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Programs PhD Mathematics - Who will admit me?

  1. Nov 20, 2008 #1
    Hey everyone, I'm applying for a PhD in mathematics and now that I have all my materials in order I was wondering if you guys could give me suggestions of what school I should apply to.

    GPA: 3.7 from UC Berkeley
    GRE: 550/800 Verbal, 800/800 Quantative, 650 Subject (54%)
    Letters of Rec: Good/Great letters from 3 profs. at UCB

    Sadly my subject score is holding me back from applying to most (or all) top tier universities. I was wondering if someone had a vague idea of the kind of universities I would have a decent chance of getting in.

    My intended focus is in algebraic representation theory.

    Thanks for any input you can provide and have a good holiday season!

    Edit: For example, what would be my chances to get into Cornell? How about Northwestern? Or UCSD?

    I just want to get a vague idea what would qualify as a reach school/safety etc etc.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2008 #2
    While I wouldn't be able to help you anyway, it might be helpful if you told us what your research experience is like, what advanced courses you took, etc..
  4. Nov 20, 2008 #3
    I have not participated in any direct research, unless you count attending many lecture series though that is much different. I have taken graduate courses in Algebraic Structures and Stochastic Processes both with high marks. My upper division courses include: Linear Algebra, Abstract Algebra, Set Theory, Algebraic Geometry, Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, Mathematical Logic, and some extracurricular Putnam/LaTeX classes.

    I was also planning on minoring in physics (which ended up not being possible). So I have also taken a year worth of Quantum Physics. (Unsure if relevent, though is largely based on mathematics)

    EDIT: Sadly after the past hour or so of looking online I cannot seem to find a decent way of determining the Average GRE score for most universities. Why dont they just post this information :/.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2008
  5. Nov 20, 2008 #4
    I am applying to applied math programs this Fall so I am in a similar situation. Let me rate your stats:

    Undergraduate school: A+
    Rec. Letters: A+
    GPA: A+
    GRE General: A
    GRE Subject: A-
    Research experience: B-

    I think your subject score is good enough. You didn't do amazing, but you didn't mess it up either. Hence, it may not help your application a lot, but it won't hurt it either. I think everyone understands that the GRE subject test is ridiculously hard and most professors won't look down on you for making 50%. The only weak part of your stats is your research experience. Most candidates have some research experience. So, you should probably try to downplay that in your statement of interests.

    I know grad school for pure math is probably more competitive than grad school for applied math. However, I would recommend you apply to all top-notch programs, I think you have a great shot. GPA is probably the single most important thing, and your GPA is outstanding, so you can probably "ride that pony" all the way into grad school. Your GPA is especially powerful considering it comes from Berkeley, where I'm sure your classes have been quite intensive. Go ahead and apply to MIT and Harvard and all the top programs, you've got a great chance.
  6. Nov 20, 2008 #5


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    I'd be interested to know what arbitrary ranking scale you're using, but I'd be rather dubious about your "grading." How does someone with no research experience score a B- unless, of course, B- is the lowest in your grading system...
  7. Nov 20, 2008 #6

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    I'd also wonder why there is an A- in subject when roughly half of the people who took it scored better.

    Oh...and how a GPA of 3.7 corresponds to A+. Especially since an A is a 4.0!
  8. Nov 20, 2008 #7
    I pulled the ranking scale out of the book on "Ranking scales for potential grad applicants to math graduate school", page 546.
  9. Nov 20, 2008 #8
    I'm very sure I have almost no chance in getting into top tier universities. The average subject GRE score they admit is ~80% or above. While the GPA does help, it is proabably average for top tier univ's. Thanks for your feedback though merdechai, I may not agree with your assesment but I'm glad to hear back from you in either case.

    Anyways, I just want to get an idea of what is a reach school for myself. If we take the following as a ranking list (taken from the stickied thread and assuming the higher ranked = harder to get in), where do you think would start being my possible reach schools (if any)?

    1 Princeton 4.94
    2 Cal Berkeley 4.94
    3 MIT 4.92
    4 Harvard 4.90
    5 Chicago 4.69
    6 Stanford 4.68
    7 Yale 4.55
    8 NYU 4.49
    9 Michigan 4.23
    10 Columbia 4.23
    11 Cal Tech 4.19
    12 UCLA 4.14
    13 Wisconsin 4.10
    14 Minnesota 4.08
    15 Cornell 4.05 <------- I think this starts my reach schools
    16 Brown 4.04
    17 Cal San Diego 4.02
    18 Maryland 3.97
    19 Rutgers 3.96
    20 SUNY Stony Brook 3.94
    21 Illinois 3.93
    22 Penn 3.87
    23 Texas 3.85
    24 Rice 3.82
    25 Purdue 3.82
    26 Washington 3.76
    27 Northwestern 3.71
    28 Ohio State 3.66
    29 Johns Hopkins 3.65
    30 CUNY 3.65

    Edit: After e-mailing a few universities I think I have an idea of what schools should be reaches etc. Schools like Brown have average 60-65% subject GRE, so my reach should be around Wisconsin, and the farther I go down the higher my chances (obviously not completley true but the general trend). Now I just have to e-mail some of the departments to determine how strong their Algebra departments are and what research they are doing. Thanks for your help and if you have any advice let me know!
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2008
  10. Nov 21, 2008 #9

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    One more thing to consider. You say you have "Good/great letters". Are you sure they are great. A great letter would say something like "the best student I have ever had," or better still "or am likely to ever have". A good letter would compare you favorably to students who have gone on to the Top 5 schools.
  11. Nov 21, 2008 #10
    Well since I cannot read the actual letters its hard to know for certain. I can only tell you that I knew all my letter or rec writers personally, had many conversations with them about myself and my goals in graduate school, and seemed to have a great raport together.
  12. Nov 21, 2008 #11
    I think you should apply to 2 or 3 reach schools anyway. You are getting 3 good to great letters from UC-Berkeley professors with a good GPA, I think it is reasonable to reach for a couple of schools. By reach I mean like top 15. Why not?

