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Advice - atypical route to grad school

  1. Oct 19, 2009 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I graduated with a BA a couple years ago. I traveled in Asia for a year, then worked for a year, and got into some math on my own in the process. I returned to school last year to load up on as many tough courses as possible. I've taken/will have taken linear algebra, abstract algebra, intro analysis, real analysis, complex analysis, PDEs, topology, graph theory, discrete math, finite automata, among others.

    I'm pretty confident I'd get accepted into the grad program at the school I'm at - I did research over the summer and they know I'm serious about it. But, I'd really, really like to get away for grad school and am worried that, on paper, it'll look bad that I don't have a math degree and never even got into it til I was 23. Could anyone offer me any advice here? Should I make a point of addressing this in my application or something? I don't really know how to go about that, because I don't really have an explanation - but I do love math.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2009 #2
    You can address this a bit in your personal statement (and perhaps your faculty recommendations could point this out too)... but by submitting your post BA transcripts, the committee will be seeing your coursework (and grades) by which to judge your preparation (I my experience as a graduate admissions committee member -- age doesn't really matter, and sometimes extra experience gained post-baccalaureate degree can even be helpful).

    The MOST important thing to write in your personal statement (and have in letters of reference) is your research experience. By describing your contributions to a research project, you'll show the committee even better preparation for graduate school. I'd also really recommend seeing if you can continue doing research now, during the normal terms... since the more research experience you have the better you'll appear to an admissions committee.
  4. Oct 20, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the advice physics girl phd.

    I should say, my so called "research" did not involve me making any novel contributions. I was basically just doing lots of programming relating to some complex analysis research my professor was doing. I learned a lot but didn't develop any new theory myself. So it's not as if there is going to be some big publication authored by me. I don't want to stress it too much in my application for fear of sounding arrogant.
  5. Oct 21, 2009 #4
    Research is mostly grunt work. There are some bits of creativity and novelty scattered here and there, but it's mostly trying to figure out why @#$@#$ doesn't work. One thing that grad school committees do look for it just the ability to be persistent. Can you stare at a computer for hours on end, or read book after book after book, and deal with the frustrations and headaches that go into research.

    If you have research experience then you need to mention it. It's probably the most important thing in your application. Also don't be apologetic. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don't.
  6. Oct 22, 2009 #5
    Thanks twofish-quant. I am definitely persistent.
  7. Oct 22, 2009 #6
    One other thing - should I be aiming for loading up on as many mathematically challenging courses as possible in the next semester? Or should I just try and keep my GPA high. I'd like to take measure theory and general relativity next semester. If I got B's in those and brought my GPA down slightly (currently 3.5ish), would that do more harm than the added background I'd gain?
  8. Oct 22, 2009 #7
    Definitely take the harder classes even if it causes your GPA to drop slightly. The trouble with GPA is that no one on the admissions committee has much of a clue as to what the GPA means. What is 3.2 at one school could be 3.8 and there are some schools (like Harvard) in which the undergraduate grades are so inflated as to be meaningless.

    If you get a 3.2, then no one is going to know if that is good or bad, but if you have GR and measure theory on the application people will know what that means.
  9. Oct 23, 2009 #8
    Thanks again twofish-quant.

    That is the answer I was hoping for!
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