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Not sure if I should major in math

  1. Sep 28, 2013 #1
    I'm not sure if I should be a math major for a couple of reasons:

    -Not sure if I'm smart enough (720 Math portion SAT 770 math level 2. I know those are high for most people but I would think that great math majors get 800s). I can do well in math classes at school, and currently Calc BC is my favorite class. However, I don't know how well I'd do in proof-based classes. I'm on the math team, and whenever the captain gives us interesting problems and asks us to do proofs, I can hardly budge into the problem. However, he is seemingly the only one who knows how to do the proofs as everyone else is dumbstruck as well.

    -Not sure if it's the best life/career decision for me. I'd feel like getting a math degree would be more fulfilling because it allows me understand more about the frameworks of logic and nature(I guess that's a good description?). I want to know as much as I can about math, and, honestly, I just want to be smarter. However, if I would become a mathematician, I don't think I would be making that much money. I would also feel a little intimidated from my dad who is a physician, and I know my sister would definitely not approve (I told her I wanted to do CS, and she said I needed to do business or medicine to be successful). My other option would be CS, but the only problem I have with that is that it feels like more of a trade. I want to be researching and learning about math. Could anyone who is a mathematician (or physicist as I feel their situation is similar) give some insight on this?

    -GA-Tech is the best school for math in my state, but it only offers applied math, and I'd rather do pure math since I feel like I'd be learning the most about math from pure. Is it possible to go to grad school for pure math with an applied math degree?
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2013 #2
    As for your first reason, that is just a score you got on your SAT, don't doubt yourself over that. I'm a physics major and when I was in high school, I didn't do so hot on my SATs, but that didn't stop me from doing what I love. Plus the other issue was that I always get nervous on standardized tests; therefore, making me not do so well. As long as you pass the actual math class, you'll be fine.

    Second reason: Do what YOU want to do, not what others want you to do or about the income. You do NOT need to do medicine or business to be successful, that is quite ridiculous. I know plenty of people who aren't business or pre-med majors and they are doing quite fine. (I.e. Engineers, CS majors, etc.) I don't quite understand what you mean by CS being more of a trade, could you elaborate more on this?

    As for your third point: I'm not sure since I'm a physics major, but the difference between Pure Math and Applied Math is in application and use. Pure Mathematics are studied with no consideration of necessity or application; they develop the principles of Mathematics for the sake of the principles of Mathematics. Research in the Fibonacci Sequence is an example of this: the Fibonacci Sequence has almost no useful application. Applied Mathematics, on the other hand, are studied purely for the sake of application. Examples of this lie in Economics, CS, and Engineering. So if you think about it, one is theoretical and the other is applicable.
  4. Sep 28, 2013 #3
    I guess what I mean by the second point is that if I did CS, I would only do it to become a software developer, but then I would only be of use to a single company instead of contributing to the entire body of knowledge of mathematics. I guess you're right that I should do what I want to do and that is mathematics. I actually had not looked up the salary of math professors, but the median is about $90,000 which is perfectly fine with me. I thought it would be <$65,000.
  5. Sep 28, 2013 #4


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    Hey dirtysocks45.

    Pure mathematics is basically all about proving things. It can get very tedious and for many its a very dry activity: for some though, it's challenging and rewarding.

    Also this idea of having do business or medicine to acceptable is laughable: there are tonnes of people doing business degrees, and the MBA's are a prestige matter. In other words, unless your MBA is from a high prestige university, then it's not going to be worth that much.

    If you want to be successful, the best advice I can give you is to find something that you can become really good at and that differentiates you in some way. Also the thing that you become good at should have value to enough other people to make it useful. It doesn't matter what this thing actually is (and it doesn't need to be university related) - as long as it has value and has enough differentiation to make you the "go to guy" for that particular thing.

    If you want to make money, you will at some point have to convince others of your value and that it is high enough to warrant them giving their money to you. You could be self-employed or you could work for someone else - but its still the same.
  6. Sep 28, 2013 #5
    "to be successful" == to make a lot of money? Is a <$65000 salary not fine with you? Remember that that $90000 salary comes after 10+ years of school and 3 or so years of postdoc work, with only a small chance of becoming a professor after that. You have to figure out what's important to you, though it generally takes time and experience to figure these things out. The people I know who are in med school or pursuing an MBA don't seem to have much passion for their fields, whereas my friends in math and physics who have stuck with it don't seem to attach much value to monetary gain. Also, keep in mind that most people do not end up doing what they initially set out to do.

    I do not think that an applied math degree would be adequate preparation for doing graduate work in mathematics. Undergraduate applied math courses are typically about becoming familiar with methods for solving problems, with not much thought given to the method or the logic, and would give you little idea of what pure math is like (applied math can be very interesting too, just not at the undergraduate level imo). I know many people who are doing a BSc in math with a minor in CS, so doing both as an undergrad is a good option to consider if you are undecided.
  7. Sep 29, 2013 #6
    It's very, very hard to become a math professor. Open positions typically get hundreds of applications. It's a good goal to set, but make sure you keep your options open, because it might not happen.

    Mathematicians working in industry can easily make 6 figures, though you'll probably need a graduate degree for that. You typically don't have to go into debt to get a graduate math degree, unlike a business or medical degree. It's also a relatively easy transition from a math major in college to computer engineering or actuarial work, where you can make more money, but won't really get to do mathematics. At the moment there is a significant demand for math PhDs in the financial industry as well.

    Having looked at the requirements, I think Georgia Tech "applied math" degree would probably be acceptable to most application committees at pure-math graduate programs, assuming you took some graduate math courses and did research as an undergrad. There's only one truly "applied" course required, which is numerical analysis. However, if you go to Georgia Tech, you will be heavily indoctrinated into the Applied Math sect, and you might not want to cross over after 4 years of indoctrination.
  8. Sep 29, 2013 #7
    Is it very hard to get a Ph.D in Mathematics though? It would obviously be easier, but is it still extremely difficult? I guess I wouldn't mind getting as far as I can with mathematics as I can possibly go and then forego being a professor if it isn't within my reach. Also, (relating to my first question) do you have to be a genius to become a math professor? Is it out of reach for some people simply because of their intelligence?
  9. Sep 29, 2013 #8


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    You learn to do proofs; it is part of the process of becoming a mathematician.

    I was an undergraduate math major, but took a different direction in graduate school. But I still think like a mathematician - definitions, rigor, proofs - but I am more of an applied mathematician in that I use the math for a particular purpose - algorithms and methods, not new proofs.

    I have a son who "hated math" in middle school, but decided that he needed to learn it if he was to solve problems in chemistry (which he liked a lot) ... so he taught himself algebra over winter break. But then he couldn't stop, so he found a good website and started working problems. He passed the B/C calculus exams with a 5 in each, and went on to become a math major in college.

    He considered graduate school, but decided to become an actuary just before he graduated. He studied hard, and passed the first two exams, then got a job this June. He has since passed two more exams (being a math major helps!) - and he now makes $60,000 per year, plus bonuses.

    There are many other things a math major can do. If you like computer programming you can work for the NSA in cryptography. They've been much in the news of late ...
  10. Sep 29, 2013 #9


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    Companies don't do stuff because it's of use only to themselves. They do stuff they can sell, which means it's of benefit to their customers, and to the customers of their customers.

    I've worked for "a single company" for most of my working life. Go to any international airport in the world. and within in a few minutes you will see something that I helped to design being used by hundreds of people - and over a year, worldwide, used by hundreds of millions of people.

    How does that work that was "only of use to a single company" compare with "contributing to the entire body of knowledge of mathematics"? That's your decision, not mine - but FWIW, I have a maths degree.
  11. Sep 29, 2013 #10
    It's not that hard to get a PhD in math, but it probably is out of reach for some people.

    Of course, you should actually try to study some pure mathematics (i.e. proofs) before you pass judgment on whether you can or can't do it.

    You designed the swear word? :D
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