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Applying to math Ph.D. programs. Already have Master's in math.

  1. Mar 3, 2012 #1
    A very vague question- What are my chances of getting accepted to a top 30 Ph.D. program in math (specifically U Maryland, Johns Hopkins, U Penn, U Washington, Ann Arbor, Columbia, Northwestern) if I:

    Am completing my Master's in math from a top 20 school (UIUC) with a (realistically projected) GPA of 3.73/4.00 upon graduation with 53 hours

    Have taken (all grad) Algebra, Topology (2 semester sequence), Analysis (real/complex), non linear dynamics, differentiable manifolds

    Have a joint publication in a peer reviewed journal (IMRN) and another in a no-name complex systems journal

    Have several other manuscripts

    Have held two summer fellowships

    Have lab experience (complex systems lab, interactive geometry lab)

    Have 2 years teaching experience including my own section of Vector Calculus

    Passed a comp exam in differentiable manifolds


    I have applied for the NSF Grad Research Fellowship and will retake the Math GRE this summer.

    My main question here is "Does having a MS degree from a top 20 school help my chances any more than it would coming straight from undergrad? Would it soften the blow of a not so stellar math GRE?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2012 #2
    Just from my experience, it becomes a bit of a crap shoot at schools with very low admission rates. My experience at U of M is that they normally receive about 15 applications for each opening. I assume it's similar at other places. Realize that most applicants are good. Low test scores are definitely a strike against you. Solid letters, preferably from someone who knows someone there can be very helpful. Your statement can be helpful if someone notices that your interests are a good fit.
  4. Mar 3, 2012 #3
    In fact, assuming all else is equal, letters that are somewhat more descriptive and clear about selling your good points can basically tip you into those kinds of schools. They definitely have to reject straight A students who took hard courses all the time.

    The master's degree will be a plus because that's a well-respected department. I don't anticipate it will be seen as too different from coming from a good undergraduate school and having kept up with master's level coursework.

    All said, if you have taken a serious schedule, have pretty good letters and some publications, you'll probably get in somewhere good. You'll have to have something very catchy (like stellar letters or an *excellent* research fit or exceptional showing at something like the Putnam) to make it into the absolutely most competitive schools.
  5. Mar 3, 2012 #4
    I'd say you've got a good chance. You seem a LOT more accomplished than I am and I got into a few top 10 applied math departments (as well as biophysics MD/PhDs). All I have to show for my math and science abilities are excellent letters from three profs (PhD'd from U Michigan, Princeton, and MIT), and very good general GREs, math GREs, physics GREs, and MCATs ... but no formal coursework in math/physics/biochemistry (only auditing, self study, and youtube).

    I may have a little bit of an edge since I have a uniqueness that most programs haven't seen in their applicants before (masters in trumpet performance and bachelors in musicology). I sensed that there was a bit of novelty to my application. I was asked to bring my trumpet to an interview, haha. I wasn't sure if it was a joke or not, but I did anyway and ended up playing a bit for them in the one classroom, lol.

    Just wondering: why not stay at UI for your PhD? Shouldn't you be a sure thing / automatically roll over into the PhD program after finishing quals?
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012
  6. Mar 4, 2012 #5
    Thank you for the replies. I would like to get some more feedback from anyone else who cares to contribute.
  7. Mar 13, 2012 #6
    sorry for the self bump, but does anyone else care to contribute? Thank you.
  8. Mar 13, 2012 #7


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    Well, top schools want everything in the folder to look good. A really good student will not have any bad aspects at all to his/her dossier.

    But if there is some reason why you flopped on GRE and your advisors think you have great potential as a researcher that will be clear in their letters.

    I.e. if you have some low ranking scores in some standardized tests, then the evaluations by your teachers and advisors matter more.

    There is not much you can do about this. Your job was to dow ell on those things that you could control.

    The interview also counts.

    But it is hard for me to believe that there is not a good place you can go where you will receive adequate stimulation.
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