If you are deciding between majoring in math or actuarial science, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.
|Ease of finding a job||Moderate||Moderate|
|Types of jobs|
you can qualify for
|Difficulty of the|
|Key things to note||Can be difficult to|
get an actuarial
job at the
Specialized for the
path. This makes
it slightly easier
to get an acturial
job but harder to
get jobs from other
Can improve your
job prospects by
getting a minor in
another field such as
|More general than an|
actuarial degree. This
means the degree should
qualify you for a wider
range of jobs. However,
you should take classes
related to the type of
job you are interested in.
Very employable if
you combine it with
a more applied minor
such as computer
Also employable if
you combine it with
data analysis skills,
especially in Python.
Source for actuarial science salary and jobs
As you can see from the table, there are some similarities between the two degrees. However, there are many things to consider when choosing between them.
Details about the math major
Below are some key details about the math major.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for mathematicians and statisticians will rise by 33% by 2026. This is mainly due to the surge in data that companies have been receiving in recent years that they need people with mathematical and statistical skills to make sense of.
According to Payscale, the average pay for someone with a bachelor’s in mathematics is $76,684. However, the average pay for a fresh graduate entering their first job will likely be a lot lower than that.
Something to consider is that many of the more mathematical and well-paid jobs, such as a data scientist or machine learning engineer, will often require a master’s degree and that you take classes related to data science and machine learning.
Types of jobs the degree will qualify you for
Since mathematics can be used in many different fields, a math degree will open you up to many different job opportunities.
However, many of the jobs that mathematicians tend to seek such as a quantitative researcher or machine learning engineer require a master’s degree.
Examples of jobs that you could qualify for with a master’s in math could include:
- Machine learning engineer
- Data scientist
- Quantitative researcher
- Math teacher
With that being said, even with just a bachelor’s degree, there will be many different jobs that you could qualify for.
Examples of jobs that you could qualify for with a bachelor’s in math could include:
- Financial analyst
- Insurance underwriter
- Data analyst
- Software engineer
- Market researcher
However, math is a general degree that is not specific to a certain type of job in the way something such as computer science is. This means that you should take courses from the field that you want to enter and do internships and projects in that field as well in order to be competitive when seeking a job.
For example, many math majors go into software engineering after graduation. If you want to qualify for software engineering jobs then make sure to take a data structures class and an algorithms class and try to get some internships as a software engineer while in college.
Before choosing your electives I would strongly recommend that you consider what you want to do after college and make sure to take classes related to that.
With that being said, there are some people that have gotten data science and machine learning jobs with just a bachelor’s in math. It would greatly improve your chances if you were to make sure to complete machine learning and data science projects and to do internships in those fields as an undergrad.
Types of math classes you will study
As a math major you can expect to take the following classes:
You can also expect to have the choice to take other advanced math classes or to take classes from related disciplines such as computer science, statistics and physics.
How difficult it is as a major
The math major is generally considered as being one of the hardest undergraduate degrees available. It becomes especially hard when you enter your junior year since most of your classes will be proof-based which tend to be much harder than the more computational classes.
Some things to consider about the major
A math degree can open up many different possible avenues for yourself and can be a very good degree when combined with a more applied minor. This is because the mathematics taught in a math major is useful in a wide variety of fields but you will need to supplement it with some field-specific coursework.
A very good combination would be to major in mathematics and to minor in computer science. Doing this would open you up to job roles such as data science, machine learning engineer, data analysis and software engineering. Majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics is also a very good combination.
If you want to go down the data science or machine learning route, it would also help to make sure to take some statistics and data analysis classes. However, again, it would also help a lot to minor in computer science.
Other majors to consider
If you are interested in a math major, there are other majors that you might also want to consider.
Other majors that you might also want to consider could include:
- Applied mathematics
- Computer science
More details about the math major
Details about a degree in actuarial science
Details about a degree in actuarial science.
According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a degree in actuarial science is $67,014. According to the BLS, the median pay of an actuary was 108,350 in 2019. The BLS also reports that the number of actuary jobs is expected to grow by 18% by 2029 which they say is much higher than the average across all jobs.
However, something to consider, is that it can take many years, after graduating, to become an actuary since there will be a number of additional exams to pass. Also, the job market at the entry level is competitive.
