student life

6 Reasons to Study Math as a Liberal Arts Major

Without detailing exactly what level should be reached, here is why we should definitely study mathematics.

We’ve previously directed a lot of attention to science students, trying to get them to take their humanities classes seriously. Now, let’s flip the script. Are you a SoSci/English/Art/Business major, dreading those STEM requirements?

If so, here are 5 everyday scenarios in which knowing a little extra math can help you.

1. Impress your date.

You pick up the check. You spend an eighth of a second calculating the tip. You add it up even faster.

Wow, manners and smarts. Your date is quite impressed.

2. Make a job less boring.

The ability to reason mathematically – which I will gain in any algebra, geometry, trig, or calculus course – will majorly help me if I decide to take up programming.

Why would I, a liberal arts major, ever do something like that?

Well for one thing, I could automate the boring stuff at my job, freeing up time to focus on what’s fun . . .

3. Spot the crap faster.

I can give you the obligatory Mark Twain quote. Or I can send you to Correlated.org, the most layman-friendly introduction to the concept that sophisticated data reports may very well mean absolutely nothing. Want to be better at evaluating claims in the news? Take a course in statistics.

4. The math majors have to take art classes, dammit.

Think of all those poor STEM students humiliated and frustrated when asked to express themselves in that creative writing class I relished last semester. I owe this to them.

4. You get to learn problem solving from multiple points of view.

My solution, and my teacher’s.

Take a problem and design a solution, or take a solution and design a proof.

I can also learn two approaches to mathematics: how to get the problem solved, and why the variables work together that way.

We all know that liberal arts is a great place to learn critical thinking skills. (I mean without a practical application, this is the main thing going for my choice of major, right?)

Seriously, though, math is an another awesome place to build those critical thinking skills, and in surprisingly beautiful ways.

5. Math – geometry, calculus, game theory, and more – is part of a grand history of the human mind.

I have literally nothing to add to this.

6. Math unlocks a sense of awe for the world around you.

Math opens up windows into the real world. There are models describing: economies. weather. wild animal populations. epidemiology. ocean currents. black holes.

We use math to understand, predict, sometimes even manipulate things we can’t see (atoms, radio waves, quasars). Maybe I don’t need to know that in my everyday experience. But even if that became as distantly magnificent to me as great works of art are to the non-art majors, I will be happy.


Resources for those with cold feet

Still skeptical? Some amazing math resources are:

  1. Euclid’s Window by Leonard Mlodinow. History of mathematics from the Greeks to quantum physics, from an author with a wicked sense of humor.
  2. Love and Math by Edward Frenkel. You have to read about math from someone genuinely in love with it, or you run the risk of never appreciating the beauty of the subject. This book doubles as an autobiography, so enjoy that if nothing else.
  3. Any calculus lectures by Professor Bruce Edwards from The Great Courses. I took my Calc III course in a distance learning format, which means they only gave me a textbook and a workbook. Edwards’ lectures saved me. And again, he genuinely loves the subject.
  4. Professor Arthur T. Benjamin‘s TGC courses are great too, and include subjects like The Joy of Mathematics, Secrets of Mental Math and Math & Magic.
  5. Geometry from Teaching Textbooks. Homeschooler nerd alert! This curriculum is so much fun – the lectures tell a story weaving geometry, logic, and history, and I already know you love at least two of those subjects.
  6. And of course, perennial favorite Khan Academy, with not only lectures but practice problems and fun little badges to earn along the way.

  • What is your relationship with math as a non-math major?
  • Do you think there is a point to your math general ed requirements?
  • For the math lovers stopping by: what are your reasons for studying mathematics? Why do you think math is useful (or not) for nonmajors?

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