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Math Best job for math majors?

  1. Aug 16, 2012 #1
    What is the highest paying job for someone with an undergraduate/graduate degree in mathematics?

    Someone said that a math degree is one of the most versatile college majors.

    I have a relative who has an advanced degree in mathematics and makes a staggering $500,000 per year. I'm not sure exactly what she does, though.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2012 #2
    Wow, that's a pretty sizable chunk of cash to make. Aside from figuring out what she does, I've heard that being a CPA pays quite a bit, and I don't know if this is the general case but I've heard of actuaries making quite a bit of money.

    You might have seen this or something like it before, but here's a bit list of majors and their 25th %, median, and 75th % earnings. It has math, applied math, and Actuarial science (which has 0% unemployment as a perk) in it. http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=Math [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Aug 16, 2012 #3
    Someone told me that a PhD in mathematics is only good for teaching math at a college.

    I heard that some math professors at top-tier universities make well over $150,00 per year.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Aug 18, 2012 #4
    Its different in every state, but in my State (GA), you need a full 30 hours of accounting courses beyond the freshman ones and 24 hours of "general business" courses to be licensed. I think it is a very good idea, though, and having a CPA will be a factor in being hired in a top management position, be it in business or engineering, or whatever, because in the real world the bottom line always comes down to money$$$$. I have been trying to squeeze in an accounting class or two every couple of semesters in order to work my way up to taking the test. If you are a Math major then accounting will be easy, but it is kind of boring I'll admit.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Aug 19, 2012 #5
    How hard are the CPA Exams (audit, financial, regulation, business)? Would be it pretty difficult for a mathematics major to pass these exams?
  7. Aug 19, 2012 #6
    I've had a math degree, as well as post grad computer science.

    I've worked in software development, and with a math degree you can tackle anything. I've worked as a software consultant and in scientific software too. Worked for IBM, GEC-Marconi, Dept of Defence, etc.
  8. Aug 19, 2012 #7
    No, the problem is that you need 24 credit hours of upper-level accounting in order to even qualify to take the exam. (Edit*, yes, I believe that the financial accounting portion of the exam is actually pretty difficult. Like any standardized test, the CPA exam is all about testing your knowledge about little intricacies and trying to trick you into picking the wrong answer.)

    Also, I agree that math majors are pretty much all around bad-donkeys :).
  9. Aug 19, 2012 #8
    I think it would be about the same difficulty as for an English, History, Biology or Chemistry major.

    Threads like these give me the impression people think accountants do math. They don't. They use addition and multiplication, but of course they have computers do that for them. They learn some exponents (interest) and a tiny bit of statistics, but the vast majority of accountants never use either.

    Accountants apply rules. Lots and lots of rules. Pick up a higher level accounting textbook and you'll find rather little math, but an unbelievable amount of rules. If you want to pass the CPA, you need to know them.

    So since your math background is of essentially no value in passing the CPA exam, you'll have just as good a shot (assuming someone let's you take said shot) as anyone else who learned something else in class and had to teach the actual content of the test to themselves.

    Which is doable, but will require a lot of time and effort.
  10. Aug 19, 2012 #9
    The joke I usually hear is that the people who did that study only found one actuary, and they were employed. Thus, 100%.

    More seriously, unemployment for credentialed, experienced actuaries is terrifically low. However, getting that first job has gotten exceedingly difficult; the entry level field is saturated. There might not be many actuaries who are unemployed, but there are lots of ex-actuary-wannabees who couldn't get that first job and eventually had to find something else to do.

    Whether this actually matters to someone depends on whether they're better or worse than the average entry level candidate.
  11. Aug 19, 2012 #10


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    Locrian, among those entry-level pre-credentialed actuaries-to-be that you know who couldn't get that first job, what did they eventually end up doing? Here in Canada, I still see a fair number of entry-level actuarial positions in various job postings.
  12. Aug 20, 2012 #11
    Probably the best answer is that I don’t know. Of the small number I’ve kept up with (including one who tried to make the move internally where I work) they’ve kept doing whatever they were doing before they sought to switch. For all I know all the others became rodeo clowns or investment bankers (or both).

    Some speculation: Like most professions, becoming an actuary is a big investment. However, in the US – and unlike most other professions here – most of that investment occurs while you’re on the job. With the exception of a small number of actuarial science majors that graduate here each year, most entry level candidates for actuarial work are no more qualified to be actuaries than anything else (or even less, if they’re a career changer). So they likely stay with whatever they were doing, move to another career common for math majors (statistics, data analytics, teaching etc), or choose another profession entirely and head back to school. They don’t usually stay in touch through message boards or otherwise. I think this is different than, say, physics or internal medicine or law, where there is a big investment that keeps them connected to the field for some time.

    I believe you when you say there are job postings for entry level candidates in Canada. However, I’d be very surprised if that actually reflected a thawing of the job market over there. My understanding (based on posts from and conversations with candidates, employers and recruiters) is that it is very competitive up there. A few good universities produce large numbers of job seekers with several exams under their belt. Hearsay suggests that companies haven’t been able to absorb the glut. Hearsay is hearsay, I guess, but the comments from recruiters aren’t ambiguous.

    I’ll stress my usual disclaimer again: a saturated marketplace just means you have to be better to get a job. If you’re already awesome, then it really doesn’t have much impact on you.
  13. Aug 20, 2012 #12
    That seems to be almost universally true for all job fields in America right now. There's plenty of jobs for upper-level professionals, but getting your foot in the door is insanely hard.
  14. Aug 20, 2012 #13


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    Admittedly I am not particularly knowledgeable about the job market for actuaries here in Canada, so it may well be true that positions are very competitive.

    That being said, to my knowledge, the majority of people I know who are working as actuaries have completed their undergraduate degree in actuarial science (in schools such as the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, and a few other schools) with several exams already completed by the time they graduate (as you suggested). This may be different from the situation in the US; I have never met a single actuary as of yet who had originally studied or worked in another field before pursuing actuarial work.

    BTW, people have asked me in the past that, given my background in math and statistics, why I did not consider pursuing a career in the actuarial field. My reply to them is that I wasn't too keen on going through the exam process, and at this stage in my life I don't want to particularly invest a heavy amount of time going through the exam process now.
  15. Aug 20, 2012 #14
    Your experience is in line with what I’ve heard from other sources, and this is a key difference between the job markets in the two countries (and the reason why I try - and sometimes fail - to remember to ask people where they live before responding to questions about entry level actuarial work). In the US it is currently rare to find an actuary who has a degree in actuarial science, and while career changers may not be a majority, they are quite common.

    Probably a good call. Someone capable of passing the exams could just invest that time and effort into their work and do at least as well as an actuary. Now, personally, I would probably have frittered away the time and put my effort into other useless things, so having the tests there to keep me focused has done me some good. You’re likely disciplined enough to not need them.
  16. Aug 22, 2012 #15
    Can you be hired as a financial analyst with a math degree?
  17. Aug 23, 2012 #16


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    If you want to earn a lot you should do something that a lot of people find useful, and think about the economics of a particular situation.

    Also do something that you really and truly believe in: if you are doing it to make money you may burn out long before you even reach the first milestone.

    If your motivation is solely money, then you should look for a less creative field that is very specific with very achievable goals as opposed to something where the answers don't exist and you need to find them. These jobs are more suited to people that have those motivations as opposed to ones who are motivated on things like social norms and the genuine desire to produce something that other people will use.

    The big thing though is that you will have to do something that you really believe in to stay in it for the long run. It may not turn out the way you thought it would but to get to that point you need to really believe in what you do to keep going.

    If you don't, you'll burn out soon enough.
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