A degree in actuarial science will be specialized for becoming an actuary. This is good if you want to be an actuary. However, it can mean that it will make it more difficult for you to get jobs in other fields that you could have qualified for with a major such as statistics or mathematics.
Also, you can still get a job as an actuary without an actuarial degree. Degrees such as statistics, mathematics and applied mathematics can be just as competitive for the job role depending on the classes you take.
However, there are many skills that you will learn in the major that will still allow you to qualify you for other job roles. This is mainly because you will be learning a lot about statistics. You should also learn how to program in Python, R and how to be proficient in Excel. This should help qualify you for “analyst” type job roles.
Jobs that you could get with a degree in actuarial science could include:
- Actuarial analyst
- Financial analyst
- Actuarial analyst
- Data analyst
- Actuarial associate
Getting a minor in an applied field, such as computer science, could also help to broaden your job opportunities.
The major will involve a lot of mathematics, probability and statistics. As a result, the major is not an easy major. However, when compared with a pure math major, you can expect it to be less difficult.
Types of classes
The major will have you take courses from a number of different disciplines. Required classes you can expect to take will include:
- Linear algebra
- Two courses in calculus-based probability and statistics
- Computer science
- Actuarial science classes as available
Things to consider
If you are interested in becoming an actuary, getting an actuarial degree might not be a requirement. Instead, it might be more appropriate for you to get a related degree, but to make sure to take the necessary classes to become an actuary and to make sure to complete the necessary actuarial exams while an undergrad.
It might be the case that, half-way through your time as an undergrad, you will decide that you do not want to be an actuary. If you major in a more general quantitative subject such as math or statistics, it should be easier for you to transition towards a different field than with an actuarial major. If you do decide to major in a more general field, it will still be important to choose more employable classes and to complete personal projects so that you can be more competitive for specific jobs.
Something to be aware of is that actuarial science will focus more on applying traditional statistics techniques to smaller datasets. However, each year companies are acquiring larger and larger datasets. This is making machine learning techniques used on large datasets, in data science, more and more relevant each year.
Machine learning and big data are getting incorporated more into actuarial degrees and the exams. However, it would still help a lot to make sure to learn python, manipulation of big datasets using things such as the Pandas library and machine learning. So, that you can also be competitive for data science type roles.
One more thing to be aware of is that actuarial careers can have good job satisfaction because they have good pay, moderate working hours and low stress. However, they also tend to have low job meaning since most of the jobs will involve helping already wealthy people earn more money. Alternative careers, such as in data science, can allow you to have a more positive socially impactful role.
Reasons to choose a math degree
When compared with a degree in actuarial science, you can expect a mathematics degree to qualify you for a wider range of jobs. This should help you when looking for entry-level jobs since you will have a wider range of potential jobs to qualify for.
With that being said, being a general degree can make it difficult for you to qualify for specific jobs and the jobs you will qualify for will depend a lot on the classes you choose. With that being the case, it would help a lot to make sure to take classes related to the type of job that you are interested in.
Currently, a very popular job among math majors is data science. If that is what you are interested in, it would help to make sure to learn to program in R and Python and to take statistics, data analysis, computer science and machine learning classes. It would also help to get internships, whilst an undergrad, during the summer.
An additional way to improve your job prospects would be to minor in another degree that also has good job prospects such as computer science. Doing this could help you to qualify for more programming type roles and could help you when applying to graduate school for things such as machine learning or computer science.
If you are interested in a math degree, I would suggest leaning towards an applied math degree instead of a pure math degree. The reason for this is that an applied math degree should include fewer proof-heavy classes and more classes that are employable in the job market.
I have written about a pure math degree vs an applied math degree here.
Reasons to choose an actuarial degree
Actuarial jobs are commonly rated as some of the best jobs you can get. If you are absolutely set on becoming an actuary then getting a degree in actuarial science would be appropriate. In this case, it would help to try to minor in something else such as computer science since this will help to reduce your risk if you are not able to find an entry-level job as an actuary.
However, if you are not absolutely sure that you want to become an actuary, it would likely be a better option to get a related degree such as statistics but to make sure to take the relevant classes to become an actuary. I have written about actuarial science vs statistics here.