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About to Start college but don't know what to do!

  1. Aug 2, 2014 #1
    Well, the title isn't quite right. I want to study (pure) math, but this probably isn't the most employable STEM major out there. So, since I do plan on pursuing a BA in mathematics, I've also been thinking about what I can do/take additionally in the coming years that would allow for avenues other than academia. Unfortunately, my options are limited by a few obstacles:

    • Applied math, a field that I otherwise would like to explore, is in the engineering school. This makes it impossible to double major in it with pure math. It looks like even taking classes cross-schools is a hassle, but hypothetically a minor might be possible.

    • My school has a fairly substantial core curriculum that all students must complete, one of the most expansive in the United States. Although this was one of the features that drew me to the school I will be attending, it does make it harder to fit in important classes. In particular, a double major seems to be only possible by dint of immense effort, as was the impression one survivor left me.

    • Possibly worst of all, I don't love programming, nor am I great at it. I took java this past year in high school and can tolerate it if I'm coding towards some purpose, but I don't think I could go into a field where the entirety of my work consisted of creating/fixing code. I have been receiving a lot of pressure from my family and coworkers (I have a summer job in a computer science lab) to do computer science, but I don't think it's the field for me.

    Okay, I realize that it might be a little bit too early to worry so much about employability in four distant years. I am paranoid, but I believe for good reasons. For one, the heavy core makes it hard to switch majors later on and so the intro classes taken freshman year largely determine what to take in later years. And I have to sign up for these intro classes in roughly three weeks.

    So I guess my main question is what a math major could do to improve employability, keeping in mind the challenges I described above. Although employability is a concern of mine, I also don't want to sacrifice too much on the math side of my degree (I am planning to take real analysis freshman year, for instance). I know this is probably hard to balance.

    Also, is it really that hard to get a (relevant) job with just a pure math degree? If not, that would take a lot of pressure off. From searching on this forum, I know that some users caution against doing pure math only, but there may other voices out there that I haven't heard, hence my question.

    If anyone has experience job hunting in recent years with some type of math degree, hearing your stories would be really helpful to me in planning out my college career. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2014 #2
    If you are really interested in pure math, you will need to get a graduate degree to have a good chance of employment in your field. The same could be said for applied math, too. I would advise against double majoring in pure math and applied math (if that's even possible), because if you go to math graduate school whether you do pure or applied work you will still need to know and take exams on your algebra, analysis and topology (all pure disciplines). If you are concerned about employability, I would say probably the most common job that BS level math graduates take is as an actuary, which pays pretty well but requires more exams. Or they become programmers but you said you don't like that.

    I would recommend doing the pure math, since that is your main interest. Be sure to take as many upper division courses as you can and even some graduate courses if you can, and also involve yourself in undergraduate research with a professor of your choice as early on in college as possible. This will give you the best chance of getting into a good math graduate program. If you want to have something employable, study programming or do a minor in statistics or maybe double major in engineering but that will take a while longer to finish.
  4. Aug 2, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the input! Unfortunately, I don't think that I can stay for more than four years without going into debt, something that I'm really trying to avoid and I don't think that I'm even allowed to double major in engineering. My school has some weird policies.

    That said, a minor could be realistic and the idea of doing statistics seems interesting, though, admittedly, I don't know much about the field and haven't taken any classes in it. Still, I like the idea The only issue is that it conflicts with trying to get in all the upper/graduate level math classes that you also mentioned and I'd likely find myself in an either-or type situation. There might not be a happy medium, which is why I've been worrying so much about this. I'll also talk to my academic advisor about my concerns when I get the chance.

    Keep the opinions coming!
  5. Aug 2, 2014 #4
    Thats the point! An undergrad education is where you generally first get to dig your hands into a lot of material for the first time, assuming you've covered the baby basics in high school I.e. algebra, trig, precalc etc. The fact that you haven't taken a stats course in HS will not prevent you from doing it in college. I graduated with a math major and a 3.8 gpa, and I did not even take my first precalc course until I decided to switch from economics to math in my junior year! You are in a good situation already knowing what you want to do before you go in, many students start out without even thinking about anything in the future but partying and having fun, and find themselves 5 years later not even close to finishing and having a low gpa. So you're on the right track.
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