Should you get a master’s or doctoral degree?
There are a few important points to consider when you’re picking between these two degrees: your goals, time investment and cost.
A master’s in mathematics alone will qualify you to work in fields such actuarial science, computer science, and data science, all of which report high earnings and high job satisfaction. Master’s degrees also offer a lot of potential for degree specialization.
A doctoral degree qualifies you for all of the above, as well as working in academia, whether that’s teaching, research or a combination of the two.
Another thing to consider is how much time you’re willing to invest in getting your applied mathematics and statistics graduate degree. For reference, the doctoral program at Mines requires 72 credit hours (one class usually counts for three credit hours). If you’re taking on a recommended course load of 15 credit hours (five classes) each semester, then it’ll take a little over three years for you to get your doctorate. And this doesn’t take into account the time you’ll spend conducting research and writing your thesis.
The master’s program, on the other hand, requires 30 credit hours, or two years for a full-time student. Mines also offers a non-thesis option, which favors coursework over original research.
Many people working toward their master’s do so online and part time. A 2016 survey found that 31% of students enrolled in a master’s program were taking courses online.
Cost is another consideration for many seeking their master’s in mathematics. At Mines, the annual cost of attendance for 2021-2022 is $41,013 for Colorado residents, $62,325 for students from outside the state and $40,003 for online students.
What you’ll need to start a graduate program in mathematics
An undergraduate degree – You don’t specifically need an undergraduate degree in pure math to move on to a graduate program. People who get advanced degrees in math come from a variety of educational backgrounds, with one constant: a bachelor’s.
An above-average GPA – Mines’ program requires a GPA of 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale.
Math research experience – If you have unique, mathematical research experience, it’ll help set you apart from other candidates. In fact, many programs outright require you to have some kind of research under your belt. The more the better, as there’s a strong chance your program will require you to publish before you can get your diploma. This is not as vital for non-thesis master’s programs.
A GRE score of 151 or higher – Graduate Record Examinations are tests you take prior to getting into grad school that determine your placement. Mines requires a 151 for its applied mathematics and statistics program, but each school is different. The absolute lowest we’ve seen is 145. Generally speaking, the higher the GRE score (especially for math programs) the better off you’ll be in grad school.
Time to devote to the program – Graduate programs require significant time commitments. That said, it is possible to get a graduate degree and work at the same time.
Letter(s) of recommendation – For many graduate programs you’ll need a solid letter of recommendation (or three) from faculty who know you well.
A statement of purpose – Almost every graduate program will require you to communicate to them why exactly you’re seeking a graduate degree in math, and why you’ve landed on their university.
Why a graduate degree in mathematics is worth the cost
People with master’s degrees in mathematics hold a variety of positions – and nearly all of them pay exceptionally well. This is also true for those who hold PhDs in mathematics. Mines’ master’s graduates report an average starting salary of $88,500. A master’s in mathematics alone puts you in the top 75% of earners.
Job prospects for math graduate students are good. Like, seriously good. Demand for graduates with advanced degrees in mathematics has shot up. By 2027, mathematics and statistics jobs are expected to increase by 33% by 2027, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and these are among the highest-paying jobs in STEM fields.
Graduate degree holders are equipped to work in any number of fields, but often find work in industries such as:
- Actuarial Sciences
- Health care
STEM graduates in general have enjoyed strong job prospects for years. STEM jobs are expected to grow 13% by 2027, and with a graduate degree, your employability is even higher, as is your job satisfaction, making your degree even more robust. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of mathematicians and statisticians to grow 33 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations—about 5,100 openings on average per year, the result of increased use of statistical analysis to make business, health care and policy decisions. Much of this grown will be among statisticians in research development, consulting and computer systems design.
Those with advanced degrees in applied mathematics and statistics report some of the highest job satisfaction in the market. In fact, according to the Jobs Rated Almanac report for 2019, jobs requiring more than a bachelor’s in mathematics have the highest satisfaction overall. Data scientist (which requires a master’s in math or higher) ranked number one, with statistician (also requires a master’s or higher) coming in second place. Mathematician ranked eighth, with actuary coming in 10th, both of which require a graduate degree.
Satisfaction is rated on a number of factors, including employability, environment, emotional factors, physical factors, salary and more. Math majors find quick work in office environments, usually with high pay and high career mobility (meaning there’s plenty of advancement opportunities).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for mathematicians in May 2020 was $110,860. The median annual wage for statisticians was $92,270.