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Graduate school conundrum? Low Ugrad GPA high Master's GPA

  1. Aug 15, 2011 #1
    This is perhaps not a conundrum and me thinking about things too much.

    The story:

    I'm about to start my second year in my Master's program. I've taken the following two course sequences: Real Analysis/Functional Analysis, Complex Analysis/Variables, and Analysis I&II. I also have taken a one semester course in Combinatorics and Graph Theory. I have around a 3.95. My undergraduate GPA is abysmal - 2.9. Basically, I got that GPA for the same reasons everyone does. I goofed off, was lazy, and only worked hard once I got into the upper division (proof/theory) courses. I took the GRE in Feb 2010 and got a mediocre score - 1120.

    So my conundrum is that I am currently in the Master's program. I was told by my advisor that I should apply into the PhD program at my school (currently UCF). I was thinking about applying to the nearby schools of USF, UF, FSU, and FIT (a lot of abbreviations) since they seem to have a stronger math programs. My question is, "how much will my past affect my competitiveness in admissions?" It's pretty apparently that there has been great improvement. I worked hard in my graduate courses. I have also talked to my professors and will be getting strong letters. Should I go and retake the GRE? Should I also downplay my undergraduate career in my personal statements, or should I discuss my awesome graduate career? I'm sure my GPA won't change much in the next semester.

    Thanks for the input.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2011 #2

    jbunniii

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    Offhand I would think that your good performance in the master's program will outweigh your undergraduate record. Ph.D. admission is based on whether you seem likely to succeed in the program. Good performance in upper-division and graduate courses are a far better indicator of this than lackluster performance in, say, Calculus I. [Although if you completely bombed calculus, this might be a consideration with respect to your ability to be a calculus TA.]

    Do you have any research experience? If so, that will be a considerable plus.

    Strong letters of recommendation can trump most other factors.

    What is the breakdown of that GRE score? What was your score on the quantitative section?

    Have you taken the math subject GRE? If not, you should take it, after preparing for it by taking old practice exams.

    If you recalculate your undergraduate GPA counting only math courses, what is the result? How about if you count only upper-division/proof-oriented math courses?

    In your essay, you can spend a sentence or two mentioning what you said here: you weren't very well motivated in your lower-division courses, but once you got into theoretical courses you found them much more interesting and your performance reflects that. This is far from an uncommon story.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2011
  4. Aug 15, 2011 #3

    Pyrrhus

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    Apply to UCF as well, so you have somewhere to go just in case.
     
  5. Aug 15, 2011 #4
    I don't have any research experience unless you want to count the readings I'm doing towards my master's thesis. I believe my GRE score was something like 640/480 Q/V. Like I mentioned, I was practically dying while taking the GRE. It was a terrible idea to take it when I did. I have not taken the math subject GRE. I am perfectly willing to and have slowly been reviewing. Though I did notice that at schools like FSU and UF it is very important. At the other schools, I was more or less told that the math subject will be used if my GPA can't hold its own and my letters are weak. I'm assuming that they will notice my graduate GPA much more than my undergrad GPA. Offhand I can't even recall my undergraduate GPA breakdown. I know I did significantly better in the upper division than in the lower division courses.

    I'm guessing that my undergrad GPA isn't going to be an admission killer, especially at UCF and USF. I'm not saying that these schools are bad, but I know they have a reputation of not being as competitive.
     
  6. Aug 15, 2011 #5

    jbunniii

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    Actually, you didn't mention that. If your performance was poor because you were ill, then of course you should retake it if possible. I was once told by the head of graduate admissions in the math department at (I think it was) UCLA that he considered the general GRE to be on the level of an IQ test, and while a high score wouldn't necessarily help your application, a low score could hurt it.

    As for the subject GRE, I think a good score would help your case considerably. Try to do several practice exams if you can. The test isn't especially hard, but you need to be careful about the pacing. When I took it, I spent too much time trying to get every problem before moving on, and ended up not having time to finish. I still did decently but not as well as I could have if I had done some timed practice tests to get the pace right.

    You should perform the calculation. If your upper division GPA is solid, that will count for something, and you might even mention it explicitly in your essay.
     
  7. Aug 16, 2011 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Suppose the answer is "a lot"? How are you planning on changing this?
     
  8. Aug 16, 2011 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Oh, and if you think you can do better on the subject GRE, by all means, take it again. You should make your application as competitive as you can.
     
  9. Jan 7, 2013 #8
    I hope I'm not absolutely destroying etiquette by responding to this more than a year later.

    To answer your question: I ended up getting into a PhD program. Had I not, I would have followed the general advice of Mathwonk - leave a trail of excellence and hopefully find some relevant work experience. During that time when I'm not actively pursuing a degree I would have taken important classes such as analysis, topology, and algebra and did well. Fortunately I had a very strong graduate GPA so it did not come to that.

    In fact I'm now [STRIKE]dispelling[/STRIKE] dispensing that advice to people. If you have a mediocre GPA, but have drive and some intelligence, I usually suggest that people should take their bachelors and enroll somewhere as a non-degree student. During that time - build up a nice graduate course GPA. With a few graduate courses under your belt, apply to some graduate programs.

    Edit: By answer your question...I mean answer it in a round about way.
    Edit: Dispelling to dispensing
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  10. Jan 7, 2013 #9

    jbunniii

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    Not at all, since it's your thread after all. Congratulations on your admission!
     
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