    Just out of curiosity, have you asked your Berkeley professors what your chances are of admissions to UCB? That would be a great way to gauge what your application looks like to real professors since they know you and your profile.
  13. Nov 21, 2008 #12
    I'm currently in LA (just graduated so I moved back home) but that is a great idea Jason. I'll e-mail some of them to work out the details.
  14. Nov 25, 2008 #13
    So, after talking with a few people I have come up with a list of where I believe I want to apply for graduate school. Let me know if you guys have any critics of any kind ^_^, I have thick skin so let me know what you think.

    Reach Schools (1-20% chance of getting in)
    SUNY Stony Brook

    Average Chance Schools (20-50%)
    UC San Diego

    Backup/Good Chance Schools (50%+)
    Washington University (St. Louis)
  15. Nov 26, 2008 #14
    Just out of curiosity, was your undergraduate program at UC Berkeley 3 or 4 yrs?

  16. Nov 26, 2008 #15
    Why can't you stay at UCB?
  17. Nov 26, 2008 #16
    arshavin: 2 years since I transferred from SFSU after 2 years. (total 4 years, hince why I didnt finish my minor in physics). All my upper division math was done at UCB though, which is all that really matters.

    Maxwell: 3 reasons, firstly the UCB math department tolled me straight up they do not like to admit their own students because it creates a sense of elitism (their words) and they want their students to experience other departments unless their research is directly tied with a UCB professor. Secondly, I agree with experiencing other academic enviornments. I know SFSU and UCB had entirely different student/professor interactions and I would like to try another academic enviornment. Third, I cannot reasonably believe UCB would admit me with my GRE Subject and somewhat below average GPA (At least in the top schools).
  18. Nov 30, 2008 #17


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    this is apparently mostly a blind leading the blind discussion, since some respondents at least admit they are either students themselves or are unable to give valid opinions. the opinions you are getting here are intelligent and well intended, just not very qualified.

    As has been explained here often, the people to whom you should apply for this kind of advice are exactly the same people who told you NOT to apply to berkeley, namely your professors.

    after that you should be asking professors at your target schools, which as i read further it seems you may have done by email. you might also visit to get an idea of atmosphere of classes and strength of students.

    I am a full professor at a state university (University of Georgia), and from your description of your record, i cannot tell even if you would be a shoo in here. GRE scores are so meaningless that I discount them unless they are close to 800 in quantitative, which yours are, and some other professors ignore them all together.

    your verbal score also concerns me. Are you a non native engllsh speaker? It is common for strong students say from china to have lower verbal than quantitative scores and still do fine, but for americans, verbal scores are often a useful measure of reasoning ability, at least in the old days when analogies were still tested.

    But GRE scores give very little reliable information on whether you should be admitted. low ones however are always a concern such as apparently your subject score. why not take it again?

    the best information, in addition to grades, are the actual confidential letters, which by definition you have not seen. I.e. any letter you have seen is useless as a candid assessment of your potential.

    a quick look at the berkeley honor roll website reveals that hundreds and hundreds of berkeley students had over a 3.95 gpa in spring 2007. you are not one of them it seems, by your statement that yours is 3.7. maybe those are only freshmen. but good grades and good letters from berkeley should mean you are a promising student.

    i would suggest that UGA is a possible safe (and reasonable) destination for you. Look at our website if you are interested, for a description of the research specialties, and you will find some excellent people in representation theory. one advantage of UGA is that we have a vigre grant, a multi million dollar nsf grant given to schools that do a good job of actually supporting their grad students in a meaningful way to succeed.

    it provides unusually generous stipends for qualified students and low teaching responsibilities, as well as supplementary activities to introduce them to research. most large schools do not have these. i believe berkeley for example lost theirs for presumably lack of commitment to the goals of the program.

    but do not make career decisions with only the essentially anonymous input from a public website like this one. ask people who know you, and know the target schools, where you should apply. even at berkeley which is famous for huge classes and keeping a distance from its students, there should be at least one or two helpful and qualified people.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2008
  19. Nov 30, 2008 #18
    Thanks mathwonk, I am indeed talking with my profs about it. I have a rough list of where I'm going to apply due to my conversations with them as well as some of the input I have gotten from this site (mostly via pm). The honors at Berkeley are a little wonky however to compare with myself. The department wide letters and science is indeed very high 3.9-3.95 however an honors in the mathematics department alone takes a ~3.6-3.65 or greater + graduate courses/thesis. From what I have gathered about the process though is that trying to pin down your chances for any particular graduate school is very subjective and that a much better method is just to apply to a wide spread of schools whom have departments/research that interest myself.

    I will check out the UGA website/department site however, I had not looked over this particular university yet.
  20. Dec 2, 2008 #19
    Does this also apply to someone who does a semester or a year of exchange? I don't want to ruin my chances of getting into UCB or UCLA or any other good uni because I spent a year there doing undergrad stuff.
  21. Dec 2, 2008 #20
    PhysicalAnomaly: I doubt it, only if you actually graduated from UCB/UCLA. Though I dont even know if UCLA has the same view of admitting their own students.
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