If you are thinking of majoring in mathematics then you might be wondering how hard it will be.
This post will show you how hard a math major is, how to make it easier and some things to consider.
So, is a math major hard? Overall math is one of the most difficult majors that there is. Data shows that 52% of people that initially major in math switch out before graduating.
With that being said, there are a number of things that you can do to make a math major easier for yourself and the difficulty will largely depend on how well prepared you are and your work ethic.
Why a math major can be hard
According to the NCES 52% of those that initially major in mathematics switch to a different major before graduating. It also says that this is the highest rate out of all of the different majors except for natural sciences.
The reason for this is likely to be that students that did well in high school math either expect college math to be similar or they find themselves in over their heads.
It depends on how well prepared you are for it
How hard a math major would be for you will depend largely on how well prepared you are for it. If you have been participating in math competitions as a high school student then you’ll probably be well prepared. Whereas, if you have not studied a lot of math in high school you will likely find the major to be more difficult.
With that being said, even if you do not feel very well prepared for it you can still make up for it by studying more. As long as you satisfy the prerequisites for a class it will be possible for you to do well in it provided that you study enough.
It will be necessary for you to study a lot outside of class
A math major is a major where it will be very necessary for you to study a lot outside of class.
There will be many different possible variations of questions that you might find on an exam and it will be helpful for you to have seen them before taking the exam.
While the professor will go through as much of the material as they can it will not be possible for them to go through all of the possible variations of questions that could be asked. They will also almost always expect you to study the material outside of class as well anyway.
In addition to this, mathematics is a major where there tends to be a lot of homework that gets assigned. A typical math class will have weekly homework problems where you will have to answer assigned questions from the textbook. The homework will also, often, have a reasonably high weighting on your grade as well.
Lower-division classes tend to be easier
Typical classes that you will take in your freshman and sophomore years will include single and multiple variable calculus, linear algebra, and discrete mathematics.
These classes tend to be more numerical in nature and they will be more similar to what you are used to taking in high school.
However, the exception to this is discrete mathematics. You will usually find that this class gets used as an introduction to proofs class which will be very important for the upper-division math classes.
Upper-division math classes will be very different compared to the classes you are used to
Upper-division math classes can be very different to the classes that you will likely be used to.
In upper-division math classes, it will be necessary for you to prove the underlying mathematics in a rigorous way. Many people struggle with these classes and their level of difficulty will likely be a step up from what you are used to.
With that being said, most universities will offer introduction to proofs classes that you should make sure to take before taking any proof-based classes.
You can also prepare for them yourself by self-studying from books that teach how to approach proofs such as this one.
With that being said, not all upper-division mathematics classes are heavily proof-based. The classes outside of pure mathematics such as probability theory, mathematical statistics, differential equations or partial differential equations will tend to be slightly more analytical. However, even they will tend to involve at least some proofs.
Consider an applied mathematics degree
If you enjoy classes that are more computational in nature then consider getting an applied mathematics degree instead of a pure math degree.
Applied math degrees will tend to be more computational in nature and less proof heavy at the undergraduate level. They will also tend to be more employable since you will be taking more classes in disciplines such as statistics or computer science.
Ways to make a math major less difficult
While a math major is one of the more difficult degrees to obtain there are a number of things that you can do to make it much easier.
Try to avoid taking multiple difficult classes in the same semester
The more challenging math classes will require you to put in a lot of effort every week. While it is possible to take multiple difficult classes concurrently, you will likely find that it will be very challenging and stressful and it could hurt your GPA.
A better option would be to take the time as early as possible to plan out your entire degree so that you are able to avoid taking multiple difficult classes concurrently. You can do this with an academic advisor from the math department and you’ll likely find that the recommended class schedule, on the degree sheet, will be structured to be optimal anyway.
The difficulty of the classes will depend largely on the professor
How difficult a class will be will depend largely on the professor that is teaching it.
Some professors will teach the class at a very fast pace, expect you to know all of the material in the book and will not give you any clues as to what might be on the exam.
Whereas, other professors will tell you what specific topics you should be familiar with before the exams. Many professors will simply say that the questions on the exams will be similar to the homework problems.
You will likely find that the lower-division math classes will have multiple offerings in the same semester. You can use the website ratemyprofessors.com to select the most recommended professors.
However, most of the time, the upper-division classes will be offered at one time. In this case, you can either take the class at a later semester if you want to avoid the professor. Alternatively, you can take a different class altogether if it is not a required class.
Plan the schedule of each class out in advance
Another thing that you should always do to make your classes go much more smoothly is to plan out the semester as soon as you receive the syllabus for each class.
By planning out when the homework will be due and when the exams will be you will be able to avoid missing out on deadlines and you will be able to spot weeks where multiple exams and assignments will be due.
Make sure to always do well on the homework
In most math classes you will find that the homework will account for a reasonably large chunk of the final grade. Doing well on the homework will not only help prepare you for the exams but it will also help to make up for any bad exams that you might have. You will also likely find that the professors will be more lenient on students that did all of the homework.
You can ensure that you do well on the homework by reading the book before starting it, avoiding waiting until the day before it is due and using resources such as Google and Youtube to study parts that you get stuck on.
One other option would be to use the website chegg.com where they will give you to solutions to the different textbooks. However, it is important to make sure that you actually learn the material and avoid simply copying the answers otherwise you will struggle on the exams.
Read the relevant chapter before jumping straight to the problems
In an attempt to save time, many students will jump straight to the homework problems before reading the relevant chapter, hoping that what they learned in class will be enough.
The problem with doing this is that the book will likely cover some topics that the teacher didn’t cover and the problems will be designed in a way that is specific to what is written in the chapters.
You will likely find that you will be able to learn the material much more effectively if you read the chapters from the book before attempting the problems.
Get help when you get stuck
It is important to get help when you really get stuck. By getting help you’ll be able to show the professor that you are putting an effort into the class, avoid having gaps in your knowledge on the exam and you will be able to have a higher homework grade.
With that being said, while it is important to get help when you get stuck it is also important to try to figure out the solution yourself beforehand. This means that you should reread the relevant chapter, look at tutorials on Youtube and look at any lecture notes that you might have first.
Revise material that you don’t know already
Since mathematics classes build on each other it is important to have the prerequisites covered.
While most math classes will require that you have already taken the prerequisites you might find that you have forgotten some of the material. Before taking a math class it would be helpful to look at the prerequisites that it has and to brush up on them before taking the class.
Prepare for the class before taking the class
One way to really help make your classes easier and to boost your grades is to self-study the material before taking the class. I personally received a 3.8 GPA as a math major and this is what I would say really helped me in achieving that.
Before taking a class that you think might be challenging you should look on Youtube, Edx or Coursera to see if that class has a series that you can watch online before starting the class. By doing this you will find that it will be much easier to understand what the professor is teaching and it will be easier for you to understand why they are teaching it.
It would also help to look on Amazon to see if there are any self-study books that you can work through for the course. A couple of books that I would recommend are this one and this one both on Amazon.
When you get around to taking real analysis I would also strongly recommend that you take a look at this book on Amazon as well.