Republic of Mathematics blog

Mathematics majors: are most of you wasting time and money?

Posted by: Gary Ernest Davis on: March 31, 2013

Below is a post on College Confidential, posted by mathematik on May 24, 2010:

“Math majors beware: most of you are wasting time and money

Here’s a story for all the math majors and future math majors reading this:

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math 6 years ago. I graduated with honors and a good GPA from a good college. My current job prospects are horrible. I am stuck at a dead end programming job where I earn less than $40,000 per year even though I live close to a major US city and have over 5 years of work experience. I make less money than my “dumb” friends from high school currently make.

Perhaps I’m to blame for thinking that being good at math meant I was intelligent, but I feel morally obliged to warn people reading this who might be on the same boat. My honest suggestion to you is to major in something else. Unless you want to be a math teacher or an actuary, I implore you not to listen to anyone who tells you that you can do a million things with a math degree and that you should major in anything you want and the money will follow. Those are cliches and empty promises that don’t mean anything in the real world.

You could argue that you could major in math and possibly end up with a programming job, since I did it, but don’t expect to get hired to work as a software engineer unless you have additional qualifications, expect to work doing quality assurance or fixing code. It doesn’t matter how smart you think your degree in math makes you, you can’t compete with the millions of computer science majors in this country when it comes to programming jobs.

If you like finance, accounting, science, engineering, or some other subject, why not major in that subject? Why waste your time and money learning math formulas that will be of no use to you in the real world? If you major in math, and end up working as an accountant, don’t you think you would be a more competitive candidate for accounting jobs if you had majored in accounting?

That’s my advice to you guys. Do whatever you want with your lives but if you end up like me don’t say that you were not warned.”

weusemathWhat do you think BA/BS mathematics graduates?

Does your experience match that of mathematik?

Or have you had more career success with your mathematics degree?

4 Responses to "Mathematics majors: are most of you wasting time and money?"

That assessment is way too cynical, plus we don’t know anything about the coursework that the writer took in school, how well they did, etc.

Also, a glaring omission from the complaint is probability/statistics, which is probably the most hireable body of knowledge that your average undergraduate math major is going to have. Furthermore, I would argue that prob/stat is definitely more within the domain of the math major than any other major — so it’s not like math has no unique marketable trait (like the writer seems to be arguing). Plus a lot of undergrad programs offer a variety of applied math classes…

As for me, if I’d had some experience in statistics (which I didn’t when I entered the job market, since I initially dreamed of a PhD in some pure math field), then I definitely could have been hired for a more mathematically-oriented job right off the bat. There are tons of jobs that undergrad math majors can get — just look at indeed.com — the majority of them just require knowledge of statistics or applied math. I wish I’d had the foresight to take classes in those fields, but on the bright side I’ll be able to go back and get my master’s (in math, of course :)) through my current company and fill up the holes in my math curriculum.

So no, I don’t think my math major was a waste of time and money.

I agree with you, especially on the part where you said that we don’t know the writer’s coursework. However, what the writer said did hit me so badly, because I can relate to it. I’m still a math undergraduate, and I don’t want to end up the same as the writer did.

The university I’m attending and the country I’m living in make the situation worse, I feel like I’m just wasting my time, I can’t use what I’m learning. I feel like my ability to understand math and logic easily is not going to help me in my future career. I also feel like my dreamless colleagues are succeeding or going to succeed more than I am. also, lately, when anyone talks about math…I feel sick =\

So what I’m trying to say here is that your reply might be too optimistic for some of us, and that students who are thinking of majoring math should consider the write’s opinion.

The world needs people with eclectic skills – that is people with a diversity of skills. It is true that in engineering, most of the engineers are skilled in applied maths / statistics as well as software engineering, but firms don’t hire academics for industrial jobs, they want people who can be creative in more than just one specialism.

To lighten up the discussion, my dentist majored in math but his wife – without a math degree – runs the office for him. If I were still a student, I would look around for summer internships which could serve a double purpose. First, one would have a chance to see what math is used or might be used in practice. Second, one would get a chance to show off one’s abilities and, thus, secure an after-graduation employment that would take those abilities into account.

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