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Programs Pure Mathematics Phd from Ivy League University, Need Advice

  1. Nov 16, 2004 #1
    I am trying to get into an ivy league school and I'm trying to decide what is the best approach. I eventually would like to receive a phd in Mathematics and teach at the University level. My questions are:

    1. What would increase my chances more of getting into an ivy league phd math program, a double major in Math and Computer Science or a Masters in Mathematics? Both would take me the same amount of time at this point in my college career, approximately 3 years.

    2. Is is it even realistic to think that I can get into an ivy league university or somewhere like MIT or Stanford?

    3. When should I apply for the phd program, after my bachelors or after my masters? Is it possible to get in with just a bachelors degrees?

    4. With a degree in pure mathematics from an ivy league university, is it realistic to think that I will be able to find employment teaching at a somewhat prestigious university?

    I love mathematics, I help high school kids on the side with their calculus and I just love it. I dream of the day I can teach a classroom full of students. My dilemna is that I am not sure if getting all A's like I do is enough to get in. Right now I am attending a university but it isn't a very prestigious one. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2004
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  3. Nov 16, 2004 #2
    1. The double degree. The top schools are less interested in Master's Degree's than Bachelors.

    2. I don't know you. People do get in. You might be one of them.

    3. After bachelors for sure

    4. I'm not that sure about this one. YOu might want to ask someone with more experience. I'm sure you could land a position somehwere, but I'm not certain that you could get a long-term one.
  4. Nov 16, 2004 #3
    A Masters degree in three years? And no less, from an Ivy League? That's high hopes, and I'm not saying you're not smart or anything but Ivy League cost alot so it is mostly only the people who belong there. There are many more people like you who love a subject, other people that love math and there are Ivy League students that take up to five years just for their Bachelors. Considering that, getting a Doctorate could take up to eight years.

    You say you love math, but I would suggest you get your MS before applying for a Phd because you never know what will happen in life, you might even get a decent job offer before you get a Phd.
  5. Nov 16, 2004 #4


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    The primary things that will get you into a top-tier math graduate schools are: grades, grades, grades, and recommendations, recommendations, recomendations. As long as you can, avoid an MS, which is often considered a terminal, "could not cut it" degree, unfairly or not.

    For a few years, I was on a graduate school admissions committee for my physics dept (Tufts). I would say that virtually all applicants I considered had excellent undergraduate records, strong GSATs. The ones who got in had superb recommendations -- best student in .... years, and/or intellectually gifted and curious, and/or thinks like a physicist, and/or has great intuition, outstanding,....

    Do everything you can to get to know your profs -- good work is the best place to start. Ask questions in class, after class, go to office hours. After all, going to graduate school is a job. So, check out the famous "What Color is Your Parachute". It's job seeking ideas a techniques will serve you well in getting into grad. school.

    Reilly Atkinson
  6. Nov 16, 2004 #5
    Candyman - I think you misunderstood, I have 3 years left to either finish my double degree or I can get a masters in the same time period. Also I wasn't planning on paying, from what I understand most phd students are fully supported by their institutions through teaching assistanships and other forms of financial support.

    Deadwolfe - Ok that is great, after bachelors it is then:).

    reilly - Thank you so much for the advice!:) I will look into the "What Color is Your Parachute". I really really do need to get to know my professors more. For example in my complex analysis course I am probably the only student who has never been to the professors office and never asked a question in class. I need to change that it seems! I do good work already, I score perfect scores most of the time on exams but it seems I just need to start asking questions when I have them and going to see the professor when I get stuck.

    I guess I will stick with the double degree, which is what I am doing currently. Since I have three years left it will give me plenty of time to get to know my professors and maybe get involved in some form of undergraduate research. This is a great forum, I was googling for the same exact question and I am very fortunate to have stumbled upon it. Thanks so much for the help:)
  7. Nov 17, 2004 #6
    Just a note: Princeton's and Harvard's Mathematics PhD programs have a language requirement.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2004
  8. Nov 17, 2004 #7


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    One word : Recommendations
  9. Nov 17, 2004 #8
    devious_ - I went to their website and read up on it thank you.
    Gokul43201 - Thanks for the advice:)
  10. Nov 17, 2004 #9
    The language requirements are common for many high-reputation universities.

    But I believe you can fullfill if while earning the degree.
  11. Nov 19, 2004 #10
    1. Double major is the way to go IMO.
    2. Consider the Ivies over MIT when thinking about a pure math degree. The T in MIT means pure mathematics isn't as highly regarded as applied. Although they usually enroll a bunch of great math students, the Ivies ALWAYS win the pure math competitions. Also, ALL of the family I have that have gone to the Ivies or MIT have only gone for grad school suggesting to me that it may be a little easier to get in as a graduate. I could be completely wrong.
    3. A Masters doesn't have to come before a Ph.D. In the pure sciences/math, a masters isn't as important as say CS or any of the engineering.
    4. I don't think getting a Ph.D from a prestigious university would qualify you for teaching at one of those universities you got one from. It's my understanding you have to have published some pretty slick to stuff to secure yourself a spot at the Ivies. Just my opinion though.
  12. Nov 20, 2004 #11
    vsage - Awesome reply thank you so much:) That is interesting about the masters not mattering as much in the pure sciences/math. I will definitely not get one now as a few including yourself say it isn't the way to go. It's comforting to hear that you think a double major is the way to go. And yes I also was under the impression that it would be easier to get into an ivy league school for grad school.

