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Master's Application opinion

  1. Mar 7, 2008 #1
    I need some credible opinions. I recently applied to a masters program in mathematics at a public university. This is not a reach school at all. I was told that since I was from a non-math background, I had to take abstract algebra and the baby Rudin class. I planned to take those anyway. Should I have reason to be pissed about not getting accepted? I was told that I could take the abstract algebra and baby Rudin class as non degree seeking status and reapply next year with a letter of recommendation. I find that absurd, but I'd like the opinion of someone in the know.

    Here's my background and a letter that I wrote to the admissions office after I was told that I was not accepted.

    GRE: 780 math, 540 verbal
    Undergrad major: computer engineering
    undergrad GPA: 3.02
    24 hours of grad work in computer engineering:

    Math course GPA: 3.22 (I always took a full load. I worked 30+ hours per week all through college. One semester I worked 50+ hours per week.)

    I'm not sure that you perused my application thoroughly; my math background is quite extensive. Not only did I take extensive math courses in engineering, I took many that fell under computer science as well. My major was computer engineering. I have over 24 hours of graduate coursework in computer engineering. I admit that most of my math background is geared towards applications; however, I didn't plan to skip the abstract algebra and the baby Rudin course.

    I thought that my transcript would have shown the number of hours in which I studied math. I took over 41 hours of math courses plus the CS courses that had lots of math. I taught the intro to calculus course as a grad student. As an undergrad student I graded calculus I through differential equations exams and homework.

    Our math courses were not taught by the math department; they were taught by the engineering school, thus some of the names of the courses aren't your typical math course names. I still have most of my books. That actually has some history to it. My understanding is that when the private engineering school merged with the public school and became public, the engineering school didn't think the A&S math was rigorous enough.

    Here's a brief list of the courses that I have taken that would be considered math only courses.

    --calculus 1 - 3
    --differential Equations
    --linear algebra
    --numerical methods
    --numerical analysis (500 level course)
    --automata (500 level course)
    --probability and statistics for engineers
    --discrete mathematics
    --design and analysis of experiments (500 level applied prob and stats)
    --engineering economics (500 level)
    --plus all of the engineering and science courses that are applied math. (cryptology, P v/s NP complete problems, physics, image processing is applied Fourier transforms and Wavelet transforms, proof by induction, etc...)

    If you did have this understanding of my background, I apologize for wasting your time. If by non-math background you meant non-pure-math background then I guess none of this information will sway your decision. If a letter of recommendation will help my cause, I can get that for you; if I had known that would help, then I would have contacted these professors that I haven't seen in 5 - 6 years. The application stated that the letters were only necessary for someone that is applying to be a TA.

    I don't plan to be a TA again, because it is very time consuming. We had over 150 students taking the intro to calculus course. Between 3 of us, we had to prepare two exams every week. Plus we had to return them graded the next day. I plan to only attend school. At U of L I always worked at least 30 hours per week, except for one semester; by looking at my transcript, you can probably identify that semester.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2008 #2
    Well theoretical math is very different from any of those courses you mentioned, though a proofs-driven linear algebra course would come close. They require a completely different type of thinking than hard engineering courses, so I'm not really surprised with what you were told - they have no real way to evaluate your aptitude for pure math based on how well you've done in the courses you listed. On the other hand, I feel like there should have been an alternative route for you and your somewhat unique case to gain admission, like taking some sort of exam.

