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Admissions Do I have a strong enough profile for applied math grad school?

Hi All,

I just completed a degree in physics and (pure) math and I am planning on applying to grad school in the fall. I'm mostly interested in applying to physics graduate programs, but I was wondering if my background was strong enough to the following applied math programs:

  • Stony Brook University
  • Columbia Engineering (The applied Math, program. Probably a maaajor stretch but I don't know much of the program and a lot of the tracks involve a lot of computational physics, which is what all my research experience is in. So I figured with my strongs letters of rec and a bit of luck and persuasion I could have an iota of chance, but I'd like to hear the community opinion)
  • CUNY Grad Center (this is more of question, I only see a pure math program, does any one know if applied math is within their pure math program or do they just not have applied math, if they do, should I apply given my background?)


My GPA is 3.47, my physics GPA is 3.57 and my math GPA somewhere between a 3.2 and 3.33. I know my grades aren't spectacular, but I had to complete my degree in 6 semesters, and in my final year I got mostly A's, a few A-'s, and a B in both semester. The courses were all upper division physics and math classes. I also have some good research experience, one physics REU and research at my home university with a paper currently in the works (should be out before I submit applications, fingers crossed). To supplement this, 2 out of three of my recommendations I know for sure will be strong.

I know I am an aggressively average student, I made the mistake of taking way too many credits per semester (I averaged about 18 credits per semester), getting overwhelmed, doing well in one class, dropping the ball in another(meaning Bs), and average on the rest(B+s). I tried to avoid this in my last year, but unfortunately two classes slipped through the cracks and I got B's in both. While this allowed me to graduate in 6 semesters (over the course of 6 years, I studied abroad for 2.5 years before re matriculating back at my original university; none of the abroad credits transferred), it wasn't ideal. I would have liked to have spent an extra year improving my GPA and taking some more advanced electives, but unfortunately, money is real, hahaha. So I did what I could with the time that I had.

I am looking for honest opinions because I don't want to overwhelm my recommenders with applications and because applications are EXPENSIVE. So blunt opinions are welcome so I don't waste time and money if I am not a good enough candidate from the start.


PS: My school is a large state school, top 20 Physics, top ten nuclear physics and top 30 Math school. I see other people mention this but I don't know if that actually makes a difference when applying.
I think your credentials are pretty good so don't sell yourself short. Applying to grad school is a lot like applying for a job. You should send out at least 10 applications, three to top tier stretch schools, three to schools you feel you have a shot at and three safe schools and your choice with the tenth application.

Yes I know they are expensive but you do want to go to graduate school and this is arguably the best strategy to begin the process so don't try to do the minimum otherwise you won't be going to any school and I know of a few students who did that and had to wait another year.

Once you can past admissions, then your application will be reviewed in the context of the work being done in the department and how your interests and skills fit in with what department members are working on.

The department will be comparing you to other potential graduate students with similar skills and interests and so it's important to not be too conservative ie try to sell yourself in your personal statement. You need to find things you've done or could do now that can make your application standout from the crowd and highlight them in what you say.

As an example, machine learning is a hot topic right now and many in industry and possibly academia are scrambling for people with skills in this area. You could look for an online course on ML and dabble in it and add it to give a positive spin to your application. Some prof may have need of an ML expert.

Lastly, ou may need to write specific statements depending on the university you are applying to so as to highlights the skills you have and how to relate to the work of the department. This is a common strategy for successful folks applying in industry for their cover letter and resume and I suspect it could work here as well.

However, I know students and they will try to use the cookie cutter approach to save time, effort and money don't be that student. Take inventory of your skills, the things you learned in your course work and anything else you picked up from relatives, friends and self study and thing of how they might be used to make your application standout.

Lastly, I'll give you one example: My nephew applied to a job once. They were looking for C programming. He had done some C coding in a school course and he added this to his application but when asked during the interview if he knew C well, he answered "No" and didn't get the job. I was stunned and asked him about it saying you showed me what you did, you clearly know C programming but he responded with but I didn't know it well enough. Face palm!

You could learn more before you started or while on the job. Interviewers expect you to exaggerate some and take that into consideration during the interview. To end the story on a happy note, he got a second interview learned from his own bluntness and got the job.

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