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Careers & Organizations in Mathematics |  Math Major Overview | Student/Campus Activities

1. What are the most important features to look for in an undergraduate mathematics program?

a. Flexible curricular tracks. Math departments tend to be very inclusive, frequently having no minimum GPA or other requirements for progression in the major. While this provides opportunity to a broad spectrum of students with varied interests and abilities, highly talented students can find such "catch-all" curricula to be frustrating, even at more selective colleges and universities. Departments having flexible curricular tracks leading to advanced courses are better able to meet the needs of students of all abilities. The University of Tennessee offers a highly flexible program featuring eight honors courses and an Introduction to Abstract Mathematics course that provides early identification of highly talented students and allows them to pursue a rapid curricular path and take graduate-level courses as early as the junior year.

b.Strong honors program. Many math departments have "honors programs" that are not really "programs" at all, but simply an additional set of requirements, sometimes including a thesis. The University of Tennessee offers a math honors program that that identifies honors-capable students as soon as they have taken their first abstract mathematics course, generally in the freshman or sophomore year. The honors program provides a small community of scholars within the context of a large research university. Honors students are advised by Dr. Nicoara, the Honors Director, and are encouraged to take a demanding curriculum leading to an honors thesis. More details may be found at honors program.

c. Upper division sequences. No student should finish a mathematics degree without having pursued at least one subject in depth for an entire year. Many smaller colleges do not offer year-long upper division sequences, and some universities offer only one or two. The University of Tennessee offers senior-level sequences in the four core areas of Abstract Algebra, Analysis (Advanced Calculus), Probability and Numerical Analysis, plus honors sequences in Abstract Algebra and Analysis.

d. Research opportunities. Research opportunities for mathematics undergraduates abound, but math departments vary greatly in the degree to which their students participate. Departments in which students regularly participate in such programs are likely to have both highly motivated students and faculty who are either willing to work with students on research projects our provide support and encouragement to participate in programs at other institutions. The University of Tennessee has one of the longest-running Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs in the United States. This program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is primarily intended for students from other institutions, although students from the University of Tennessee do participate. Through participation as advisors in this program, many faculty have gained experience in leading undergraduate research projects, several of which have resulted in publications in mathematical journals. Faculty have also lead undergraduate projects funded by grants and programs within the university. In addition, opportunities for undergraduates are frequently posted on the undergraduate e-mail announcement listserv.

2. I got accepted to an ivy league university. Why should I attend the University of Tennessee?

If your intention is to go to graduate school, then what really matters, in the end, is where you get your graduate degree. It is important to keep in mind that most ivy league universities offer (by mutual agreement with one another) no merit scholarships. Even if the university covers 100% of your "need", the total cost of earning a bachelor's degree, including the required family contribution and loans included in the financial aid package, can exceed $100,000 for a middle class family. On the other hand, a student with a highly competitive high school record can attend the University of Tennessee at little or no cost and continue his/her education at one of the top math graduate schools in the country. One recent math graduate turned down Vanderbilt University for a free ride through the University of Tennessee, followed our rapid curriculum including a graduate course in his senior year, and was awarded a large fellowship in the Ph.D. program at Stanford University. In contrast to undergraduate education, graduate education in mathematics at highly selective universities usually costs nothing; in fact, students almost always receive tuition waivers and graduate teaching assistantships or fellowships that pay a monthly living stipend. If the University of Tennessee math program can prepare you equally well to earn such a fellowship, is the prestigious name on your undergraduate diploma really worth the enormous extra cost?

3. My high school record isn't fantastic and I didn't run for student body president, but I really like math and have done well in math contests. Can I still get a scholarship?

The math department at the University of Tennessee offers a number of scholarships for students with mathematical talents even if they haven't participated in the non-scientific "leadership" activities often required for major university scholarships. In addition, the department is committed to improving scholarship opportunities for its students, including a proposal this year to the National Science Foundation to support its undergraduates over the next several years, including scholarships for current students and support for undergraduate research.

4. What are my career opportunities if I get a math degree?

Because math majors are trained to think clearly and logically, as well as to quantify, they are sought by business, government and industry. In particular, mathematics majors do many things besides teaching.

Recent graduates have ended up in the following fields: Actuarial Science (analyzing risks for insurance companies), Banking (designing programs so that computers can do lots of things, e.g., billing and payroll), Education (teaching at all levels, including college), Operations Research (finding the optimal way to schedule alternatively, organize industrial operations, e.g., refineries, assembly lines, and inventory control), Computer Industry (designing hardware and software), Health Professions (data mining and data compression), Cryptologist (discovering how to send messages difficult to decipher, or deciphering messages from hostile nations and groups), Law (Law schools appreciate the logical training math majors receive), Investment and Securities (research departments), and Systems Analyst (helping teams of engineers solve real world problems).

Salary Trends: Mathematics majors typically receive some of the highest salaries among all college graduates. Only engineering graduates rank consistently above mathematics majors in starting salaries. Even better, the kinds of jobs math majors typically fill rank near the top on job-satisfaction surveys because mathematicians usually have considerable autonomy in structuring their jobs.

For additional information about our program, please contact Ms. Tina Murr at 865-974-1478 or email


last updated: February 2016

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