Crunching the Numbers: Mathematics vs. Physics DegreeCrunching the Numbers: Mathematics vs. Physics DegreeCrunching the Numbers: Mathematics vs. Physics Degree

At its simplest, our world exists as a series of numbers and formulas. Everything we see, feel, interact with, think about, and explore follows the laws of physics and mathematics. Every year, new discoveries in these fields further our understanding of the universe.

Students who enjoy working with numbers and equations will likely find the study of mathematics or physics both challenging and fascinating. These two academic disciplines help us understand why matter and energy behave the way they do, which can lead to impact and innovation beyond the lab. Students considering a mathematics vs. a physics degree need to understand the finer points of each discipline, the curriculum emphasized in each degree path, and what careers are possible after earning a diploma.

Mathematics Degree Overview

Coursework for a bachelor’s degree in math requires students to take their baseline knowledge and passion for mathematics and jump into advanced calculus and algebra courses, as well as statistics and differential equations work. A forward-thinking mathematics program such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Mathematics will also include courses in data science and computer programming. This curriculum puts its graduates in a position to learn real-world skills they can use to enter a data- and tech-driven job market following graduation.

What Do Mathematics Degree Graduates Do?

Graduates have the skills and know-how to land entry-level jobs in data or statistical analysis, perhaps as statistical consultants or financial analysts. There, they can use their programming and data analysis abilities to help organizations understand markets, communities, and more. Or, they can bring their passion for mathematics to the classroom as a teacher. Mathematics graduates can also enter a related graduate study program, such as data science or statistical analysis.

Types of careers:

  • Mathematician
  • Data scientist
  • Statistical consultant
  • Teacher

Physics Degree Overview

The field of physics, in its most basic form, applies mathematics to the physical world. Physicists use advanced mathematics such as calculus, algebra, geometry, and differential equations to describe how forces and matter interact with one another. During undergraduate study, physics majors take courses in particle physics, astrophysics, biophysics, and medical physics. Physics majors also spend time in laboratories, performing experiments to test theories and equations.

What Do Physics Degree Graduates Do?

With an undergraduate degree, physics graduates can become elementary science or secondary physics teachers, or they can work in laboratories performing experiments.

To pursue a career as a research physicist, either in theoretical or experimental physics, undergraduate degree holders need to earn an advanced degree, often a PhD. This requires many years of original research and can lead to a position as a physics professor at a university, doing a combination of teaching and research, or at a scientific institution such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) or the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Types of careers:

  • Physicist
  • Teacher
  • Researcher
  • Lab technician

Similarities Between Mathematics and Physics Degrees

Both mathematics and physics degree programs include advanced mathematics courses. Because of this, students should enter the programs with a strong foundation in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. There are often courses in the two majors that overlap, such as advanced calculus, algebra, and differential equations. Both degrees prepare students for entry-level positions, but these positions often require graduates to follow up with advanced degrees in the field.

Differences Between Mathematics and Physics Degrees

Some differences between mathematics and physics degrees can be found in their core areas of focus, lab requirements, and versatility in the job market.

Course Offerings

Physics degrees offer courses in disciplines such as fluid mechanics, biophysics, astrophysics, quantum physics and relativity, particle physics, and electromagnetism. In addition to theoretical work, those who pursue a physics degree often participate in lab work. There, students perform experiments, prove theories, and conduct research.

A mathematics curriculum includes courses such as mathematical statistics, abstract algebra, advanced calculus, probability, and, potentially, computer programming or machine learning. These degree programs tend not to include lab work, though they may require students to apply mathematical equations to real-life situations. For example, a statistical analysis can be applied to data around business performance.

Job Application

When it comes to employment, an undergraduate degree in mathematics provides more diverse opportunities than one in physics. For example, mathematics graduates, especially those with computer programming and statistical analysis skills, can enter the workforce in the business sector, helping companies analyze different financial markets and data sets of consumer behavior. Though the job title of “mathematician” is difficult to come by, there are many jobs available that require math skills, such as in data science and analysis.

Physics graduates, on the other hand, often need a graduate degree to pursue a career in the field. They may find work as a teacher or researcher with a bachelor’s degree, but even these paths may require specialization or additional certification.

Mathematics vs. Physics Degree: Which Is Right for You?

If complex formulas and equations –– and solving difficult problems on the page and in the real world –– are things you enjoy, then an undergraduate degree in mathematics or physics might offer the intellectual challenge you crave. Students looking for a versatile degree that relates to physics but leads to more potential job opportunities post-graduation may find mathematics ideal. Check out Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, which includes a minor in data science, to see how it may fit into your career goals.


American Mathematical Society, Data on the Profession

Maryville University, 5 Unique Careers in Mathematics 

Maryville University, Online BS in Mathematics Curriculum 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physicists

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