Which direction should I take with my Applied Mathematics degree?

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appliedmathHenrietta at Radford University asked:

“I’m graduating early with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics, but I have no idea which direction I want to take with my degree. Whether it’s medicine, engineering, computer science, going to graduate school, or just jumping into the working world, I can’t decide what to do and I feel like I’m running out of time!”

Congratulations, Henrietta, and thank you for writing in! Preparing for graduation is an exciting time full of life changes and big decisions. It can also be an anxious and nerve racking time if you’re unsure which changes are worth making or if you’re making the right decisions.

Relax! Take a deep breath! You have a long and exciting life of work ahead of you, full of unexpected variables and changes you can’t always plan for. Your first job will likely not be your last job, and your first career doesn’t have to be your only career!

Don’t be afraid to take risks! Now is the time to try internships, get a feel for what careers are out there, explore how graduate school could enhance your career prospects, and consider the numerous paths your degree could allow you to pursue.

Explore your options.

As you are starting your career exploration, a great first stop is Radford University’s Career Center. Your career advising team will help you navigate and weigh the options of the different paths you want to explore; they can ask the right questions to help you figure out the answers!

If you want to take on an internship, your career advisor will have connections with local employers and help you find relevant opportunities. Internships are a great way to try on a career and see firsthand if it’s a job you’ll enjoy. If you do an internship and love the work, then you will have gained relevant experience to put on your resume and made professional contacts in that field!

Even if it turns out that the job just isn’t for you, you will have still gained valuable experience and saved yourself the trouble of becoming more specialized in a career you wouldn’t enjoy.

If you want to explore graduate school options, you career advisors can help you weigh the costs and benefits of more education. Some career paths benefit from or require a Master’s degree, doctorate or additional certifications. In other careers, a Master’s may not enhance your prospects.  Your career adviser will have information on whether or not graduate education is appropriate for your desired career path, so you can make an informed decision.

Maximize your time left in school.

School is not only about taking classes and getting through the gauntlet of papers and projects. You’re learning valuable life skills and gaining relevant experience for the working world from your classwork, clubs, activities, atheltics, part-time work or volunteering. You’re also rubbing elbows with other people who share your passions, and may one day be your colleagues. Take advantage of your remaining time as a student! Don’t let the rush to finish and get a degree distract you from taking time to explore your career prospects.

Use your time as a student to create lasting professional connections. Reach out to Radford’s Alumni Relations or their official LinkedIn page. Search for applied math graduates who are in the fields that interest you. Pick their brains! How did they get to where they are? What do they wish they had known earlier or done differently? What advice might they have for a prospective graduate interested in their field? Their answers may help you narrow down your career interests. For more information on this kind of informational interviewing, download out guide on additional questions and tips.

Pay a visit to your department deans and professors, after all they likely have math degrees too! They may be able to share with you what careers other math graduates pursued, as well as some information on possible internship opportunities.

Start exploring your career options and building your professional network while finishing school, and the transition after graduation will be much smoother!

Don’t forget what’s important!

While you’re exploring your possible career paths, and dipping your toe into the working world, keep in mind the things that are important to you. What do you value in your workplace? What types of people do you want to work for and with? Do you want to work in the field, an office or a lab? Under what conditions do you do your best work?

The more you work, the easier it will be to put words to your work style and values, and the more discerning you may become about your work place environment. If a job sounds great on paper, but you don’t factor in your workplace satisfaction, that job may not be so great after all! Finding a job isn’t only about meeting the requirements of the job description: it’s a combination of your passions, your experiences, and your values. Finding the right balance is the key to a great career!

Best of Luck!


About the Author

Esme Smith

Esme received her M.A. In Counseling from St. Edward's University, and worked with students at Concordia University Texas' Career Center. She developed a passion for Career Counseling after leaving undergrad without much guidance, and grappling with unsatisfying work. She strives to help others bridge the gap between graduation and "the real world."

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