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Online Master’s in Mathematics

Equals Career Success

Mathematics is a broad field that spans many professional sectors, from finance to education, physics to technology. Mathematics encompasses both applied and conceptual degree concentrations, enabling students to develop interdisciplinary knowledge in engineering, biological sciences, physics, computer science and other areas.

Under the umbrella of mathematics are diverse specializations, such as finance or computational science. Recently, new branches of mathematics have emerged, such as industrial math and data science, resulting in new graduate degree opportunities. Master’s students can choose from numerous career paths, even in arenas outside of mathematics.

Completing an online master’s in mathematics can be the first step in building a new career area, or it can position a professional for advancement in their current employment track. For both working professionals and undergraduates, it’s important to choose the right online degree program. This guide provides an overview of online master’s degrees in mathematics, areas of concentration and career opportunities available to degree holders.

The Online Master’s in Math: Flexible & Diverse

Most online master’s degree programs in mathematics can be completed entirely online. The online learning format varies across schools and departments. Some colleges offer synchronous learning environments, which require live participation through video conferencing or online chat sessions. Other colleges may provide asynchronous programs, which allow students to complete their education in a self-paced manner. Most universities offer support and resources to help students successfully complete the degree.

First, prospective students should review the course delivery format. Both types of learning have benefits and drawbacks. Students need to ensure that they can fit online courses into their schedules. Next, graduate students should seek out programs that offer both conceptual, theory-based instruction as well as applied, real-world training that prepares them for future careers. The master’s degree in mathematics is designed to prepare graduates to pursue targeted roles ranging from teaching to computer science, economics to cryptography. Prospective online students should look for programs that offer several academic concentrations within the field.

In addition to delivery format, method of instruction and available concentrations, students should also consider the following five factors:

Degree Diversity

There are several types of online master’s in math, including Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science in Applied Mathematics (MASM). As each offers different curriculum, students should understand how their degree designation can be used for their potential career paths.

Varied Math Concentrations

Like degree concentrations, the online master’s in mathematics also has several subsets of academic concentrations. Graduate departments usually do not offer degrees in every specialized area of study. Prospective students should review their desired degree concentration (such as applied mathematics, statistics or biomathematics) and compare the strength of that program to other potential graduate programs.

Thesis or Non-Thesis Options

Depending on the particular degree, students may be required to complete a thesis. However, graduate schools of mathematics may also offer a non-thesis option, which usually requires additional classes, a final capstone project or an examination.

Faculty

Studying with the right faculty is important, especially in the field of mathematics. Students should review the educational background and professional experience of faculty members before making a decision. Faculty members are vital to transitioning smoothly into a doctoral program of study and connecting with industry professionals.

By assessing the quality of an online master’s program in mathematics – as well as its delivery format, faculty experience, areas of specialization and curriculum – prospective students should be well prepared to make an informed, practical decision about their graduate studies.

Mathematical Disciplines

According to the American Mathematical Society, there are 64 mathematical disciplines, including well-known subjects such as algebra, geometry and arithmetic, and lesser-known areas of study like order theory or topology. Below is an example list of mathematical disciplines:

  • Mathematical logic and foundations
  • Number theory
  • Applied mathematics
  • Particle mechanics
  • Combinatorics
  • Algebraic geometry
  • Number theory
  • Integral equations
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Geophysics

Not every mathematical discipline is offered as a program of study at the master’s level. Part of the graduate school selection process is narrowing down the scope of education and finding an online program in the student’s desired subject area.

Concentrations & Coursework for the Online Math Master’s Degree

Academic programs in human resources typically cover all four areas, but also allow students to concentrate their studies in a singular pillar. Below are five examples of human resource specializations students may pursue while earning an online math master’s degree.

Applied Mathematics

This interdisciplinary field of study focuses on the use of mathematics in the physical, social and life sciences. The inherently flexible program covers a range of mathematical skills, allowing students to focus their studies on a specific area of interest, such as computer science, operational mechanics, probability and decision theory or statistical sciences.

Mathematician

Working in a variety of areas, these professionals create statistical or mathematical models to study and analyze data, solve real-world problems and make informed business decisions.

Research Analyst

Responsible for conducting quantitative statistical analysis, research analysts work across diverse industries, such as health care, public policy and education.

Research Scientist

In this wide-ranging occupation, research scientists develop mathematical models and apply mathematical principles to identify and analyze data sets for use in manufacturing, product development, laboratory research and more.

Probability and Statistics

Two distinct but related fields, probability and statistics offer two tracks of study – applied and theoretical – that can be used in a variety of interdisciplinary fields. Students receive a foundation in probability, mathematical statistics, methodology and computing technology, enabling them to conduct statistical analysis.

Economist

Applying advanced statistical analysis to economic theory, economists identify economic trends, make forecasts and provide recommendations on a range of economic issues.

Statistician

Tasked with collecting, analyzing and interpreting quantitative information, statisticians apply mathematical modeling and statistical analysis across multiple professional areas, from healthcare to finance and education to transportation.

Research Analyst

Responsible for conducting quantitative statistical analysis, research analysts work across diverse industries, such as health care, public policy and education.

Research Scientist

In this wide-ranging occupation, research scientists develop mathematical models and apply mathematical principles to identify and analyze data sets for use in manufacturing, product development, laboratory research and more.

Biomathematics

An emerging field of study, biomathematics uses mathematical models to analyze biological phenomena. Through the application of statistical methods, biomathematics helps scientists explain problems in biology. This scientific research has wide-ranging applications in areas such as conservation biology, ecology, physiology, natural resource management and more.

Biomathematician

In this interdisciplinary profession, biomathematicians use statistical analysis and research to conduct studies, surveys and data analysis in areas such as biology, pharmacology, biostatistics and life sciences.

Actuarial Mathematics

The study of actuarial mathematics combines knowledge in areas such as finance, mathematics, economics, accounting, probability and statistics. The subject typically covers three major concentrations: probability, life insurance mathematics and non-life insurance mathematics. In short, actuarial mathematics is designed to teach students how to use mathematical and financial theory to assess risks across a variety of settings.

Actuary

Experts in the nature of risk, actuaries use mathematical modeling to analyze the probability of an event and its outcomes as a means of determining its potential financial impact.

Loss Forecasting Analyst

Relying on a mixture of skill sets in accounting, mathematics, economics and computer science, loss forecasting analysts create macro- and micro loss forecasts for businesses that can be used for performance projections, business strategies, risk analyses and more.

Economist

Applying advanced statistical analysis to economic theory, economists identify economic trends, make forecasts and provide recommendations on a range of economic issues.

Research Analyst

Responsible for conducting quantitative statistical analysis, research analysts work across diverse industries, such as health care, public policy and education.

Research Scientist

In this wide-ranging occupation, research scientists develop mathematical models and apply mathematical principles to identify and analyze data sets for use in manufacturing, product development, laboratory research and more.

Mathematics Education

A broad program of study, mathematics education prepares graduates to teach in secondary and post-secondary settings. Topics of study vary, but traditionally include an overview of mathematical history, geometry, discrete mathematics, statistics, set theory and more.

Mathematics Teacher

Mathematics is part of the core curriculum in K-12 and higher education classrooms. Mathematics educators provide training and instruction to students in various areas, such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Mathematical Computer Science

This course of study focuses on the relationship between mathematics and theoretical computer science. Degree tracks are available in both areas – research mathematics and computer science. This enables students to apply computing science to a number of mathematical areas (such as algebra or topology), or to focus on a program of pure mathematics, mathematical logic or theoretical computing science.

Computer Scientist

The varied work of this professional has foundations in the concepts and principles of computer science, which are applied to software system development, data acquisition systems, computer hardware and networking systems.

Actuary

Experts in the nature of risk, actuaries use mathematical modeling to analyze the probability of an event and its outcomes as a means of determining its potential financial impact.

Economist

Applying advanced statistical analysis to economic theory, economists identify economic trends, make forecasts and provide recommendations on a range of economic issues.

Statistician

Tasked with collecting, analyzing and interpreting quantitative information, statisticians apply mathematical modeling and statistical analysis across multiple professional areas, from healthcare to finance and education to transportation.

Mathematician

Working in a variety of areas, these professionals create statistical or mathematical models to study and analyze data, solve real-world problems and make informed business decisions.

Cryptographer

Relying on advanced mathematical systems, cryptographers work to protect information by designing and developing encryption systems.

Mathematics Teacher

Mathematics is part of the core curriculum in K-12 and higher education classrooms. Mathematics educators provide training and instruction to students in various areas, such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Computer Scientist

The varied work of this professional has foundations in the concepts and principles of computer science, which are applied to software system development, data acquisition systems, computer hardware and networking systems.

