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Math and your career.

Math and Your Career

Solving a math problem requires thought, concentration, and practice. Sometimes, math requires extra effort. Is the effort worth it? Yes.

One reason we all need math skills is to cope in today's complex world. We need to use math every day--in balancing a checkbook, shopping for groceries, cooking, making up a personal budget, or working on a car, for example. This type of math is often referred to as consumer math.

Math is important in a great many occupations, too. Auto mechanics, for example, must solve problems with gear ratios and often must convert measurements into the metric scale. Surveyors measure length and angles and use the Pythagorean theorem. Tax accountants, farmers, and real estate brokers are a few of the many professionals who must know how to calculate various types of interest rates. Top salaries are often paid in jobs held by workers with strong backgrounds in higher level math. Engineer, actuary, architect, systems analyst, underwriter, and financial manager are examples of math-related jobs that pay well.

Even if math were never used in personal life or on the job, it would still be a useful subject to study. In studying math, we develop skills in problem-solving; we learn how to think through a problem logically, break it down, and solve it step by step. We also learn how to pose questions, analyze situations, translate results, and make estimates. That's why the study of math is an important part of a well-rounded education.

Recognizing the place of mathematics in education, most high schools require at least a year or two of it for graduation. Entry to most colleges also requires some proficiency in math, regardless of major. And standardized, nationwide achievement tests used to screen college applicants contain many mathematical problems. In short, wise students learn math whether they see a use for it or not.

How Much Is Enough?

Math is not an easy subject for some people to learn--but it can be learned. Some young people are "psyched out' by math, confusing lack of effort with lack of aptitude. But extra effort in this area now will pay you big dividends in the future. We live in an increasingly technical world, one that requires more education, including math. Applications of mathematical skills are being used in fields not directly connected with math-- the life sciences and the social sciences, for example.

Deciding how much high school math to take is easier if career goals have been established. However, it is better to take what may seem to be too much math rather than too little. Career plans change, and one of the biggest roadblocks in undertaking new educational or training goals is poor preparation in mathematics. Furthermore, not only do people qualify for more jobs with more math, they are also better able to perform their jobs because of the math they have taken. An economist, for instance, who also has a good background in statistics is more adept an using various forecasting methods than one who does not have the same math background.

For some jobs, such as secretary or cashier, a year of high school consumer math is enough. But some of these occupations will require at least some additional high school math in the future. And as technology increases, workers with little training in mathematics may face a narrower range of career possibilities.

Students interested in the skilled trades often need several years of shop math. Two years of regular high school mathematics are often needed for admittance to a technical or junior college, especially in technical or science programs.

There is another reason for taking as much high school math as possible even if a college education is not anticipated. Students with a good math background qualify for more jobs than students with minimum math. For example, vocational students sometimes find that they lose job opportunities to other students who have higher levels of math and score higher on apprenticeship entrance examinations.

The general rule for high school students planning to go on to a 4-year college is, "Take as much math as possible.' For science, engineering, and a few social science programs, courses must usually include algebra, advanced algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and advanced senior mathematics, such as calculus.

Even students planning to pursue a liberal arts educational would do well to carry a full load of mathematics during high school, since college admissions officials favor applicants who have good grades in academic subjects, such as mathematics. Some school recompute students' over-all grade averages excluding nonacademic subjects.

Your Move

Mathematics is more than just a collection of rules and formulas to memorize. Rather, it is a tool that can be used in school and out, at leisure and at work. It is a subject that is becoming increasingly important, a subject worth putting some extra effort into. Go for it!
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Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1987
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