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How to Become a Mathematician

A graduate degree in mathematics is the most common educational requirement for mathematicians. However, there are positions for those whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree.


Students who are interested in mathematics should take as many math courses as possible in high school.

For jobs as a mathematician with the federal government, candidates need at least a bachelor's degree with a major in mathematics or significant coursework in mathematics. Also, holders of bachelor's degrees who meet state certification requirements may become middle or high school mathematics teachers.

Most colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree in mathematics. Courses usually include calculus, differential equations, and linear and abstract algebra. Many colleges and universities advise or require mathematics students to take courses in a related field, such as computer science, engineering, or physical science. Candidates who have a double major in mathematics and a related discipline are particularly desirable to many employers.

In private industry, mathematicians typically need an advanced degree, either a master's degree or a doctorate. Many universities offer master's and doctoral degrees in theoretical or applied mathematics.

A master’s degree generally takes 2 years beyond the bachelor's degree. That is often enough for many positions in applied mathematics. However, most people with a master's degree in mathematics do not work as mathematicians. Instead, they work in related fields, including computer science, where they have titles such as computer programmer, systems analyst, and systems engineer, and statistics, where they are called statisticians.

For a position as a professor of mathematics in a college or university, a doctorate is usually required. A doctoral degree usually takes at least 5 years of study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Mathematicians must interact with and propose solutions to people who do not have extensive knowledge of mathematics.

Critical-thinking skills. Mathematicians need to identify, analyze, and apply basic principles.

Problem-solving skills. Mathematicians must devise new solutions to problems encountered by scientists or engineers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition