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I am a college freshman, and I really like to have goals for my life, one of the big ones is my career of choice. Previously, I have always wanted to be a programmer, and I have written a lot of code. But it seems to me that programming can get slightly bland, whereas math never disappoints me. So my question is asking whether or not it would be a economically-feasible idea to me a mathematician. Note that I don't really care about being rich, I just want to do something I love, and keep learning for the rest of my life. What careers exist today that make mathematics a money-making (however little) job?

I was thinking I'd have lots of fun in 3 main options: programming, mathematics higher-ed, and being an actuary. I've been accepted to an REU program at Mayo Medical School this summer as a disease modeler where I would be using Matlab to model many problems there. I'm excited for that. I currently carry a 4.0 GPA in mathematics and about a 3.9 overall, and I think I would stay that way.

I just want to make sure I like what I do. Sometimes in the math forum here I get a little scared because everyone asks questions that I don't even know the answer to, even though I get all the answers correct here.

Thanks to everyone. Can't wait to have a lively discussion.

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So you're asking on a mathematics site if you should study mathematics? Don't you think that the answers will be biased? –  moose Mar 2 '14 at 12:39
Absolutely not. –  Matthew Mar 2 '14 at 19:16
You could try asking exactly the same question on stackoverflow. Anyway, I doubt that an answer to that question can be objective. –  moose Mar 2 '14 at 19:25

2 Answers 2

If you can be good at it, majoring in math always majorizes other options - grad and professional schools (e.g. law, medical, etc.) always love a math major. With a math major you can later specialize to anything you want with a masters or professional degree, e.g. computer science. So it's an easy choice assuming you think you can get A's...

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It seems to me you're on the right track to succeed in your life goals, though as I'm sure you know, take your own ideas of how things 'ought' to turn out with a grain of salt -- life is full of surprises.

The first point I want to address is that of programming being 'bland.' Math can be bland too. In fact, any time you get to a research level, you will be doing some tedious calculations, fact-checking, and there will be times that are boring and discouraging. As you pointed out, it is important to like what you do. What you like changes over time, and it's useful to have the foresight and flexibility to adapt as you and your priorities change.

With this in mind, I would strongly advise you to pursue a postgraduate degree in mathematics, most likely a PhD. This is still a ways away, but going to REUs, interacting with professors and getting involved in your mathematical community are good ways to ensure you will have strong letters of reference and research experience when you apply to grad schools. This is the foresight part.

As for flexibility, with a master's/phd in mathematics and good programming skills you are basically guaranteed a job. Whether or not it's something you like depends on keeping your eyes and ears open throughout your degree. What careers? Research in industry in health sciences, bioinformatics, pharmaceutical companies, optimization and operations research, work at tech companies like Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, work in the financial sector, for oil companies, aeronautics... Trust me -- if you get a PhD in mathematics from a good university and are a strong programmer, you will find a job.

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