I'm a third-year undergraduate student yet to experience the graduate world. Currently, with the course choices I made, I can choose between two degree titles, namely “BSc Mathematics” or “BSc Applied Mathematics”.

I will be taking the same courses regardless, but I'm wondering if it matters to have a different degree title. E.g., might one of the titles benefit me or does it not matter at all (in terms of job prospects, continuing to my master’s, …)?

Moderator’s notice: Do not take this as a shopping question as to which of these specific titles is better (you can use them as examples though). Instead, focus on the relevance of such differences in the title in general.

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    I think that's a perfectly reasonable question! As an undergraduate it's not clear whether the name of a degree has any effect. My gut feeling is not very much at all. It's not worth losing sleep over! In the grand scheme of things it is probably negligible. But I'll let someone else answer this with more experience (both inside and outside academia!). Maybe I'd suggest you just pick what you want to call yourself when you introduce yourself. Would you want to call yourself a mathematician or would you prefer applied mathematician? And then pick your degree title similarly. – user2705196 Jun 15 '19 at 13:18
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    Maybe just to clarify: how you introduce yourself (at a party or a job interview) is of course independent of your degree title. But if you identify more with one over the other why not pick the corresponding degree title. – user2705196 Jun 15 '19 at 13:20
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    I disagree with the close votes. This is a perfectly reasonable in-scope question, whose correct answer is “Nobody cares.” – JeffE Jun 15 '19 at 15:33
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    I edited this question to focus on the relevance of the title in general, instead of which of the specific titles the asker can choose from is better. This is also the question that the existing answers address. – Wrzlprmft Jun 15 '19 at 19:37
  • @Wrzlprmft nice edit! – Flyto Jun 21 '19 at 16:34

In the long term it won't matter at all. There might be a small effect in moving to your next position depending on whether you go to grad school or to industry, but after a few years no one will notice anymore. You will be responsible for your own reputation and people will look to that, not to the specific degree you earned - especially its title.

I also studied math, but in the US. Here we have a very broad undergraduate education, studying many things beyond the major subject. At graduation I had qualified for either a BS or a BA and was given the choice. I chose BA as it seemed to me to be more "interesting". I had taken extra courses both in math and in other subjects. But it never mattered. Literally no one cared. For entry to grad school the transcript shows what I had done.

But, you might use the opportunity to think about what you want to do for the next ten or so years. Grad school and academia, or industry.

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    By about 10 years into my career as a programmer nobody much cared that my bachelor's degree was in mathematics, not computer science. What I had done since graduation, and could do, was much more important. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 15 '19 at 10:04
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    I don’t think it matters even in the short term. People don’t hire (and grad schools don’t admit) based on the name of your major; they look for specific skills, accomplishments, and interests. – JeffE Jun 15 '19 at 15:36
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    No one cared even past the initial interview for me. (I have a degree in Psychology and English). Since I could do the programming I got the job, and after that it's moot. – Rietty Jun 15 '19 at 21:30

It's mostly irrelevant, but it might come up in a few weird situations.

If you want to take the US Patent Bar, for example, you need to establish that you've had some kind of scientific or technical training. Often, this is done by showing that you have an Batchelor's Degree in a recognized technical subject from this list (see page 4).. Any degree in Computer Engineering will sail right through, but Computer Science degrees need to be ABET-accredited (and fairly few programs--especially the 'good ones' are). Likewise, pharmacology is on the approved list, but "pharmacy" is not. This seems like ridiculous hairsplitting, but there you have it.

Similar situations occasionally crop up in federal hiring and immigration, especially when point systems are used. Quebec gives potential immigrants "points" based on their Bachelor's concentration. I suspect you might be able to finagle Math vs. Applied Math, since those seem pretty similar to a layperson, but something like Psychology vs. Neuroscience vs. Biology might be harder (even if the coursework is identical).

I wouldn't necessarily plan your whole life around the major you choose, but if you have something specific in mind for the near future, do check!

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  • Surprised about your comments on ABET. Wikipedia reports that 637 colleges have programs that are ABET accredited (various fields). – Buffy Jun 15 '19 at 20:32
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    Yeah, but look for computer science specifically. It doesn't include Stanford, CMU, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, or Princeton. It does include Devry Tech though.... – Matt Jun 15 '19 at 20:53
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    They aren't all like Devry, though. The standards are actually pretty high. – Buffy Jun 15 '19 at 20:54
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    I think it probably does make sense in certain fields, but computer science may not be one of them. (This is the argument Stanford makes --their EE program is accredited, but CS is intentionally not). Anyway, that's sort of my point here. You may want/need a degree that checks some box (like ABET-accredidation) and if so, that should inform your choice of declared major. – Matt Jun 15 '19 at 21:00

As far as I can tell, (almost) nobody cares. (I am saying "almost" because I am working in a very "pure" mathematics group and the professors in my group often speak with disdain (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) about "applied" mathematicians. Their impression of you would probably be slighly better if you were a mathematician. On the other hand, some people in industry might be slight unconsiously biased in favor of applied mathematicians. (Keep in mind that many people in industry in charge of hiring do not understand what the courses on your transcript are about.)

But this is only a slight thing. It is not so important. Just follow your feelings about what you feel more for.

Another recommendation: If it is common that people in your school choose their title, ask around what the advantages are. Maybe those people can give you better information why it should matter than this site.

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As a former recruiter and employer of graduates, I would say that the words you use to describe your degree are of negligible importance. What is vitally important is that you should be able to explain, in plain English as to a non-expert, why what you have studied for your degree is highly relevant to the job that you wish to obtain - or not. People are recruited to do jobs that bear no relation to the detail of their undergraduate degree.

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You might be heading towards graduate school right now, but you may also end up looking for work in industry. In that case, many (most?) people involved hiring processes will not take the time to check what courses you've actually taken, and may categorize your application based in part on your degree title. I'm not saying what's better than what, but the connotations for "math" and "applied math" are different. So it matters at least in that respect.

Also, on a personal level - I would want my title to reflect what I feel I've focused on in my studies. What would you rather say you studied? Abstract/general mathematics, or applied mathematics? Maybe make your choice that way.

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I would lean towards applied math because it sets you up for more, well, applied jobs, and even grad schools. If you want to head into pure math grad school or even pure math professor jobs (post Ph.D.), they will just look at your actual accomplishments. All that said, many schools don't have a math versus applied math difference (just one general degree). And math undergrad remains a somewhat flexible degree, so it's not like people will completely pigeon hold you as a purist, just from listing math.

Maybe a better way to think about the question is where are you headed (work or school, if work what field, if school what field). There may be a (still weak) match of some opportunities versus particular major slant.

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