Should I be a Math Major?

The answer to the question of this section is rarely easy and always very specific to the individual. For many students a major consideration is the question of job opportunities after graduation. For a more detailed answer to this question go to What Can I Do with a Math Major? Math majors enjoy many and varied employment opportunities. On this page we will focus more on the aptitude towards mathematics. These questions are not about the answer so much as the self-inspection that they are intended to trigger.

1. What has been your mathematical experience so far?

Are you currently taking math classes? Are these among your favorite classes? One would expect that someone considering the math major has been doing well in math classes. The mathematics major makes a rather abrupt transition between the lower division courses and the upper division. Upper division courses are proof-oriented, based on derivations from axiom systems, and precise definitions. For most students this level of rigor is new and unexpected. Math majors should take one of MAS 3300 or MHF 3202 as soon as possible to prepare for and gauge their interest in upper division mathematics.

2. Are you ready for a mathematical world?

Do you like working on problems and puzzles? Do you like the detail and flow of an argument? Do you like to think logically about things? Do you enjoy trying to formulate things in mathematical terms? Do you like analogies? Do you like explaining mathematics to other people?

Mathematics is full of symbolic formulations, derivations, computations (both by hand and computer), data, abstraction, visualization, problems, communication of ideas, relationships between mathematical objects, analogies, and precision. This is a brief description of the mathematician’s world. The further you go with mathematics, the more you will be drawn into this way of working and thinking. While not all math majors will be research mathematicians, others will go into an area like Law where the actual mathematics may not be used, but the discipline of argument is very important.

3. Do you need to know what you will be doing after graduation?

Many students are trying to decide whether to major in math or engineering or possibly another professional area. Since math majors enjoy many of the employment opportunities which are available to professional majors, deciding whether to major in mathematics is very personal. Professional schools prepare students for rather specific jobs. The Mathematics student learns the discipline of mathematics, which is applicable in many vocations. As a discipline it is not skill training for a particular vocation. The exceptions to this are the professions of Teaching and Actuarial Science. Math majors get great jobs. If you still do not get this, go back to What Can I Do with a Math Major? Math majors are just not trained for a particular job.

A related question is how badly do you need to be able to tell other people what you will be doing? Some people are uncomfortable saying, “I could do this, or this, or this” and have a personal need to be able to say, “I will be doing this.” For some the element of uncertainty is exciting. Others are not willing to start down a path without knowing where it leads. Which kind of person are you?

If you want an easy major, just want to know how to compute something, find analyzing things tiresome, and do not care why something works, then the mathematics major is not a good choice for you.

Having read this little self-assessment you may still feel that you would like more information. The Career Resource Center at the Reitz Union offers some personality and aptitude tests which may be helpful. Another career counseling resource is Florida’s Facts.org. Whatever you learn about yourself in this process is important and should be part of your college experience.