If you are deciding between majoring in math or applied math, 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.

Main differences between a pure math and applied math degree

Typical pure math classes

In a pure math degree you can expect to take the following classes:

Differential calculus
Integral calculus
Multivariate calculus
Differential equations
Linear algebra
Discrete math
Abstract algebra
Real analysis
Number theory

In addition, you can expect to have the option to take other advanced math classes such as:

Partial differential equations
Graph theory
A second course in real analysis or abstract algebra

You can also expect to have the option to take other mathematical courses from other disciplines including:

Probability and statistics
A second course in statistics
Mathematical statistics

In addition, you will likely have the option to take courses from similar disciplines, as part of your degree sequence. such as:

Computer science

Applied math classes

The classes you can expect to take in an applied math degree will be similar to the classes you can expect to take in a pure math degree. The main difference is that you will be required to take fewer theoretical courses in an applied math major and more courses from related disciplines such as statistics, computer science, economics and physics.

You can take a look at the required classes of applied mathematics at Berkeley here.

Average pay

According to Payscale, the average pay for someone with a bachelor’s in mathematics is $76,684.

According to Payscale, the average pay for someone with a bachelor’s in applied math is $76,007.

As you might expect, the average pay for people with the two degrees is very similar.

The typical jobs people get with the two degrees are also very similar.
According to Payscale, common jobs for people with both degrees includes:

Data analyst
Data scientist
Software engineer
Math teacher
Actuarial analyst
Financial analyst

Ease in finding a job

Finding a job with a degree in pure math can be difficult because the theoretical math classes are not directly useful for many job roles and the roles where they are directly useful often require a master’s degree. If you do not supplement the required classes with more applied elective classes such as algorithms and data structures from computer science, you will likely have a hard time finding a job.

An applied math degree should give you a slightly easier time in getting a job because the required classes should be more useful for job roles. However, that will largely depend on the classes you choose and what is required by your particular program.

In both cases, it would help you greatly to consider the type of job that you would like to get and to take classes related to that job. If you expect yourself to work as a software engineer, it would help to take multiple computer science classes. If you are hoping to get into data science, it would help to take classes related to machine learning, data analysis and statistics.

In addition, it would help greatly to try to get summer internships and to complete projects related to what you are interested in so that you can improve your resume. So, for example, if you want to get into data science, it would help to complete data science projects and to try to get an internship as a data scientist before graduating.


Both degrees are difficult degrees. However, most would likely agree that a pure math degree will be slightly harder. The reason for this is that there will be more theoretical math classes that are very proof heavy. The proofs in theoretical math classes are also often hard proofs. Whereas, an applied math degree will have more computational classes related to other disciplines that are not as proof-heavy.

With that being said, most applied math degrees will still have multiple proof-heavy math classes that are required such as real analysis. So, an applied math degree will still not be easy.

Recommended classes

If you choose either a pure math degree or an applied math degree, it will be very important to think carefully about the classes that you will be taking. It would help a lot to think about what you want to do after getting the degree and to choose your classes accordingly.

Right now, software engineering roles are very popular among math majors so it would help to make sure to at least take a class in data structures and algorithms since this is what most software engineering interviews test on.

In addition, data science is becoming more popular each year and more roles are opening up to people with just a bachelor’s degree. So, it would also help to take classes related to data analysis, statistics and machine learning or at least to study it on the side and to complete data science projects.

Alternative degrees to consider

If you are considering getting a degree in mathematics, there are some alternative degrees that you might also want to consider.

Some of the alternative degrees have a distinct advantage over mathematics because they are more related to certain job roles. For example, computer science is better suited to software engineering and arguably machine learning as well. I have written more about a computer science vs math degree here.

Another major you might want to consider is statistics. As companies are acquiring more and more data, they need more and more people to be able to make sense of the data and statistics can be a suitable degree for that. I have written about a math vs statistics degree here.

Things to consider

An applied math degree can feature many different types of classes. It would help to look at the required classes of the applied math program that you are interested in and to see if those classes are useful for the job or graduate program you would be interested in after graduating.

At some universities, a pure math degree can be very applied and at others an applied math degree can be very theoretical. Regardless of the title of the degree you choose, it would help a lot to make sure to look at what classes are required for the degree.

In addition, it would also help to strongly consider alternative degrees such as computer science or stats and to make sure to take classes related to the job that you are interested in.


I created and currently manage College Corner. I received a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. My goal is to help current students do better in college and to help future students plan for college. You can read more about me and my website here.