Leveling Up: How to Build Math Skills

From discovering the theory of everything, to teaching first graders how to add and subtract, the career possibilities for those who love math are as expansive as the universe.

In the era of tech and remote work, mad math skills can also be the key to transitioning from nine-to-five work into more time- and location-flexible employment. Because skills in mathematics are useful in virtually any industry, because of the ongoing talent shortage in STEM, and because many employers will be hiring for potential in 2019, those willing to upgrade their math skills can find a broad range of future opportunities.

The need for employes with math skills is growing, and big data, longer lifespans, and technological development are all drivers behind ballooning demand. Longer lifespans are increasing people’s financial planning needs, and a new world of healthcare technology creates demands for mathematical modeling and algorithms. And with data sets in the current age of information being far larger than any one human or team of humans could analyze effectively, the ability to pull meaningful, actionable data from massive datasets through algorithms, machine learning, analytical modeling, and other mathematically-based means is essential for business, organizations, and governments across the globe.

In sum, the ever-expanding world of technology needs those with advanced math skills to move forward, and those with math skills to ensure security and protection against digital attacks.

Finding a position in mathematics can be done with almost any level of educational attainment, but as is the case in most professions, the higher the level of degree or the more advanced the skill set, the more competitive a candidate can be in the job market. Those looking to level up their math skills can take traditional educational pathways by earning bachelor’s, master’s, PhDs, or certificates either online or through on-campus programs. For those who already have higher-level degrees—or who are looking to upgrade skills on a budget—free or low-cost options provided by Coursera, Khan Academy, EdX, and other massive open online courses (MOOCs) can provide pathways to the skills needed to upgrade one’s career.

Keep reading to learn more about how to gain the higher-level math skills needed to take advantage of the high demand for mathematics experts.

Fast Facts: Mathematics

If the job centers around math, it is very likely that the position is going to experience growth in the next decade. According to predictions by the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for math occupations will grow by 28 percent between 2016 and 2026—a growth rate that is nearly four times faster than the national occupational average. When looking at a cross-section of occupations that require leveled-up math skills, the trend for demand is a growth rate that is generally faster or much faster than average.

OccupationPercentage of Predicted Growth Between 2016 and 2026Numeric Employment Change
Mathematicians and Statisticians33 percent13,500
Information Security Analysts28 percent28,500
Operations Research Analysts27 percent31,300
Software Developer24 percent302,500
Actuaries22 percent5,300
Personal Financial Advisors15 percent40,400
Post-Secondary Teacher15 percent197,800
Financial Analyst11 percent32,200
Accountants and Auditors10 percent139,900
High School Teacher8 percent76,800

Some positions that require math skills are also some of the best jobs in the U.S. According to Glassdoor, several math-focused jobs were ranked in the top 50 jobs in the U.S. in 2019 based on earning potential, job satisfaction, and number of job openings. With a median base salary of $108,000, a job satisfaction rating of 4.3 out of 5, and 6,510 annual job openings, Glassdoor ranked data scientist as the best position in the U.S. for the past 4 years.

Other math-heavy positions on the list include data engineer (#8), software engineer (#10), security engineer (#17), finance manager (#25), data analyst (#31), and software developer (#44). U.S. News & World Report’s list of the 100 best jobs in 2019 corroborates that math-based jobs are amongst the best, including software developer (#1), statistician (#2), mathematician (#17), accountant (#24), financial manager (#25), and actuary (#33).

Featured Online Math Degree Programs

Those looking to advance their skills in math can consider enrolling in degree programs in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats. Working professionals, parents, and those who do not wish to relocate for school may find that earning their degree online provides the necessary flexibility to improve their math skills without having to disrupt every part of their lives.

Degree programs tend to be more expensive than the DIY strategies presented later in the article, but can be good for those who need structure and outside accountability to succeed. In addition, because most degree programs have to go through an accreditation process, there is a relative guarantee for quality of instruction and real-world applicability.

Southern New Hampshire University (SHNU) – Manchester, New Hampshire

For those looking to begin their journey of upgrading their mathematics skills at the bachelor’s level, SHNU offers a 100 percent online bachelor of art in mathematics designed to imbue students with an advanced grasp of how analysis, algebra, and statistics relate to business, natural sciences, and social sciences.

Students interested in real-world applications of math can choose to earn a BA in math with a concentration in applied mathematics. Coursework in the 120-credit hour program includes single-variable calculus, formal logic, applied linear algebra, and mathematical proof and problem solving.

Tuition at SHNU is $320 per credit-hour for civilians and $225 per credit-hour for active U.S. service members and their spouses. Because the program is 100 percent online, students do not need to live in New Hampshire to enroll.

Indiana State University (ISU) – Terre Haute, Indiana

ISU offers a 100 percent online master’s of science in mathematics, which is open to candidates who have a bachelor’s in mathematics, math education, or a related discipline from an accredited institution.

ISU’s 33-credit-hour program is designed for those who wish to pursue professional careers in mathematics, and gives students flexibility to customize their program through a set of electives taken following a set of core courses. Coursework in the program includes topology, mathematical modeling, commutative algebra, and linear programming and optimization.

This program utilizes a synchronous online learning format, where students are expected to log in to courses in real-time in the late afternoon or early evening. In-state tuition for Indiana residents is $412 per credit-hour and tuition for out-of-state students is $527 per credit-hour. Online students will also be charged a $50 fee per course.

University of Washington (UW) – Seattle, Washington

UW offers an interdisciplinary, 100 percent online master’s of science in applied mathematics that prepares students for careers in a range of fields through the advanced understanding of the mathematics underlying physical science, engineering science, and biological science.

