best results, programmers should learn as many computer languages as possible. Because computers are used in virtually every enterprise, programmers may work in almost any type of business or public agency.
- Environmental Scientist :
In a nutshell, environmental scientists seek solutions to environmental issues. While usually based in laboratories or offices, a considerable amount of field work is generally required. This involves gathering data and on-site monitoring. While many environmental scientists work for federal or state agencies, they are also found in industries attempting to mitigate damage done to the environment. A related field, environmental engineering, involves using engineering principles to address environmental problems.
- Investment Analyst :
The role of the investment analyst is to perform research and then create reports or financial models regarding specific types of investments, such as stocks and bonds. They must often work in securities firms, banks, pension funds, money management companies, and brokerages. Investment analysts are also known as financial analysts or securities analysts. While junior positions require a bachelor’s degree, senior investment analysts most often have a master’s degree or beyond.
- Math/Science Teacher :
Math/science teachers are in great demand all over the country. There are programs and scholarships available offering free tuition to students who agree to become STEM teachers for a certain number of years after graduation, often in high needs school districts. For those willing to make this commitment, such programs are an excellent way to pay for an education without paying tuition out of pocket.
- Mathematician :
While mathematicians often work in academia, where advanced degrees are required, they may also work in numerous other fields, including government, business, technology, finance, and industry. Just as the use of math applications is extremely broad, so is the work done by mathematicians.
- Statistician :
Statisticians apply mathematical principles to the collection and analysis of data. Statisticians may work in government agencies, engineering companies or firms conducting private research, or any field in which statistical analysis is required. Statisticians collect and analyze data - playing roles in product development, investing, manufacturing, experimentation, safety and many other areas. While most statisticians must have a master’s degree, the federal government will employ statisticians who have earned only a bachelor’s degree.
- Systems Analyst :
This information technology position involves analyzing and designing IT systems. They work along with business analysts, programmers, software architects, and other professionals to devise or change systems according to the needs of the client. System analysts work in business, government, and management. This is one of the most in-demand jobs in the IT field.
Annual Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry-Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late-Career Salary Range|
|High School Math/Science Teacher||$41,800||$47,800||$60,700|
Students planning careers in math/science will find a plethora of scholarships available. Here’s a sample:
Masergy STEM Scholarship
Deadline: April 15
Applications for these $5,000 scholarships for students majoring in STEM fields are decidedly different. Students are required to submit a video of themselves via their smartphones demonstrating some type of innovation they created. The video is no more than 60 second long. These rules are strict – even a video exceeding the 60 second limit by 1 second is not considered.
Microsoft Scholarship Program
Deadline: Varies (Previously Feb. 28)
The tech giant offers scholarships to underrepresented groups majoring in STEM fields. Such groups include women, minority students, and students with disabilities. Eligible candidates must have full-time enrollment in a four-year college or university and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Award amounts vary.
Regeneron Science Talent Search
Amount: $2,000 (300 Awards); $25,000 (40 Awards); $40,000 (9 Awards); $250,000 (1 Award)
This most prestigious math and science competition for high school students offers a whopping $3 million in scholarships. Formerly known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and as the Intel Science Talent Search, applicants must complete an extensive application and submit an original research project. While 300 students receive scholarships annually, the top 40 head to Washington, DC for judging and competition for $1.8 million in scholarships. Each finalist receives $25,000, but the top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.
National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship
Deadline: August 27
Students majoring in STEM fields who wish to teach at the K-12 level may apply for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Those receiving this scholarship must teach in a high-need school district for two years for each year they received the award. Scholarship amounts are $15,000 per year.
The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Math and Science Scholarships
Amount: $5,000 (4 Awards)
Created in 2010 by Dr. Bernard Harris and ExxonMobil to encourage minority students to pursue STEM careers, this scholarship awards $5,000 annually to two African-American and two Hispanic students currently in their senior year of high school in a member district of the Council of Great City Schools.
There is no shortage of professional organizations for those in the math/science field. Many scientific organizations are field specific, such as biology, chemistry, climatology, etc.
National Association of Mathematicians
NAM’s mission and purpose is promotion of excellence in the mathematical sciences field and promoting underrepresented minorities in mathematical development. Student memberships are available, as are memberships on the individual, institutional, and lifetime level. NAM hosts 12 signature events annually, which take place at five different times during the year. These events include invited lectures, an undergraduate math fest, joint mathematics meetings, and many more.
American Mathematical Society
AMS memberships helps support the global mathematics community, providing funding for professional development and networking, programs and travel grants, publications and communication, career services, professional advocacy, and MathSciNet, the electronic version of the renowned publication Mathematical Reviews. Membership also offers meeting registration discounts, job opportunities at MathJobs.org, and other mathematical sciences employment information.
Association for Women in Mathematics
While AWM focuses on supporting women in the mathematical sciences, membership is open to both genders. Much of AWM programming is carried out AWM Committees, who are always looking for interested volunteers to help with special projects. Membership benefits include access to the AWM job board and the various programs available to support women in math.
Association for Women in Science
This global network is geared toward the advancement of women in STEM careers. AWIS has chapters and affiliates throughout the United States. Membership benefits include talent and leadership development, strategic partnership and business solutions, research and analysis, and advocacy and public engagement. Members have access to job openings in all fields of science.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The goal of this well-known organization is to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” The AAAS is the largest multidiscipline scientific organization in the world, with members in over 90 countries. Member benefits include a subscription to Science Magazine, as well as access to members-only journals. Network with other science professionals via its platform and take advantage of exclusive podcasts, webinars, and lectures.
Choosing an Accredited College
Look for a regionally accredited school based on a particular school’s location. The six regional accreditation agencies are The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, The North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, and The Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Online vs On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Math degrees may be earned entirely online. With an online degree, a working person can continue their education on their own schedule and in a flexible manner. Going the online route allows a student to attend schools far from them geographically, so they are no longer limited to colleges or universities within a reasonable driving distance. For students with work and family obligations, an online school may prove the best choice. However, science majors may find that they have to attend some classes in person for laboratory and other work, although much depends on the courses. There are students who prefer to attend a traditional brick and mortar school, where classes are held at scheduled times. Many students may prefer a combination of the online and on-campus, a hybrid version where they take most classes online but attend seminars and similar events on campus.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Because graduates in STEM fields are in high demand, post-graduate job placement help and assistance is not as vital as with other degrees, but it is still useful to investigate college employment resources. Post-graduate job placement assistance can help you land that first job in a math/science field soon after receiving your degree.
Just as important as post-graduate job placement is the availability of internships during the academic year. Internships are especially beneficial for those pursuing technical careers.
Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
A degree from a top school means the graduate is more in demand by employers, but only so many students graduate from prestigious universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Many state universities graduate first-rate mathematicians and scientists, as do online schools. A well-known school with solid accreditation opens up employment and salary opportunities you won’t receive with an unknown school, especially one lacking accreditation. While non-accredited schools are cheaper when it comes to tuition, and don’t have the rigorous entrance requirements, they are not worth your time and effort in the long run.