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Career opportunities and graduate study

Click here for a neat poster about what you can do with a math degree. The most useful parts of this page are the links in three sections near the end of the page.

Graduate Study
Your mathematics education does not need to end with your undergraduate degree, so don't rule out further study. You can start thinking about graduate school, to pursue a masters or doctoral degree, by consulting this site prepared by the American Mathematical Society. In particular, here is a site about various graduate programs around the country. We have graduate programs within our department as well; choose the "Graduate Programs" tab at the left for more information.

Many Paths are Open
"For students with the necessary ability and training, many paths are open for satisfying and rewarding careers in mathematics and its applications. Periodic fluctuations in the economy will, of course, affect employment prospects in mathematics, as in all fields. However, even in the present period of relatively high unemployment, prospects in mathematics are above average among scientific fields. All indications are that because of the central role of mathematics in the physical and social sciences, in engineering, and in business, the demand for people trained in mathematics will continue to grow. Qualified secondary school teachers of mathematics are in demand, as are people to work as applied mathematicians in Industry and Government. More statisticians and actuaries are needed. Both of these fields require a basic preparation in mathematics.

"To many persons, teaching is an attractive career with the opportunity it affords for working with young people and with the security given by permanent tenure and pension provisions. Teaching salaries, traditionally low, improved dramatically in the fifties and sixties, especially in mathematics and in the sciences, and are now considered adequate to good.

"The mathematician in industry usually works in close association with engineers and scientists. S/he needs to know at least the fundamentals of their fields. The growing use of high-speed computing machines in business and industry affords additional career opportunities in mathematics.

"Opportunities for mathematicians in Government are similar to those in industry, since the Federal Government operates laboratories carrying out research programs related to its special needs. Many of these laboratories employ mathematicians or mathematical statisticians in research projects. The mathematician in Government has civil service status with all the advantages and disadvantages associated with such appointments.

"In addition to the above, new opportunities are opening in other fields of mathematical sciences such as computer science and operations research."

The above quote is from a pamphlet published by The Mathematical Association of America. Our experience at Oakland confirms that there are good jobs available for young men and women trained in the mathematical sciences (pure and applied mathematics, operations research, statistics, etc.). Graduates from Oakland University with degrees from the department have accepted positions, at attractive salaries, with Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Ameritech, and IBM, as well as other firms. There are many mathematicians working in industry. They are not always as clearly visible as people in some other professions, for their job titles often do not include the word "mathematician," yet they were hired for their mathematical skills.

Mathematical scientists study concepts and theories used to solve problems involving quantitative relationships. Those engaged in research to discover new theories or to increase basic knowledge are classified as theoretical mathematicians. Those who develop techniques and approaches to solve problems in the physical and social sciences, or in business and industry, are classified as applied mathematicians. It is in applied mathematics that most of the jobs are available. This means therefore that the successful mathematician should not only know and understand high level mathematics, but should also have some knowledge of related subjects such as physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, psychology, statistics, and economics. The areas of applied math which need people include computer science, operations research, statistics, actuarial science, applied analysis, and information science.

Computer Science
A mathematician at the Bachelor's level hired in computer-related work will, in most probability, be a computer programmer of some sort. The job here can vary from taking previously written programs and using them to solve pre-defined problems to writing programs of one's own in order to solve specified programs. Those with advanced degrees frequently do systems analysis work.

Operations Research
A great deal of subject matter in this area deals with determining optimal ways of doing things based on some mathematical model of a situation. Major mathematical tools that enter operations research are calculus, linear algebra, probability, statistics, graph theory, combinatorics, and computer science. An individual can obtain employment in operations research with a Bachelor's degree; however, most people in this field tend to have at least a Master's degree.

The statistician's job has been described as that of helping to design experiments, interpreting the data from observations made, and making the appropriate statistical inferences. People employed here are either mathematical statisticians or applied statisticians. The mathematical statistician is a theorist and faces highly mathematical problems. A Ph. D. is frequently required here. The applied statistician is not as mathematically trained as the former. His or her job is to recognize which methods are applicable to specific types of problems. Even here, the person with a B. A. or B. S. will not generally act as a statistician, but rather as a junior member of a statistical team. Advanced education is highly recommended in this particular area.

