Pursuing a math major in college is a thrilling prospect for high school students who are passionate about numbers and problem-solving. While math is important for a rounded, liberal arts education, there are other aspects for potential mathematics students to look for in a college. Choosing the right undergraduate school is an important part of the process so today, we’ll outline a few schools based on different criteria to show you some of the best math colleges and universities to attend in the United States for undergrad. 

Why Study Mathematics?

Before we delve into the schools, let’s briefly explore why mathematics education can be so rewarding. Math is the language of the universe, providing the foundation for various disciplines, ranging from physics all the way to economics. A degree in math or mathematical science can sharpen your analytical and critical thinking skills and open up the door to many career opportunities. If you’re not sure what you want to do, but are confident about a career in STEM, a math degree can set you up for success in many fields. 

Top Schools Overall for Mathematics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Tuition: $59,750

Why it’s a top school in this field: MIT stands as the epitome of mathematical excellence, consistently topping global rankings. Its Mathematics Department thrives on a culture of intellectual curiosity, fostering groundbreaking research and innovation. The faculty at MIT comprises pioneers in diverse mathematical domains, offering students unparalleled mentorship.

Polygence research program mentors:

Elijah M: I'm incredibly passionate about working on problems related to circularity and climate change. Both deal with how we manage chemicals that accumulate in the environment and have detrimental impacts on humans and the environment.

Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Tuition: $54,269

Why it’s a top school in this field: Harvard's Mathematics Department is a bastion of academic rigor and collaborative exploration. With a rich history of producing influential mathematicians, Harvard provides a stimulating environment for students to engage with cutting-edge research. The faculty's commitment to mentorship and the interdisciplinary nature of mathematical inquiry at Harvard allow students to transcend traditional boundaries.

Polygence research program mentors:

Robert S: The Ph.D. work I did at Harvard can be loosely described as "microscopy meets quantum mechanics", but I am also notoriously curious about other research areas, and -- frankly -- spend a lot of my time just learning about random stuff. My most recent interests include neuroscience and the biology of aging.

Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California
Tuition: $56,169

Why it’s a top school in this field: Stanford's Mathematics Department stands at the intersection of theoretical depth and practical application. The program emphasizes interdisciplinary research, encouraging students to use applied mathematics concepts to solve real-world problems. Renowned for its innovative teaching methods, Stanford equips students with a versatile skill set, preparing them for diverse career paths. The faculty, which includes Nobel laureates and Fields Medalists, exemplifies Stanford's commitment to pushing the frontiers of mathematical knowledge. 

Polygence research program mentors:

Ashwyn S: Space is brutal and challenging due to the harsh environments and lack of power sources. To make it possible to explore the depths of the universe, we need to be creative in the ways we can harvest energy for the spacecraft. My current research passions primarily include finding new and unique ways to do this.

Princeton University

Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Tuition: $57,410

Why it’s a top school in this field: Princeton's Mathematics Department distinguishes itself with a commitment to fundamental research and individualized mentorship. The program provides students with a unique opportunity to delve deep into various mathematical disciplines while fostering a supportive community. The department's faculty, composed of leading scholars, actively engages with students in collaborative research projects.

Polygence research program mentors:

Jeffrey C: I like to build ML systems with a bit of whimsy and flair, and my favorite part of the experience is forming spicy (and often novel) connections between ideas in wildly different disciplines.

California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Location: Pasadena, California
Tuition: $58,680

Why it’s a top school in this field: Caltech's Mathematics Program, housed within a cutting-edge scientific community, offers students an intimate and collaborative learning experience. With small class sizes, students benefit from close interactions with world-renowned faculty. The department's emphasis on theoretical rigor and its interdisciplinary approach set Caltech apart. 

Polygence research program mentors: 

Vera B: My research involves exploring host-microbiome interactions, such as how host genetics influences the microbiome. I use molecular biology and bioinformatics to uncover the magical world of bacteria.

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Lesser Known Top Schools for Mathematics

Reed College

Location: Portland, Oregon
Tuition: $66,710

Why it’s a top school in this field: Nestled in the vibrant city of Portland, Reed College offers a distinctive approach to mathematics education. With a focus on theoretical understanding and problem-solving, Reed's Mathematics Department provides students with a unique intellectual experience. The small class sizes foster close relationships with faculty, creating an environment conducive to collaborative exploration. 

Haverford College

Location: Delaware County, Pennsylvania
Tuition: $67,522

Why it’s a top school in this field: Haverford's Mathematics Department stands out for its commitment to interdisciplinary exploration, allowing students to connect mathematical concepts with other fields of study. The department's emphasis on undergraduate research provides students with hands-on experience and the opportunity to contribute to meaningful projects. Haverford's small community and close-knit campus create an intimate learning environment, fostering deep connections between students and faculty. 

Carleton College

Location: Northfield, Minnesota
Tuition: $65,043

Why it’s a top school in this field: Carleton College's Mathematics Department embraces an active learning approach, encouraging students to engage in collaborative research projects. With a focus on exploration and discovery, Carleton's program emphasizes theoretical understanding and practical applications. The department's commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures that all students feel welcome and supported in their mathematical pursuits. 

St. Olaf College

Location: Northfield, Minnesota
Tuition: $56,970

Why it’s a top school in this field: St. Olaf College's Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department provides a solid foundation in both theoretical and applied mathematics. The program's commitment to experiential learning ensures that students are well-prepared for the challenges of the real world. St. Olaf's collaborative and inclusive community fosters an environment where students can explore their mathematical interests with support from dedicated faculty.

