Majoring in Math


What can I do with a degree in math?

Many students major in mathematics because they want to become math teachers, either at a high school level or at the college or university level. SJSU math alumni also work in industries ranging from aviation safety to risk management to financial planning to satellite design. In fact, one of the three co-founders of Oracle, Edward Oates, graduated from SJSU with a BA Math degree. The MAA website, is a good place to find out about careers in math. 

How do I change my major to math?

If you are interested in changing your major to math,  attend our orientation in mid November.  After attending the orientation, you need to fill out the change of major form found at the registrar's website and submit your forms to the department office. The change of major request is subject to department approval and may require approval from AARS.

What do I need to request a change of major to math?

  1. A C- or better in Math 30, 31, 32, 42 and 39.
  2. A 2.25 GPA or higher in all mathematics courses taken, starting with Calculus 1.

In addition to the requirements above, all students wanting to change their major to a BA Math or BS Applied Math degree who have at least 75 units are required to submit a roadmap to graduation in their proposed major. This may consist of either submitting up-to-date major forms in your current and proposed major, or submitting a semester-by-semester timeline of courses to completion of proposed major. Note that a proposal requiring a significant extension of time to graduation may be denied.

The requirements stated above will make a student eigible to apply for the change of major but does not guarantee approval.  We will be accpeting change of major requests from Dec 1 to Jan 15  and from May 1 - June 15.


What is the hardest part of the major? How do I make it less hard?

That depends on whom you ask. What is difficult to you may not be difficult to others. It is generally agreed that Math 108, Math 128A/B, Math 131 A/B are more abstract, more rigorous and more challenging than some other required courses. You should not plan on taking more than one of those in a regular semester. Each of Math 128 and Math 131 can take up as much time as two regular classes.

Talking to your advisor is the best way to work out your difficulties and avoid difficulty situations (such as taking too many difficult classes). Working with other students and developing friends and community is another way to making the process more enjoyable.

What does "discrete" and "continuous" math mean?

Roughly speaking, discrete mathematics deals with the mathematics of countable things (a countable set is one whose elements can be counted, such as the positive integers). So number theory, algebra, logic, etc. are closely related to discrete math. Continuous math is about studying things which cannot be counted this way, like the real numbers between 0 and 1. Calculus, differential equations, probability, etc. are more related to continuous math. These mathematics feel different but frequently help each other.

What does "pure" and "applied" math mean?

Pure mathematics generally refers to the study of mathematics for its own sake without any regard to its applications. Even though it is generally associated with rigor and abstraction, this aspect makes it similar to art. For trained eyes, mathematics can be beautiful and exquisite, just like a painting. Examples of areas which are usually considered pure mathematics are abstract algebra, topology, and number theory. But each of these areas have been applied to real world problems. Lie Algebras are used in physics, knot theory is being applied to protein folding, and number theory is used in cryptography. So beautiful mathematics can be useful as well.

Applied mathematics is directly motivated by real world problems, but we cannot escape rigor and abstraction. There are still theorems to be proven, algorithms to be developed and evaluated, errors to be estimated. Examples of areas commonly considered applied mathematics are differential equations, numerical analysis, operation research, statistics, actuarial science. Differential equations is sometimes referred to as the mathematical language of science and engineering because many laws and principles of science can be expressed as a differential equation. For example, in calculus you learn that Newton's second law, F = ma, as applied to a free falling object, can be written as a differential equation, x"(t)=-g. Applied mathematics is not as simple as "plugging it in". In high school, you learned how to solve a system of 2 linear equations with 2 unknowns. What if you have 1,000,000 equations and 1,000,000 unknowns? Can you still use the same method? Assuming there is a solution to the problem, the answer is "Sure. Why not?". You can use a method called Gaussian elimination to find the answer to the system of equations... in theory. We are talking about 1,000,001,000,000 coefficients. That's a LOT of numbers to remember. And it would require 1,000,000,999,996,500,002 arithmetic operations (How long are you willing to work on this?) And if you use a computer, there are other issues like memory, efficiency, accuracy, and stability. The problem of solving a large or ill-behaved system of equations comes up in so many applications that we offer an entire course on the subject, Math 143M.