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Math Graduate programs any advice?

  1. Mar 25, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I am currently a math major with an emphasis in physics, and I will begin looking for the right graduate programs to apply to in the fall. I am a rather silly case however, and I was curious if anyone had any advice or potentially some reassurance on my potential to get into graduate school, particularly one of these:
    MIT (Long shot number 1)
    Princeton (long shot number 2)
    Penn State
    Boulder (For the applied math department; I have good connections)

    I chose these schools as I am interested in Geometric flow/Mathematical physics, and primarily want to be on the east coast...ish.

    My problem however is that I look pretty desirable on my CV save for one aspect; my GPA. Now when I say my GPA I don't just mean that I don't have a 4.0, I have a 2.7-ish...now, most of that has been my fault, but there have been a number of very legitimate life circumstances there as well. Since I am junior, improving that aspect of my CV will be neigh impossible, but of course I will try. With the GPA issue aside however, I think I look pretty good. I am published with a professor and listed as second author out of four in a peer reviewed international journal by Taylor and Francis publishing group. Also, the work was supported by a NSF grant, and I gave a talk on the research at a regional MAA conference. Furthermore, I know MATLAB, Mathematica, and fairly recently, TeX. I have also taken a number of Upper division courses, my best ones being in Higher Geometry, ODE's, and complex Variables. All of which were 4/5000 level courses at my university. I have also taken the Analysis sequence, Modern Algebra 1, and a proof based linear course. That's just the Math, I have also gotten good grades in all my physics courses, including Classical and soon to be finished, General relativity. I am even doing a graduate level indep. Study in Differential Geometry as well.
    I also work as a math tutor in my University's walk in math tutoring center, and I have been a supplemental Instructor for the intro level DiffEq courses for three years now. Oh and I was part of a team for the MCM competition that took Meritorious winner in 2010. I plan to do an undergraduate thesis in PDE/Geometry. Ah, and I will have at least 2 excellent letter of rec. and I am currently working on getting a third prof. to do the same. Also, taking the Math subject GRE test in April.

    So I suppose my real question is this; will my GPA ruin the rest of my CV for the grad schools listed above? If so, and given that there is practically nothing else I can do to fix that, what else should I consider doing to improve my chances? Is there anything else I can do? I would really prefer not to transfer in graduate school, as I find this both difficult and kind of immoral. What I ultimately want to do is teach at a decent University. Suggestions, reassurances? Has any one had a similar predicament by chance?
    I apologize if this seems to be a long or silly post, and thank you to everyone in advance! :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 25, 2012 #2
    Hmm... the colleges will definitely see everything. To be honest I have no idea what any of the other things you said are, but if they are impressive that will certainly count for a lot. Also, if you are applying for a specific program, for example math, they will certainly care about how you did in the math classes more than they will about your entire GPA. You're GPA could also be taken lightly if your school has a reputation of being very rigorous. Best of luck.
  4. Mar 25, 2012 #3
    A lot of programs require a 3.0 gpa. So, if you can bring it up to that, you'll probably be fine.

    Grades in the last two years matter the most.
  5. Mar 26, 2012 #4
    Quick question about the UD coures you mentioned. Have you not taken real analysis or algebra?
  6. Mar 26, 2012 #5
    I have taken Analysis 1 and 2. With mediocre grades sadly. There was no Real Analysis, as I have seen other schools offer. But if I see a grad version offered this year I will take it, and ace it. The only course in math I have left to take is Numerical Analysis, at least, for my degree requirements anyway.
    Here's my math coursework and the associated grades:
    Prob and Stats: C-
    Mathematical Modeling: C
    Modern Algebra: B
    Analysis 1 and 2: C-
    Complex variables: B+
    Higher Geometry: B
    ODE: A-
    Upper Linear: C
    and Differential Geometry (grad) is going very well currently.

    A note on the modeling grade; that was actually the second time through, first time I got a D, and my University has no repeat delete system, contrary to my knowledge at the time. And the current C in modeling and C- in the Analysis courses came at a difficult time in my life. So really, It's those four grades that are hurting me the worst. If my school had a repeat delete system like every other decent University, I would have just taken the courses once again. I am extremely confident with my ability to do proofs and think outside the box in mathematics and physics. Unfortunately my grades don't reflect that. :(
  7. Mar 26, 2012 #6


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    If your grades don't reflect your abilities, how else should admissions committees evaluate you? For those schools, you will be competing with students who have your publication record and stellar grades. I think you should rethink your school choices and put some safe alternatives in that list
    This is not to say that you can't get into these schools but I think it is a long shot. I would try for a masters program at a less selective school, do well there and try for a Ph.d. program after
  8. Mar 26, 2012 #7
    Frankly, I can not see you getting into the programs you want with those grades/classes.

    Even if those were mostly As, most people accepted to the top programs will have more math background than those courses (for example, at least an entire year of algebra).