Actuarial Science
Actuaries are specialized mathematicians working primarily for insurance companies using mathematical probability. They design insurance and pension programs that meet the public's needs and are financially sound for their companies. Professional status is achieved only by becoming a member of the Society of Actuaries or the Casualty Actuarial Society. The Society of Actuaries is for those who are interested in life insurance, health insurance, or pensions. The Casualty Actuarial Society is for those interested in property and liability insurance. Membership in either society is by examination only. Students interested in the field of Actuarial Science are advised not only to have an excellent background in calculus, linear algebra, probability and statistics, but also in areas such as economics, accounting, and finance. Our recently developed major in actuarial science provides excellent preparation for a career as an actuary. Click here for a great Web page about this career. Here is a news story about the profession. Oakland University's Risk Management Analyst Andrzej Kupraszewicz, in the Purchasing and Risk Management Department (PSS 13, 248-370-2725,, would be happy to talk to students about his perspective on actuarial science.

Applied Analysis
Applied analysts in industrial settings work on problems involving physics and engineering, as well as mathematics. They must set up and solve differential equations, integral equations, difference equations, eigenvalue problems, etc. The work frequently involves numerical techniques and error analysis. A person with a Bachelor's degree can sometimes find work in this area, but normally graduate degrees will be required.

Information Science
Scientists who work in this area must know a great deal of statistics. The problems they work on involve signals, patterns, and observations in relation to information-bearing characteristics. Information storage, retrieval, transmission, and reception are of vital concern. Work in this area affects our daily lives in many ways. An academic background in pure or applied mathematics or statistics is a good foundation for an industrial career in this area.

Teaching Mathematics
Students interested in teaching mathematics in the public school system should realize that the demand for teachers is variable and can change greatly over periods of time; however, today there is a demand for good mathematics teachers and the demand is expected to continue for the next several years. (Interested students should contact local school districts to ask about their anticipated hiring patterns.) Finally, students should realize that they may be required to work on and obtain their Master's degree, especially if aspirations are held of teaching at the junior college level. A Ph. D. would be required to teach at the university level.

Special Training Needed
The baccalaureate degree is sufficient preparation for jobs or training programs in business, education, and government. Teacher preparation and certification are necessary for teaching positions at the elementary and secondary levels, while advanced degrees are required for college teaching and research. The student's area of emphasis is of particular importance in career planning.

Typical Areas of Employment
Banking: Accountant, Auditor, Investment Analyst, Statistician, Systems Analyst

Economics/Finance: Systems Analyst, Computing Analyst, Econometrist, Programmer, Wage-Salary Administrator

Communication: Applied Mathematician, Market Researcher, Methods Analyst, Project Planner, Salesperson

Education: Teaching (elementary and secondary), College Teaching (advanced degrees required), Research (advanced degrees required)

Government: Economist, Geodesist, Mathematician, Operations Research Analysis, Statistician, Demographer, Contract Administrator, Inventory Controller, Technical Writer, Systems Analyst

Insurance: Actuarial Assistant, Demographer, Methods Analyst

Job Outlook
Opportunities in education for majors in mathematics are not as limited as in the recent past. Jobs are available for all well-prepared graduates. Fine prospects exist in private business in such fields as data processing, aerospace, energy resources, electrical manufacturing, insurance and communications. Employment opportunities exist for systems analysts with insurance companies, manufacturers, banks, wholesale and retail businesses and the federal government. A solid computer background will generally improve a mathematics major's employment opportunities.

Additional Information
Additional information may be obtained by consulting Oakland University's Arts and Sciences Advising Office (221 Varner, 248-370-4567) or the Career Services office (154 North Foundation Hall, 248-370-3250) or the First Year Advising Center (121 North Foundation Hall, 248-370-3227). The following professional organizations will have additional information:

In addition, you will find a lot of useful information on the Web, such as this link to a page from the University of Michigan; this link to a mathematics career site maintained by the American Mathematical Society; this link for an excellent one from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics; this link to some information directed to students just starting out; this link to many articles about employment in the mathematical sciences; this site about becoming an actuary; and this link on various aspects of careers in math and math-related areas (as well as grad school).

There are also these government-produced pages from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on

And here are still more career-relevant links:


Last updated: September 17, 2013. Send additions or corrections (or other comments) to Professor Grossman.