Biomathematician

In this interdisciplinary profession, biomathematicians use statistical analysis and research to conduct studies, surveys and data analysis in areas such as biology, pharmacology, biostatistics and life sciences.

Research Analyst

Responsible for conducting quantitative statistical analysis, research analysts work across diverse industries, such as health care, public policy and education.

Loss Forecasting Analyst

Relying on a mixture of skill sets in accounting, mathematics, economics and computer science, loss forecasting analysts create macro- and micro loss forecasts for businesses that can be used for performance projections, business strategies, risk analyses and more.

Research Scientist

In this wide-ranging occupation, research scientists develop mathematical models and apply mathematical principles to identify and analyze data sets for use in manufacturing, product development, laboratory research and more.

When considering potential career goals, students should look beyond the concentration of a program and examine the degree’s curriculum as well.

Not all master’s programs in a specific concentration area include the same principles and coursework. Students should evaluate the curriculum of their desired degree to ensure that it aligns with their target career path. The table below includes a list of real mathematics courses available through online degree programs.

Linear Algebra

In this class, students study linear equations, vector spaces, linear dependence, determinants and more.

Introduction to Scientific Computing

This class introduces students to computational approaches to solving problems in the interdisciplinary fields of biological, physical and engineering science.

Computational Models in Biology

Students cover various statistical models in the life sciences and how they are analyzed with computational and mathematical techniques. Topics of study include stochastic and discrete dynamical models. Students are also introduced to data analysis, including visualization.

Data Analysis Computational Methods

This course teaches students about data analysis methods – both exploratory and objective – that are used in engineering science, biological science and physical science. Studies may cover spectral analysis, image processing and component analysis.

Theory of Functions of a Complex Variable

This class emphasizes the study of complex analysis, an area of mathematics concerned with complex numbers and their functions. Specific subject areas include Riemann surfaces, mapping theorem and hyperbolic geometry.

Ordinary Differential Equations

Students are introduced to the underpinning theories of ordinary differential equations, including invariant manifolds, chaotic dynamics and uniqueness theorems.

Topics in Geometry

This course provides new graduate students with a high-level overview of geometry, covering a range of topics including geometric imagination, the theorems of Pascal, projective geometry and fractional orders.

Algebraic Topology

Students learn about the concept of algebraic topology, which is a special subset of mathematics used to study and classify topological spaces. Instruction typically covers both applied and computational topology.

Number Theory

Through this class, students delve into the study of positive whole numbers, exploring various theorems such as Erdos-Kac, and functions including the Riemann zeta function and the divisor function.

Applied Mathematics Methods

With foundations in engineering (mechanical, biomedical, aerospace, etc.), this course and provides students with a basic understanding of complex variable theory, variation calculus and perturbation methods.

Combinantorics

In this class, students study a spectrum of foundational subjects in combinatorics, such as matching theory, Mobius functions, Fourier methods and Ramsey theory.

Mathematical Physics

Through this course, students develop an advanced understanding of quantum theory, with a specific focus on Bohmian mechanics.

Functional Analysis

Building upon the foundations of linear algebra, function theory and real variables, functional analysis explores working knowledge in areas such as the Lebesgue measure, Hilbert space, Fourier series and Fredholm determinants.

Timeline of the Online Master’s in Mathematics

In addition to reviewing curriculum, faculty experience and areas of concentration, prospective students should also develop a set of expectations for their graduate program. They should have an understanding of the admissions process, major degree events, graduation requirements, fee deadlines and other important milestones. Building a timeline for the master’s degree is one of the most helpful steps a prospective graduate student can take.

Completion time for an online master’s degree in mathematics varies by concentration, program and institution. Typically, students can finish an online degree in as little as two years of study; however, some mathematics fields may require anywhere from two to three years to complete.

Step 1

Decide on a Program

Finding a program, applying, and getting accepted can be a time-consuming process. Prospective graduate students should begin researching as early as possible. They should start by creating a list of shared criteria that is required by all potential schools, such as the general application requirements, cost, and overall pros and cons of each program. Below is a general list of items students may want to include:

  • Degree type (e.g., MA, MS, Applied MS)
  • Tuition
  • Books and technology fees
  • Distance learning technology requirements
  • Faculty that teach in the program
  • Program and degree requirements
  • Instructional format (hybrid, synchronous, asynchronous)
  • Application deadlines
  • Application requirements
  • Application fees
  • Standardized test requirements (e.g., GRE Mathematics Subject Test)
  • GPA requirements
Step 2

Prepare an Application

Graduate schools expect candidates to be extremely well-prepared when applying to a prospective program. Below is a sample list of real application requirements from online master’s degree programs in mathematics. Although not all institutions require the same documentation, students should have a firm grasp on the various elements they may need to submit.

