Major Profile: Applied Mathematics
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by Tobias Joel

In high school mathematics, the focus is finding answers. The goal is to extract an answer from a prepared question. In Applied Mathematics, the process is reversed: the focus is finding questions. The goal is to extract a question that opens analysis of the world around us. To put it simply, typical math is like taking a recipe to the grocery store and buying what you need. Applied mathematics, on the other hand, is enjoying an excellent dish and then researching combinations of ingredients and cooking techniques to create that taste.

In Applied Mathematics, no method is specified and no pre-existing answer is at hand. It’s about finding mathematical patterns in the real world, rather than simply measuring processes numerically.  As we know from experience, the real world is an asymmetric mixture of relationships, some measurable and others not, some predictable and others chance, some perceptible and others unseen. Applied Mathematics is devoted to using math for studying this dynamic environment.

Because of this holistic approach, pursuing Applied Mathematics requires as much curiosity about the world as it does curiosity about math. And it is an opportunity for mathematically-minded students to combine various interests, and interact with various fields.

So what do Applied Mathematics majors actually study?

Current topic in Applied Mathematics include:

  • Probability modeling genetic code, which has thus far eluded traditional statistics
  • Modeling the size and frequency of solar flares
  • Predicting how many whales will migrate past a certain point next year

All of these topics use math to understand complexity that typical math cannot address. It requires creative problem solving, which means that Applied Mathematics majors are well-positioned to excel in all of the sciences, as well as in business and law. The focus on rigorous inquiry turns students into deep thinkers that can make creative contributions in many fields.

So how to know if you will like Applied Mathematics?

If you enjoy any of the following activities, you may also appreciate majoring in applied mathematics:

  • Solving a Rubik’s cube
  • Tracking sports statistics
  • Following a recipe in metric units
  • Reading a newspaper in a foreign language
  • Building a ham radio
  • Writing with your other hand
  • Walking in someone else’s shoes

Point is, applied mathematics is about creatively rethinking what we see around us.

Which universities should I consider for Applied Mathematics?

The top schools in science and engineering will all offer some form of Applied Mathematics. But there are other important schools to consider, beyond these top names, that give students a chance to study cutting-edge Applied Mathematics. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Stony Brook University
  • Bryant University
  • Virginia Military Institute
  • Rice University
  • University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
  • University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • UC San Diego
  • San Jose State University

If you or your student is interested in these topics, the best thing to do today is: read and begin expanding curiosity. Applied Mathematics is all about questions, so the more a student is exposed current research, the better.

And for what jobs does Applied Mathematics prepare me?

Wherever numbers meet the real world, the Applied Mathematics major will find work. Important professional outcomes for Applied Mathematics include:

  • Actuarial Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Data Analyst
  • Statistician
  • Software Engineer

In addition to these options, the Applied Mathematics major prepares students for graduate school in the physical sciences or mathematics.

So get curious and get started now!