Cornell math course in action

Mathematics and statistics degree options

  • Major in mathematics
  • Minor in mathematics
  • Minor in applied mathematics
  • Teaching major in mathematics
  • Minor in applied statistics

Pure math or applied math?

What differentiates theoretical mathematics (sometimes referred to as pure math) from applied math? Good question. Let’s think about what you’ll do as a maestro of theoretical math versus an expert in applied mathematics.

The maestro of math sees beauty in abstract math theories. Curiosity is the driving force of a theoretical mathematician. What if …?—and their work begins with a question or an idea and in the end (if there is ever an end) their work may not be applied to any concrete, real-world problem. Theorists gravitate towards careers in research and academia, where they can pass on their ideas to the next generation of mathematical masters.

On the other hand, sometimes by following the mathematician’s muse, world-changing applications like the computer, become a reality not just a heavenly idea. (Thanks, Alan Turing.)

Just as the name suggests, an expert in applied mathematics solves tangible problems, down here on earth. Their initial impetus is a real world problem and they apply quantitative techniques towards practical solutions. You’ll find applied mathematicians in a diverse array of fields—engineering, physics, biology, sociology, economics—as they get the job done across many different industries.

A statistician walked into the room…

...and told a story reliant on data. As a statistician, you’re analyzing data in order to discover patterns—patterns that tell a story. Some mystics might say that a statistician is like a fortune teller, but instead of peering into a crystal ball, you’ll dig into carefully documented research. Get comfortable working across a swath of interdisciplinary fields as you work with the spreadsheets of data pertinent to the subject matter at hand. What does it reveal? What predictions can be made?

Sound like something you’d like? Explore career options at:

One Course At A Time

At Cornell, classes meet for three to four hours a day, but this does not mean three to four hour lectures. Professors use the extended class time for group projects and collaborative problem solving, allowing you to develop teamwork, communication, and presentation skills to supplement your mastery of the subject.

For example, you might work with a team to find the optimal arrangement of housing designs in an apartment complex or serve as expert witnesses in assessing the safety of a local skate park. And in Data Analytics, which is team-taught by professors of statistics and computer science, you can learn sophisticated ways to work with, analyze, and visualize data.

And the best part, you get to focus on just one course for each 18-day block, immersing yourself in an experiential study of the material at hand.

Finish strong

Majors complete a capstone experience consisting of an advanced research project and by participating in the department’s innovative culture points program.

Earn culture points through a variety of activities:

  • Attend seminars
  • Pass the foundational (some might say infamous) sophomore exam, which if you do the math (correctly), is the biggest points winning activity of them all
  • Compete in mathematics or statistics competitions
  • Solve challenge problems provided each block
  • Participate in the Math Club

Recent research projects:

  • Principal Component Analysis: A Brief Tutorial
  • An Introduction to Homotopy
  • A Model for Predicting the NCAA Basketball Tournament
  • Fubini’s Theorem and General Measure Theory
  • Predicting West Nile Virus in California Using Machine Learning

Students have also been successful in landing summer or semester-long research placements at a variety of prestigious institutions, both in the U.S. and abroad. If you don’t want to leave the Hilltop to conduct your research, stick around in the summer and team up with faculty at the Cornell Summer Research Institute.