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What College Majors Need Calculus?

by Kevin Wandrei

Some students quiver at the thought of calculus, while others can't wait to dive into differentials and integrals. Either way, it's important to know which college majors will require calculus, and which generally skip the subject. Besides the obvious mathematics major, numerous majors in the social and natural sciences usually require calculus as part of their curricula.

Statistics

Statistics often gets labelled as the "anti-calculus," but unfortunately most college majors in statistics will require a course or two in calculus. While early statistics classes might seem like just pie charts and standard deviations, classes get more advanced quickly and rely on calculus' insights. Calculus is useful for calculating rates of change, and so it's central to complex statistical analysis.

Economics

It might not be immediately apparent that economics requires calculus. Economics, however, isn't just about money. It's also about decision analysis and social psychology, and a central focus of economics concerns thinking on the margin. Marginal analysis require examining rates of change, which is made a lot easier with calculus. Most advanced economic analyses of marginal supply and marginal demand, for example, use calculus to do their calculations.

Physics and Engineering

The study of physics is essentially not possible without calculus. Likewise, studying engineering isn't possible without studying some physics, so both of these majors require knowledge of the field. Calculus through the multivariate level is often the minimal requirement, and most physics and engineering majors go beyond calculus into linear and matrix algebra. Engineering, likewise, builds on a base in mathematics that always includes calculus.

Biology, Chemistry and Other Natural Sciences

Many of the natural sciences are heavily interdisciplinary, and math knowledge is frequently a prerequisite. To properly study biology, for example, a student often needs to have some basis in chemistry, which in turn requires an understanding of physics. And physics, of course, requires calculus, so no matter how a natural science curriculum is designed, it's going to require calculus at some point.

Computer Science

Computer science is another common major that requires a surprisingly large amount of mathematics. Calculus beyond the introductory level is often required to understand algorithms, cognitive theory and computation. Computer science isn't all about graphic design and video games. The actual major is extremely math-intensive, and it's impossible to finish the degree without significant coursework in calculus.

Psychology

A major in psychology, like a major in computer science, puts a lot of emphasis on cognitive theory, which relies heavily on calculus. Additionally, many social psychology experiments conduct advanced statistical analyses that use calculus in their calculations. Psychology degrees come in many varieties, however, and a Bachelor of Science in psychology is more likely to require calculus than a Bachelor of Arts. Either way, you should be prepared for a course in calculus as a psychology major.

About the Author

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.

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