    An interesting story, when I originally enrolled at my university I was advised against doing a double major, with the arguement that I could be using the time spent getting a double major in grad school. At this time though I wasn't sure I wanted to do math or computer science in graduate school. I then went to my old physics professor and he told me that regardless of what I do, to get the math the degree. This was pleasing to hear, because I like math and I didn't want to stop taking math courses. Anyways just thought I'd throw that in.

    This thread has lots of great advice so far, hopefully others will benefit from it's useful information.
  13. Nov 22, 2004 #12


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    There's a pretty bad bias still in existence in universities that they don't often hire those they've trained, so you're more likely to be able to get a job at a university where you didn't get your PhD or do your postdoctoral work. In terms of getting a PhD, the name of the school isn't important, it's what the faculty specialize in that's important. Don't get hung up on needing to go to an Ivy League school, look into the research specialties of the faculty there and make sure you apply to a place with several faculty doing research on topics you would be interested in pursuing for another 5 or 6 years. You want to find a program that has strengths in your particular interest so you can be certain the coursework you'll need will be offered, and that you have more than one person you could work with in case one prof doesn't have an opening for a new student, or you learn you can't get along with them and need to work with someone else.
  14. Nov 23, 2004 #13
    My brother finished his PhD in mathematics in 2002. He went to MIT and had very good grades if I got my facts right, but unfortunately was not able to get into an Ivy League Math program. Don't feel sorry for him though; he just got awarded a $500K/5 year fellowship which is going to significantly increease his chances of getting a good professorship.

    About getting into the elite schools: Its hard. I mean really hard. Are you aware of the types of people you are competing with ? The ones who take calculus when they are 13/14 and have the equivalent of half of their bachelors done by the time they finish high school. I went to a magnet school and we had a few every year. One kid in my class placed in the top 5 on the Putnam 4 years in a row! I think he won in at least once as well. He also made it to IMO. I wonder what he's up too now....

    Heres a sure way to get into any school you want:

    1) Get in the top 10 on the Putnam Exam
    2) Do really well on the Math GRE

    Beyond that, grades and recommendations are also pretty important. But if you do really well on 1) and 2) they can really give you the edge.

    I would not get 'hung up' on getting into an Ivy anyway. The great thing about theoretical math, you can do it in your basement ....
  15. Nov 26, 2004 #14
    Publications of individual research in your area of interest. Something that is very original would be the best for consideration.
  16. Dec 2, 2004 #15


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    i suggest you think more about learning as much as possible, and challenging yourself as much intellectually as possible, rather than maximizing your prestige quotient with an ivy league degree.

    they choose people based on merit, not quantitative data like trivial GRE scores. any idiot can get a high GRE score. merit is mostly measured by what the exprienced man at tufts said, grades and recommendations. both are necessary.

    but if you do not go to one of those places, it is not the end of the world, you will find many many places with excellent scholars who can teach you a lot.

    in my experience those top places like the ivies and so on are best at post graduate work. i.e. they are at such a high level, one learns most there after getting a phD.

    but if you are really good, you have a shot at getting in those places. there is always a shortage of really good grad stduents in pure math. and nowadays there is a special program for us students called the VIGRE grants.

    this has encouraged many places to admit more US students, so you do not have to compete with better prepared foreign students for that program. check it out, see which schools have these grants.

    by the way MIT is extremely strong in pure math.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2004
  17. Dec 2, 2004 #16
    Indeed it is. The T shouldn't deceive you.
  18. Dec 3, 2004 #17


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    I agree, not getting into an Ivy League school is not the end of the world. Ultimately you are measured by how much you know and how efficient you are, not by how much you spent or where you graduated from. Of course, getting into any Ivy school is a good thing but it is not the only variable for success. I know a few individuals that have actually been invited to those schools out of pure merit.

    Try to get there for your graduate studies, but if you don't, don't worry about it. Just be the best that you can possibly be anywhere you end up. Just remember; at the end of the day everyone ends up exactly where they are supposed to end, in one way or another. If you are good then you are set.

    About your questions, I honestly think a Master's is a better choice instead of a double major. A master simply prepares you more for a PhD than a second BS.
    Want to increase your chances at an Ivy League school? Be dedicated to your studies. There is no magic or a hidden short-cut. Work hard man, that's it.

    Oh, and MIT kicks ass bro. That name is a classic, forget the Institute meaning.
  19. Dec 3, 2004 #18
    Yeah maybe I shouldn't have suggested that the Math GRE (I am talking about the subject test, not the idiotic quantitive section of the general GRE) will automatiically get you into a good school, but if you have the grades and recommendations to back you up it helps alot. Also getting in the top 5 in the Putnam will pretty much get you a fellowship anywhere.

    It's pretty difficult to get published as an undergrad - mainly because at that point you don't have enough background to do much unless you are doing something really original.

    And thats true about MIT - even though technically its not "Ivy League". A few states will come close to the less well known Ivies such as Brown and Dartmouth as well.
  20. Dec 3, 2004 #19
    Yea I agree, that's about all we can do.

    I definitely agree it would prepare me more intellectually, but it seems it would lower my chances of getting into a good phd program by the sounds of what everyone is saying.
  21. Feb 7, 2008 #20


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    I guess you must not have noticed that Yanoz last posted to this thread over three years ago. :eek:

    Furthermore, a forum search reveals that his last post anywhere on PF was about two weeks later. So I think it is highly unlikely that he will see your response. :frown:
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2008
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