Is it a bad idea to do a math major?

Hello, so I’m about at the end of my associate’s degree at a state college in physics and I’m not doing too hot with the whole physics program. I’m supposed to transfer to a university once I finish but I don’t think a physics major is a good fit for me (long story short, my professor all but told me I’m not smart enough for it).

I’ve finished Calc 1-3 now and I’ve enjoyed every math class so far but I’m thinking as I haven’t done that much math I might be naive in assuming a math major is a good fit for me. For that reason I was hoping to get some advice as to what the major is like and if I’m making a silly conclusion thinking math is a good major.
Any advice is appreciated, thanks.

Wait, good major for me. Everytime I said good major I meant more like a good fit. No bashing the math majors here haha.

Upper level math courses will emphasize proofs. You may see some introduction to proofs in discrete math, linear algebra, or honors math courses at lower levels.

Math or applied math sometimes go into finance, actuarial, operations research, or high school math teacher jobs. A related major is statistics.

A suggestion, to see if it’s a good fit for you: take a look at the required math courses for the major at the university to which you will be transferring. Do you have the pre-reqs?

If I’m reading it right, I believe the only prereqs I haven’t completed are ODE’s 1 and for one of the schools a Computer Science class.

To cut to the chase:

Are your physics performance issues in any way rooted in your calculus or higher mathematics ability?

Tells us about your instruction. Graduate assistants? Native English speakers? Class sizes?

Well, not really my higher mathematics ability I had some issues translating the problems into math but was very capable with calculations themselves. I got better at it as the class went by (sucked at rotation though). Wound up getting a B overall. Lots of students dropped the class, professor’s got a reputation as a bit of a hardass. He was not native English he was Chinese. Class size started with about 50 students ended with a little under 20 IIRC. I got A’s in all of my math classes too so I’m pretty decent in just those classes as is.

Data Science might be good for you. Not as intense as Computer Science and not as mathy as, well, Math.
At Berkeley, for example - the prereqs are: one year of Calc, Linear Algebra, a CS Data Structures class (offered at most CCs), and the first class for CS majors and the first class for DS majors. It’s a combination between CS, Applied Math, Stats, and whatever domain you choose, whether it be Computational Biology or Urban Planning or Econometrics or something else.

If you’ve made it through Calc 3 and have done well and enjoyed, math seems like a good choice.

Like others have pointed out, applied math and data science are very valuable. Generally, not a lot of Bachelor’s options for those, so if interested, may need to get bachelor’s in math and masters in applied math or data science.

Regarding career prospects, math is something valued by both NSA and CIA. It’s a pain applying to both agencies, and you’d need to live greater DC area, but if that’s something you would be willing to consider, it’s a viable option.


What was it specifically that initially led you to seek a degree in physics?

Was there an actual job track that you were pursuing? An industry? A particular company?

Unless you’re an autodidact or a savant the ease of comprehending Newtonian and quantum physics is directly proportional to the quality of the instruction.

Math majors are hired by a wide range of industries. You can google math careers - there is a lot of information online. Whatever direction you go in, I recommend taking some computer science classes.

My daughter, like you, enjoyed calculus. She found her upper level math classes more challenging (as expected - that’s why they are upper level). They were proof heavy and more abstract than calculus. She liked them but it didn’t come as easily.

It sounds like you are off to a good start. Good luck!


Eh, silliness when I applied I wanted to be a physicist type of deal. Watched too many science specials and I enjoyed math so I thought it was a good fit.
The instruction was not great in my opinion though I could very well be biased since I struggled. A lot of guys I talked with said they had a really hard time and the professor mostly just read from the book when teaching.


What’s your dream job?


Oh man, you’re going for the hard questions here haha.

I’m not sure really, I’ve been interested in medicine for a while but not sure if I could handle what I’ve seen premeds go through (not even to mention med school).

Rocket surgery?

Physics is usually the hardest major, not only in HS, but also in colleges. Excellent math skills are necessary but not sufficient. Physics requires a level of physical intuition, and even counter-intuition, that is not based on math skills. So, not doing well in physics doesn’t mean you won’t do well in math. If you like math, you can major in math, applied math, or a number of other math-heavy majors such as CS, econ/econometrics, etc.

For perspective, the very top physicists can make even excellent physicists feel inadequate. (The historical anecdotes on this topic are fascinating.) If you are ready to move away from physics and toward math, you can. But you should, irrespective of your professor’s comments, be proud of what you have accomplished thus far.

I’m going in as a Computational Mathematics major, so I am biased, but I think you should go for it! If all else fails and you don’t know what you want to be, try becoming an actuary, that’s what I’m doing and it is one of the highest paying jobs there is, and if for some reason you hate it, you can always go back and do whatever else you want. Math is needed everywhere!

“For perspective, the very top physicists can make even excellent physicists feel inadequate.”

Aren’t the “very top physicists” usually mathematicians rather than experimentalists nowadays? That how Stephen Hawking thought of himself.

And the gap between top mathematicians and very good mathematicians is just as large if not larger than in physics. Read about Ramanujan for example and how outclassed Hardy felt by him.