UW’s MS in applied mathematics can be completed in as a little as 36 quarter-credits, with students taking an average of 42 credits to complete the program. Examples of coursework in the program include numerical analysis of boundary value problems, fundamentals of optimization, applied linear algebra and introductory numerical analysis, and introduction to dynamical systems and chaos.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s in mathematics, applied mathematics, a branch of science, or engineering. Tuition to the program is $975 per credit-hour.

Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas

Texas A&M university offers a 100 percent online master of science in mathematics designed for those who wish to teach mathematics at a K-12 or community college level. While applicants are recommended to have a bachelor’s in mathematics, computer science, engineering, or a related field, those without a non-math bachelor’s can apply to the program so long as they have completed advanced-level undergraduate courses in mathematics (calculus, modern algebra, etc).

Students enrolled in the 36-credit-hour program can choose to follow a teaching math option or a computational math option. Coursework in the program includes a history of mathematics, computational algebraic geometry, linear algebra, and numerical analysis. Tuition for residents is $7,444 per year and $15,598 per year for non-residents, plus a $150-per-credit-hour fee for online learning.

University of Central Florida (UCF) – Orlando, Florida

Those looking to inspire the next generation of mathematicians can consider earning an online graduate certificate in mathematics from UCF. Open to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution, UCF’s online certificate program is specifically designed to prepare graduates to teach mathematics in high school or state colleges.

Coursework in the 18-credit-hour program includes topics in advanced calculus, advanced linear algebra and matrix theory, scientific computing, and an introduction to differential geometry. GRE scores are not required for application, but students must complete prerequisite coursework in calculus, differential equations, and matrix and linear algebra. Tuition for the program is $327.32 per credit-hour for in-state students and $694.82 for out-of-state students.

Mentors – Three Math Gurus to Know

Those considering degree programs online or on-campus should take the time to research professors. Finding programs whose professors have research interest overlap, and/or practical expertise in the student’s career of interest can make all the difference in what a student gains in a degree program. Learn more about three professors teaching in online math programs.

DIY Mathematics Education

Although higher degrees are necessary for a broad range of mathematics occupations, the price tag or structure may not be right for some budding mathematicians. For those who like to learn as needed, those who only need certain skills to advance in their careers, those who want to engage in professional development without incurring debt, or those who want to try out a certain mathematical discipline before committing to a degree program, some of these DIY methods may be the best pathway.

Coursera (Low Cost)

Coursera offers three different levels of 100 percent online coursework developed by the nation’s top universities to help people learn new career skills.

Courses, the shortest of the three levels, are four to six weeks in length and cost anywhere from $29 to $99 per course. Specializations, more rigorous and hands-on than courses, are four to six months in length and cost anywhere from $39 to $79 per month. Coursera also offers degree programs that take one to three years, and cost $15 to $25,000.

In regard to mathematics, Coursera offers courses, specializations, and degrees in data science, computer science, information technology, math and logic, and physical science and engineering.

EdX (Free/Low Cost)

EdX offers free coursework at beginner, intermediate, and advanced learning levels, as well as low-cost online degrees from some of the top universities and companies in the U.S.

EdX offers free math courses in pre-algebra, algebra, linear algebra, calculus, geometry, logic, probability, regression, and statistics. EdX also offers free courses in computer science, data analysis and statistics, economics and finance, engineering, and physics.

Those choosing to complete an EdX course can complete the course for free, or, for resume boosting can pay a fee to earn a verified certificate of completion. For example, HarvardX offers an eight-week course in principles, statistics, and computational tools for reproducible data science that a student can take for free, or pay $99 for a verified certificate.

Udacity (Free/Low Cost)

Udacity is a tech-focused online learning platform with both free and low-cost options to level up one’s skills.

Udacity offers coursework in five “schools:” programming and development, artificial intelligence, data science, autonomous systems, and business. Each school offers certain free courses and a range of nanodegree programs designed to teach a specific skill set or prepare graduates for a specific career. For example, in the school of data science, one can enroll in the data analysis and visualization course for free as a tryout, and then move on to enroll in a four-month data analyst nanodegree program for $999.

Free courses allow students to access course content and participate in projects, while paid courses provide adjudication of one’s work and mentorship.

Khan Academy (Free)

Relying on donations and volunteer hours, Khan Academy is committed to delivering online education for free, for everyone, forever. Khan Academy offers free courses in mathematics, science and engineering, computing, and economics and finance.

Much of the coursework is coded by grade-level, making Khan Academy a great resource for those who are looking to brush up on fundamental math skills or those looking to level up their abilities so that they can teach.

Khan Academy provides course flows in specific subjects, and learning is all self-motivated (i.e. without instructors or mentors). For example, a student at Khan Academy hoping to learn multivariable calculus has different courseflow options (e.g., derivatives of multivariable functions, applications of multivariable derivatives, etc.)—all of which include a structured set of videos and information designed to help the student master the concepts.

Open Learning at Harvard University (Free)

Harvard’s Extension School offers the public the ability to take Harvard-quality coursework online for free. For those looking to improve mathematical skills, Harvard offers free coursework in computer science, data science, mathematics, and programming. For example, those looking to expand their understanding of probability can take “Fat Chance: Probability from the Ground Up,” which is a seven-week, self-paced online course.

Becca Brewer
Becca Brewer
Writer

Becca Brewer holds a master's of education (MEd) in human sexuality education. She loves to read, write, cycle, travel, take photos, connect with people she loves, and tell stories that unite. Currently exploring a life built on volunteerism, deep connection, learning through difference, and leading with love, Becca is the cofounder of Limitless: A Worldwide Adventure for the Environment. You can join the adventure at Limitless.Eco.

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