Statement of Purpose. This is not a personal essay or reflection piece. Instead, it is a statement aimed directly at the admissions committee to demonstrate a solid understanding of mathematics and qualifications for joining their program.

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Scores from the General Record Examination (GRE)
  • Scores from the General Record Examination – Mathematics Subject Test
  • Official copies of undergraduate transcripts
  • TOEFL scores for non-native English speakers
  • Interview
  • Resume or CV
  • Application Fees

Year 1

Core Curriculum

Whether in an applied or pure math program of study, the first year of graduate school is traditionally spent completing core curriculum classes. Consisting of 30 to 36 credit degree programs, the master’s in math may require students to complete at least 15 credits of study per semester.

Like an inverted pyramid, classes move from broad to specific, honing in on a concentration or area of study during the second year. Core classes may include Human Resource Management Survey, Recruiting and Talent Acquisition and Managing Workplace Learning. These courses provide students with a solid foundation for future specialized studies.

Year 2

Electives and Capstone

Toward the end of core curriculum requirements, students should be working with their committee chair or advisor to determine their degree specialization, electives and capstone project or thesis (if required). Electives vary by program, but examples include Global Human Resource Practices, Employee Benefits, Developing Human Capital, or Ethics and Social Responsibility. Electives and functional area coursework could also focus on post-graduation Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) examinations.

During the final quarter or semester, students focus on a capstone or thesis project, which requires synthesizing classroom-based knowledge into a real-world application. Although specifics depend on the particular area of concentration and the requirements of the program and instructors, capstone projects generally include the following steps:

  • Design and write a project plan based on a case study, including timelines, measures of success and outcomes
  • Submit the project for review
  • Present and defend the project via an oral presentation

Career Benefits of an Online Mathematics Master’s Degree

According to graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 13,000 students earned master’s degrees in mathematics and related fields (e.g., biostatistics, physics, financial mathematics) in 2013. The average in-state graduate tuition for those programs was nearly $15,000, making mathematics an affordable option for most online graduate students.

Area of Interest Number of Degrees Conferred
Mathematics 2,923
Mathematics, General 2,875
Physics 1,997
Mathematics Teacher Education 1,671
Applied Mathematics, General 998
Biomathematics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology 807
Financial Mathematics 547
Biostatistics 466
Bioinformatics 293
Applied Economics 268

Mathematician is currently one of the most in-demand, highly rated professions. In 2014, CareerCast named it the best job in the country. Given its career diversity, strong earning potential and growing employment opportunities, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular vocation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects excellent job prospects between 2012 and 2022, which – along with affordable tuition – is good news for prospective graduate students. However, before making a decision, students should examine the career benefits of completing an online master’s program in mathematics, by comparing the program costs to potential earnings in the marketplace.

Mathematics majors should be familiar with the concept of cost opportunity, which entails understanding the importance of their prospective choices. Beyond the simple cost of a program, students should investigate how attending an online program may impact their family obligations, work responsibilities, hobbies, volunteer activities and other lifestyle factors. Ultimately, do the benefits of completing an online master’s in mathematics degree outweigh the costs?

Earning Potential for Online Master’s Degree Graduates in Mathematics

Although completing a mathematics graduate degree may not lead directly to increased earnings or a promotion, it can do three things: 1) increase career opportunities in multiple industries and professional areas; 2) improve the marketability of a job candidate; and 3) create a foundation for continuing education in a doctoral program in mathematics.

A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) found that 47 percent of undergraduates in mathematics and 52 percent of undergraduates in applied mathematics go on to earn a master’s degree. Ultimately, that decision pays off in the long run, as survey respondents reported salary increases after earning graduate degrees in both fields: 52 percent for applied mathematics graduates and 33 percent for mathematics program graduates.

