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Considering Math Grad School

  1. Nov 13, 2008 #1
    I'm starting to look into grad school now. I'm a junior math major and I would love to be a math professor someday. What advice could you give me when researching grad schools. What classes do you think I should definitely have? What about GPA? GRE scores? Also, what advice would you ahve if I want to get a teaching assistanship? Any insight you guys have would really help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2008 #2
    Well, GPA and GRE scores are more of weed-out factors than they are acceptance factors. In other words, as long as they're reasonable, they won't disqualify you. But having really high numbers won't necessarily guarantee anything. The truth is, as long as your numbers look reasonably competent, then letters of recommendation and your statement of purpose will be some of the most important factors in getting admitted. It's really valuable to have professors who can say something more about you than, "This person was an excellent student and made an A in my course." In other words, get involved in research or activities outside the classroom where you have to work with those professors. Also it would be good to start writing out your statement of purpose now. Go through several drafts and have professors you trust read over it and give feedback. Inevitably, it should have a potent and clear direction and be personal on a professional level, if that makes sense. Just picture yourself having to read through 500 essays and try to think of what would bore you and what would interest you.

    As far as teaching assistantships go, usually if you get admitted to a grad program, you'll automatically get some sort of assistantship. You really don't need to do anything extra for that. You'll be considered automatically in most cases.

    For courses, I'd recommend building a strong foundation in the three classical core subjects: real analysis, algebra, and topology. Your first and primary focus when you start grad school will be to pass qualifying exams. You'll greatly reduce your stress if you already have a good foundation in the core subjects. Try to take two semesters of real analysis, take two semesters of algebra, and a semester of point set topology. Also, if you can get courses on algebraic topology, measure theory, and complex analysis, those would be valuable as well.
  4. Nov 14, 2008 #3
    Ok, so not to worry about having an overly high GPA but I probably should keep it decnt meaning like a 3.0? Oh, what is the statement of purpose?
    Are you talking about having these courses as a undergrad or in grad school. I am in real analysis now and I will be taking complex analysis next semester.
  5. Nov 14, 2008 #4
    Well...not exactly. You should definitely worry about your GPA. Higher GPA means admission to better graduate programs. And below a 3.0 typically disqualifies people from any graduate program. I'd certainly shoot for as high a GPA as you can possibly get. Also make sure you study hard for the math GRE. You have to take both the general GRE (which consists of vocabulary and basic math) and the math subject GRE to get into grad school. The general GRE isn't something you should take terribly seriously (chances are that you'll ace the math portion of the general test). In fact at the school where I did my undergrad math degree, the department stated that they didn't even look at the general GRE results at all when admitting grad students. But they look closely at your math subject test score, because the subject test covers topics like calculus, advanced geometry, algebra, analysis, etc. So make sure you do well on the subject test.

    You'll probably want to apply directly for a PhD program, since you want to be a professor. As far as coursework goes, I would take two semesters each of algebra and analysis, as well as topology. Algebra, analysis, and topology are the "big three" subjects that grad schools look for (at least from what I know), so a strong background in this would definitely be to your advantage. Now, maybe you're far enough into your program that you don't have the time to take these courses. If so, then you may want to do a master's degree immediately after you graduate, during which you'll take the necessary coursework for a PhD program without having to pay for school (grad school is free). Master's applicants typically only need to have strong coursework in differential equations, advanced calculus, and linear algebra.

    Finally, start doing research with a professor, this spring if possible. You'll need three letters of recommendation, and at least one should come from a professor who is familiar with your research abilities.

    Well, I hope this helps.
  6. Nov 14, 2008 #5
    Ok, well I'm trying to do as well in my classes as I can. Ok, so the math GRE is something to really focus on.
    Ok, well I'm going to try for a master's progrma first. I'm already in my junior year and my school is smaller, so we don't have enough for some courses like topology. By the time I'll get into a grad school, I'll have calculus, differential equations, discrete, linear algebra, real anlaysis, geometry, complex analysis, abstract algebra among others. I think it will help me to have some extra time to really fine tune my foundation in analysis and algebra.
    Ok, so I know here there is always the option of doing an internship. Would that be something worth considering?
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