Bard College

Location: Dutchess County, New York
Tuition: $62,790

Why it’s a top school in this field: Bard College's Mathematics Program stands out for its innovative curriculum and focus on critical thinking. The program encourages students to explore the beauty and versatility of mathematics, fostering a deep appreciation for the subject. With a commitment to a liberal arts education, Bard ensures that students engage with mathematics in the context of broader intellectual inquiry. 

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Top Public Schools for Mathematics

University of California, Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California
Tuition: $15,444 in-state, $48,018 out-of-state

Why it’s a top school in this field: UC Berkeley's Mathematics Department is a powerhouse of academic excellence with a commitment to diversity and inclusivity. The program's comprehensive curriculum and vibrant research opportunities attract students from diverse backgrounds. The department's location in the San Francisco Bay Area enhances networking opportunities and collaboration with leading industries. Berkeley's rich history of producing influential mathematicians, coupled with its dedication to social responsibility, makes it a top choice for those seeking a well-rounded and impactful education in mathematics.

Polygence research program mentors:

Michael P: Artificial intelligence today is driven by the "deep neural network", and while they've shown tremendous feats, many of their problems get swept under the rug: (a) It's incredibly hard to research/develop a neural network model for a new idea/application, and also often incredibly expensive. (b) Even if you get a neural network to work on your data, these models are often quite "brittle" and break down when put in the real world. My goal is to address both of these problems, through a mathematical understanding of these models and a practical eye to make them reliably work in the real world.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tuition: $17,228 in-state, $58,072 out-of-state

Why it’s a top school in this field: The University of Michigan's Mathematics Program is distinguished by its innovative teaching methods and commitment to fostering inclusivity in STEM fields. With a focus on both theoretical understanding and practical application, the department prepares students for a wide range of career paths. The faculty's expertise spans various mathematical disciplines, providing students with a holistic and interdisciplinary education. 

Polygence research program mentors:

Eric C: My research involves optimization techniques and machine learning for medical imaging applications, primarily Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT). I am also an Algorithm Engineer at KLA, where I leverage deep learning techniques to measure structures on silicon wafers that are only a few nanometers large!

University of Texas, Austin

Location: Austin, Texas
Tuition: $11,698 in-state, $41,070 out-of-state

Why it’s a top school in this field: UT Austin's Mathematics Department is a hub of research and innovation, offering students a dynamic environment to explore their mathematical interests. The program's commitment to cutting-edge technology and interdisciplinary collaboration provides students with the tools to tackle real-world challenges. Austin's status as a technology hub further enhances opportunities for networking and industry collaboration.

Polygence research program mentors:

Eric H: I work on intelligent robots and methods for enabling transparent decision-making and generalization. Previously, I worked on various R&D projects related to secure communication systems and networking for distributed systems.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Location: Champaign, Illinois
Tuition: $17,572 in-state, $36,068 out-of-state

Why it’s a top school in this field: UIUC's Mathematics Program stands out for its commitment to interdisciplinary research and the integration of cutting-edge technology. The department's faculty includes leaders in various mathematical disciplines, offering students exposure to a diverse range of expertise. The program's collaborative and inclusive environment fosters a sense of community and encourages students to engage in groundbreaking research. UIUC's location in Urbana-Champaign, a vibrant academic community, provides students with a unique and enriching experience in the world of mathematics.

Polygence research program mentors:

Pedro B: My whole career has been about solving math and physics problems with computers. I see computing and computer science as tools to answer bigger questions beyond just writing code; but the coding part is also one of the most fun parts of the process. 

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Tuition: $11,205 in-state, $40,603 out-of-state

Why it’s a top school in this field: UW-Madison's Mathematics Department prides itself on a collaborative and inclusive environment that nurtures students' passion for mathematics. With a commitment to research excellence, the program provides numerous opportunities for mathematics students to engage in meaningful projects. The department's faculty, known for its contributions to various mathematical disciplines, actively involves students in the pursuit of knowledge. 

What Makes a School a Top Choice for Mathematics?

Now that we’ve looked at fifteen schools, what makes a school a top choice for being one of the best mathematics schools? Here are some criteria to look at:

  1. Strong Faculty:

    1. Outstanding faculty members with expertise in diverse mathematical disciplines.

  2. Research Opportunities:

    1. Ample opportunities for undergraduate mathematics student research and participation in mathematical projects.

  3. Innovative Curriculum:

    1. A curriculum that combines theoretical knowledge with practical applications.

  4. Facilities and Resources:

    1. Access to state-of-the-art facilities, libraries, and technology that support exploration of mathematical sciences.

  5. Networking Opportunities:

    1. A vibrant academic community and networking opportunities with professionals in the field.

A school that shows any combination of these characteristics likely possesses a strong mathematics department and program, qualifying them as the best mathematics schools. 

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How to Find the Right Mathematics School for You

Finding the right mathematics school involves a thoughtful and personalized approach. Consider the following steps:

  1. Research Programs: Explore the mathematics programs at different institutions, considering their curriculum, faculty, and research opportunities.

  2. Visit Campuses: Attend campus visits or virtual tours to get a feel for the academic environment and available resources.

  3. Speak with Current Students: Connect with current students to gain insights into their experiences and the overall culture of the mathematics department.

  4. Consider Location: Think about the location of the school and how it aligns with your preferences, whether you prefer an urban or rural setting.

  5. Evaluate Financial Considerations: Assess the financial aspects, including tuition, available scholarships, available financial aid, and the overall cost of living.

Embarking on a journey into applied mathematics is an exciting venture, and choosing the right undergraduate school is a crucial step. As a prospective student, deciding which school to attend involves which institution best aligns with your aspirations for your mathematics education. Whether you aspire to attend a renowned institution like MIT or explore the unique offerings of a lesser-known gem like Carleton College, the key is to find a program that aligns with your goals, values, and academic interests.