When comparing the financial investment into a graduate program – a two-year online program could cost $30,000 – with prospective earnings, enrolling in a graduate degree program makes good financial sense. The national median salary for mathematicians reached six figures in 2013 ($102,440), and the top earners in the profession took home at least $155,000 in 2013. Below is a table of the national salary range for mathematicians in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

salaries for accountants stacked up
Top 10 % $155,480
Median (50%) $102,440
Bottom 10% $55,200

Salary and employment data from the BLS revealed the top-paying industries for mathematicians in 2013 included the following:

  • Aerospace Product Manufacturing: $130,830
  • Scientific Research: $124,450
  • Computer Systems Design: $121,680
  • Federal Government: $107,630
  • Architecture and Engineering: $102,850

Location also influences potential career earnings. In 2013, the top-paying states for mathematicians were New Jersey, Maryland and Washington. Below is a list of the 10 states with the highest average salaries for mathematicians in 2013.

Rank State 2013 Average Salary
1 New Jersey $134,400
2 Maryland $122,290
3 Washington $114,390
4 Massachusetts $109,460
5 Virginia $107,900
6 Illinois $100,480
7 California $99,530
8 Ohio $94,190
9 Mississippi $89,510
10 Florida $83,440

An online mathematics master’s degree can also pave the way to a variety of career fields, including the following:

  • Actuary: $94,340
  • Statistician: $83,310
  • Economist: $101,450
  • Market Research Analyst: $67,780
  • Accountant: $72,500

Industry Growth in Mathematics Occupations

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mathematics is one of the country’s fastest-growing occupational fields. The BLS projects 23 percent growth for the industry between 2012 and 2022, with the largest opportunities occurring in the following fields:

  • Scientific and Technical Services: 42.7%
  • Education: 24.2%
  • Business Management: 18.3%

Four states are projected to see employment growth at or above the national average for mathematicians between 2012 and 2022. North Carolina tops the nation in expected career growth for mathematicians at 36.7 percent. Below is a list of the states with the best job outlook for mathematicians:

Rank
State
Job Growth
2
Texas
30.9%
3
Colorado
26.3%
4
Kansas
25.0%
5
New Jersey
19.9%
6
Nebraska
18.9%
7
Virginia
16.7%

Other math-related career fields are projected to see similar career growth, both nationally and at state level. In fact, actuarial mathematics is predicted to experience even larger occupational opportunities than mathematics. With a 26 percent national job growth projected between 2012 and 2022, actuaries join the list of the fastest-growing career sectors in the country:

  • Actuary: 26%
  • Statistician: 27%
  • Economist: 14%
  • Market Research Analyst: 32%
  • Accountant: 13%

Unconventional Career Paths for Online Math Master’s Degree Holders

Engineering. Computer Science. Education. Construction. Aerospace. Finance. The list of industries requiring advanced levels of theoretical and applied mathematics is extensive. As an area of study, mathematics has a major impact in those industries, making up a vital component of positions ranging from physician to pharmacist, surveyor to airline pilot. An online math master’s doesn’t necessarily restrict graduates to pursuing a career strictly in the field.

Master’s students may want to pursue alternative career paths during or immediately after their graduate studies. Fortunately, mathematics is a pliable, flexible field of study that equips students to apply their analytical skills in other professional areas. Below is a list of four non-traditional and evolving career fields that are potentially good fits for graduates with a master’s degree in mathematics.

  • Data Mining

    In the era of big data, data mining is quickly becoming one of the country’s fastest growing industries. Data mining provides for the creation and analysis of massive data sets, excavating patterns that were not previously possible or recognized. Diverse career opportunities include e-commerce, bioinformatics, chemical engineering, genomics and information security.

  • Materials Science

    Fundamentally, materials science is the investigation of the properties of existing and new materials, including biological materials, metallic alloys and composites. Developing and designing new processing methods is dependent on mathematical models and computational tools and techniques. Materials science spans a wide spectrum of career opportunities, including electronics, manufacturing, aerospace and engineering.

  • Systems Biology

    This emerging field is concerned with the application of mathematical modeling of biological systems in both biomedical and biological research. Career opportunities are interdisciplinary in nature, spanning such professional areas as medicine, technology and pharmacology.

  • Computer Animation

    The advent of computing ushered in the modern era of computer animation, a field that is heavily dependent on mathematical algorithms and scientific computation. Career opportunities span areas such as film, television and video game production.

Other potential professional avenues for graduates of online master’s programs in mathematics include climatology, ecology, digital imaging, environmental science and sports/athletics.