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Does self-study even matter to graduate schools?

  1. Jul 27, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    Forgive me if this question has been addressed elsewhere in the forum. I've searched through the topics but did not find anything similar to my question, so I appreciate if anyone has any advice that they may be able to offer.

    I would love to go to graduate school and get my masters in mathematics. The problem is that I do not have upper-division courses beyond a proof-based course...so no abstract algebra, topology, real analysis etc. I have graduated college but it was in a different field (long story) and am unable to go back right now because of financial/job constraints.

    What I'm wondering is if one self-studies advanced mathematics, such as topology or real analysis, do graduate schools care at all for that? Do any one of you know if they bother testing your knowledge of the material to assess your comprehension, or would they just bypass your application in favor of those candidates who actually have the courses on their record?

    Thank you to everyone who has any input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2012 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I can't read the mind of an admissions committee, but I would certainly not treat an A in an upper-division course at a good college or university on the same level as "I studied it myself and I really learned it. Cross my heart."
  4. Jul 27, 2012 #3
    I don't think self-study would contribute much at all to an application for grad school unless it was supported by an outstanding score on the Math GRE. That might demonstrate some mastery of the requisite coursework, but I'm still skeptical about how much of a boost it would provide.
  5. Jul 29, 2012 #4


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    It may be worth pointing out that self-study is generally 'expected' of graduate school candidates.

    A course is a course. It provides a formal though imperfect way of saying you've covered certain material, that you've understood it enough to pass formal evaluation, and that you've been ranked amoung your peers on your performance. It's not comprehensive.

    One of the differences between the more and less successful graduate students that I've observed is that the more successful ones are those who read up on their field outside of what they are assigned.
  6. Jul 29, 2012 #5
    The trouble here is figuring out some way of proving that you self-studied. They aren't just going to take your word for it.

    1) There is the GRE which is a test of your knowledge

    2) If you self-study, then presumably you are going to get a higher grade on the classes you take and you can take more advanced classes. It's pointless to say "I studied Topology", but if studying Topology by yourself lets you take "Advanced Topology III" then that looks impressive.

    The other thing is that if you study something by yourself, there is no rule against taking the class. Presumably if you've already studied topology then getting an A in the course is going to be a piece of cake.
  7. Jul 30, 2012 #6
    Once you are admitted, there will be qualifying exams that test your knowledge. And as other posters mentioned, the math GRE is also used to test your knowledge prior to admission. But beyond that, the answer is 'no'. That's the purpose of an undergraduate transcript.

    You might want to see if there is some way you could take a few graduate courses without being enrolled in a program. If you had a few A's in graduate math courses, that would bolster your argument that you adequately covered the undergraduate curriculum on your own. (For example, I know that the California State Universities generally have an "Open University" program that allows you to take two graduate courses with instructor approval.)
  8. Jul 30, 2012 #7
    Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to offer advice. I greatly appreciate it. I do understand the concern of the admissions committee of knowing whether or not one has learned the material commensurate with a brick and mortar institution. Perhaps things will look up soon and I'll be able to afford the required classes...in the meantime, I'll continue to study and hopefully make the actual class just a little easier...I hope! :)

    Thanks again!
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