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Education

Why should students take mathematics courses?

The following article was written by Colin Adams, for the undergraduates of Williams College:

Reasons for Taking Math

There are the obvious reasons, such as the inherent beauty in mathematics, the development of analytical and problem-solving skills or the usefulness of mathematics in virtually every discipline.

But what if you're not convinced??

What if you say, "Hey, look. I want to go work for a major corporation and roll in money when I get home from work every night. I don't care about the greater virtues of mathematics."

Well then, mathematics is for you.

We surveyed major corporations which employ Williams graduates, such as Merrill Lynch, Digital Equipment, Olgivy and Mather, Bank of Boston, Shearson, Lehman, Hutton and others. We asked them what mathematics courses they would like to applicants for positions at their companies to have had.

Of fifteen companies responding so far, the results are as follows:

103  Calculus I         9

104  Calculus II        9

105  Calculus III       3

211  Linear Algebra     8

151  Discrete Math      3

140  Statistics        13

241  Intermediate
        Statistics      8

Only one of the responding companies said that particular mathematics courses are not needed.

Several quotes of comments made on the surveys include:

    "We stress the need for a very strong math background, especially for traders and arbitrage positions."

    "High grades in math courses are strong indicators of analytical/reasoning ability."

    "The ability to be comfortable with complex quantitative analysis is crucial to our decision in hiring a candidate."

When asked to rank fields according to their preference for applicants' majors, economics was ranked first, followed closely by mathematics. Computer science was a distant third, followed by an even more distant psychology. However, approximately half the respondents said the particular major was not an important consideration in the hiring decision.

So what if you don't plan to go into business?

We also surveyed professional schools including law, government, medical and business schools.

Law schools seem to prefer some statistics, while medical schools like to see at least a semester of calculus even though they do not necessarily require it for admission. Business schools like to see a semester of calculus, linear algebra and some statistics. The schools of government generally prefer two semesters of calculus.

Most of the schools responding have no preference as to major, with the exception of the schools of government, which favor economics, political science and mathematics slightly.

The [Williams College] mathematics department will be offering the following courses which you may be interested in:

Math 102 Mathematics of Finance
Math 103 Calculus I
Math 104 Calculus II
Math 105 Multivariable Calculus
Math 140 Calculus and Statistics
Math 151 Discrete Mathematics
Math 211 Linear Algebra
Math 241 Intermediate Statistics


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