    Did you not take the math subject GRE? That could have hurt also.
  4. Mar 7, 2008 #3
    I didn't take the math subject exam, because they didn't require it and said they would not weigh it. It's a master's of art program. I expect to be able to transfer at least 6 hours of electives.
  5. Mar 7, 2008 #4
    Yes I agree, all the math courses, and most math courses required for engineering are very applied and would have fairly little in common with a pure math course. Also, a graduating math major would have roughly 4 years of math, say roughly 100-120 hours, so you are only a third of what any math major would be applying with.
    Finally, I don't know the standards of your school, but a 3.02 is pretty low for a lot of graduate programs.
  6. Mar 8, 2008 #5
    As someone who is trying to change fields, I can tell you that you need to look at your qualifications the way someone in the math department will see them. In particular they will take a look at your course list and see:
    I'd just take the courses they suggest and reapply. No need to feel insulted, your background just isn't in their field, and you'll have to go the extra mile to be accepted.
  7. Mar 8, 2008 #6

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    I think this letter might have been a mistake. I got a strong sense of entitlement from it. The department doesn't have to accept someone who is changing fields, it doesn't have to accept someone who barely has a B average, it doesn't have to accept someone who is too much of a prima donna to stoop to being a TA (I'm sorry, but that's exactly how it sounds) - in short, they don't have to accept anyone they don't want to.

    I think a much better strategy would have been to abandon the approach of "you guys screwed up big time by not taking me" and instead have adopted the tactic of "I really want to be a graduate student in your department. Can you please tell me what I can do to strengthen my application for next year?"
  8. Mar 8, 2008 #7
    I have a feeling that you didn't read the entire letter. However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I agree that one shouldn't act arrogant. I personally don't believe that you can come to that conclusion. I feel that I come across as shocked that one would say that I don't have a math background; a few years ago, I received emergency certification to teach high school math. During that process I was initially denied licensure, because I didn't have the 20 some odd hours required for licensure. I had to prove that some of my math courses were math courses, because they aren't named with normal names. They weren't familiar that engineering analysis meant calculus. Plus all of the course ids were under the computer engineering department; later they created a new department called engineering math core to avoid confusion. The school had received too many requests for information about those courses.
  9. Mar 8, 2008 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    It's interesting that twice when someone disagreed with you that you jumped to the conclusion that they must not have read what you wrote.

    That's a start. But when you accuse an admissions committee of failing to do their job because they didn't admit you, can't you see how this might be interpreted as arrogance?
  10. Mar 8, 2008 #9
    your background has touched nothing but application of maths. Perhaps you should take algebra and analysis to see the taste of REAL mathematics. Knowing how to do fourier transform is nothing near what Fourier Analysis really is. Or perhaps you can just simply pick up any Maths book by Serge Lang to see what being a maths master has to go through
  11. Mar 8, 2008 #10
    ^ I second this opinion.
  12. Mar 8, 2008 #11
    Linear Algebra, Abstract Algebra, and Advanced Calculus are demanded by almost every school I've ever looked at. What school did you look at where they didn't clearly state that they require these courses?
  13. Mar 8, 2008 #12
    Thinking you can be a math grad student after an engineering degree is like me applying to take a masters in anthropology and saying, "Hey, I watched 10,000 BC"
  14. Mar 8, 2008 #13


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    Firstly, I agree with the posters above who say that you should not write a letter with such a tone. I know what you're trying to achieve, but that letter will not achieve what you want it to. Secondly, I think that a maths department will look at your transcript, and see that whilst you may well have learnt some maths, it will all have been taught with engineering in mind, since the courses were taught by the engineering department. As someone suggested, taking the maths GRE would help you in this case. Did you apply to any other schools? If not, then perhaps you should have done: you may well have had the same response from those.

    Another important thing to remember is that teaching or marking introductory maths classes has nothing to do with your potential to be a successful grad student. I feel that you put a lot of emphasis on this in the above letter and, since you're not even offering to be a TA, the emphasis is pretty pointless. Instead, you should concentrate on your knowledge of mathematics, and what you have learnt from your courses since these are the only indication of how well you may do in the programme.
  15. Mar 8, 2008 #14
    Im taking PDEs 'for scientists and engineers' right now. Let me tell you, if this were PDEs for mathematicians, I would be eaten ALIVE. This class is very proof based, and not rigerous mathematical proofs, I dont even want to imagine this class with formal proofs. You're taking one huge leap.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2008
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