    And second, if you can explain your situation well, the committee may be understanding and think that you have potential but at the end of the day, the grades mean that they can't know if you actually know the courses.

    I'm just an undergrad so take what I say lightly perhaps but thats my perspective.
  9. Mar 26, 2012 #8
    My comment was in reference to overall gpa. Bad grades in key math classes do hurt your chances.

    At this point, there's not too much time left. If you did really well on the math GRE and aced everything from this point on, you might have a shot. It doesn't hurt to aim a few applications too high if you don't mind the application fees, but you should probably target much lower ranked places as a back-up if you still want to go to grad school. Transferring isn't such a big deal.
  10. Mar 27, 2012 #9
    I noticed you included Penn State on your list. I recently applied to Penn State and, if I am remembering correctly, they ask you to supply your GPA calculated on the basis of your junior and senior year. You could double check with them about whether that is correct.
  11. Mar 27, 2012 #10
    You could also do what I did and wait a year to graduate. Then, you have a few more classes to show. I just didn't apply when I got my BS because I didn't have time, since I wasn't even sure if I would do math or physics, and I needed to study more if I were to do physics. But as it happened, it probably also made me look better because I got almost straight As in the last two years. Maybe one A- and one B+, something like that and the rest As. But before that, I hadn't done all that well. I would have had under a 3.0 math gpa up to that point (but having taken only 4 math classes), and like 3.4 overall gpa.
  12. Mar 27, 2012 #11

    so how many years were you in undergrad? jw
  13. Mar 27, 2012 #12
    Undergrad took me 5 years because I was an EE major until my senior year. Then, I got fed up with EE one day and dropped all my EE classes and changed my major to math. But I'm talking about my 5th year. I didn't apply my fifth year because I didn't have time. The next year, I stayed where I was, but entered the master's program. Then, I transferred out after a year. It didn't hurt them that I didn't finish the master's. They knew I wasn't sticking around, but they wanted me there. They need students, and I was one of their best students. So, I'm finishing my 12th year in college, now. One more year. So, 13 years to get the PhD. One of my friends took 8, just to get a bachelors, so it could be worse.
  14. Mar 27, 2012 #13
    Oh wow, really? I'll go look into this for sure. If I only have to include my my last two years, then my GPA will look far better. Thanks! I am definitely excited about their geometry and dynamical systems resaerch groups.
  15. Mar 27, 2012 #14
    I see. I might go ahead an do that then. Perhaps retake some classes that were not so hot the first time around. With that in mind though, let's say that I apply to the programs I'm trying for; any idea on how they might feel about me applying twice? Once during my actual senior year and again during a "super" senior year?
  16. Mar 27, 2012 #15
    Even more math backround? I knew that lots of the top schools wanted a sequence of either Analysis or Algebra. So I went with Analysis as I enjoy it more than Algebra (of course, I'll have to find a way to fix those grades). What other courses did you have in mind?
    I should also note that I did not include the basic linear, DiffEq and calc sequences as I took those in High school.
  17. Mar 27, 2012 #16
    While I was applying to grad schools, I noticed that many grad schools pay VERY CLOSE attention to any sort of personal statement that you must provide, as well as letters of recommendation.

    I am kind of the opposite of you in the sense that I have a very good GPA with many more math classes, but I haven't done any research. So, I just applied to the Master's program at the university where I am doing my undergrad. I plan to go into the Ph.D. program after that. Now, lots of people will recommend getting a Ph.D. from somewhere other than the place you got your undergrad degree, but I don't really mind since I go to a pretty good school. Anyway, you might could try this and then apply to Ph.D. programs at other schools. That might work. It will probably take a little longer to do, however.
  18. Mar 27, 2012 #17
    From what I have seen and experienced you are expected to have a full year of algebra and analysis and most people do have that. Further, I've been told by faculty that to be really competitive at those level of schools you need graduate courses (of course not to say you can't get in without graduate courses).
  19. Mar 27, 2012 #18
    To add to what Jorriss has said, many grad schools like to see Topology on a transcript.
  20. Mar 28, 2012 #19
    Right, well, maybe I can fit the second semester of Algebra in before I graduate. I always knew one or the other, not both, thanks for the heads up. Also, I am currently taking a grad indep. study in Differential Geometry. It's almost the full nine yards too involving Analysis on Manifolds, diff. forms and then onto Riemannian Geometry and a little bit of Geomtric flow theory. Of course, I guess I could just enroll in the grad. version of the courses I plan to take still, since I have practically been taking the grad versions without the credit. All my 4000 level courses here are actually 4/5000 level courses....well, except that Algebra class.

    Ah, yeah, I 've heard about the Topology thing, sadly though, this course doesn't even get offered at my school, since the majority of the department is Applied Math. So I guess the only topology I've really encountered is the stuff from my Diff Geom. studies. Perhaps I'll see about doing an indep. study in topology as well, or would schools not like an indep. study for that course?
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