sealPurdue News

September 1997

Career options multiply for math majors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- College graduates with a gift for numbers and a degree in mathematics are finding employment in some very high-profile fields.

"The largest single employer of mathematicians in the United States is the National Security Agency, where many work in the field of cryptology," says Mary Ann Penney, an academic adviser who works with junior and senior math students at Purdue University. "They are the people who design and analyze numerical codes used to transmit classified or sensitive information. It's a very exciting area of work."

But it's not the job most students are thinking about when deciding on a college major.

"The mathematics career most obvious to the general public is teaching," Penney says. "But we have many students who wind up working for large companies. Employers like math majors because they know the students can think and will approach problems and challenges in a logical manner. There is also a growing demand for mathematicians in the area of finance."

Among the major companies that recruited future math graduates on Purdue's West Lafayette campus last year were 3-M Co., Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Microsoft Corp., Price Waterhouse IIP and Texas Instruments Systems Group. They were seeking operations research analysts, statisticians and inventory strategists. All branches of the armed forces also regularly look for job candidates with strong math skills for data analysis, submarine tracking and high-energy astrophysics programming.

Starting salaries for math graduates vary widely depending on the career they choose. For instance, those earning actuarial science degrees, which are granted jointly by the Purdue departments of mathematics and statistics, can expect starting salaries ranging from $29,000 to $45,000 a year.

"We had 100 percent placement of our actuarial science majors this past spring," Penney says. "Their initial compensation packages were comparable to the starting salaries for engineers."

Math majors who want to continue their education beyond an undergraduate degree find they have many choices, as well.

"A math degree is excellent preparation for graduate school in other disciplines such as computer science, physics, management, law or medicine," Penney says. "Purdue's program features lots of electives, so students frequently find they are able to add a second major or minor to their course of study. They end up with highly specialized skills, but they are also well-rounded. It makes them a good fit for the demands of the workplace."

CONTACT: Penney, (765) 494-1771; e-mail,

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