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Realistic Math Grad Schools

  1. Mar 19, 2008 #1
    It is still a considerable ways off from the time I'll be applying, but I'm trying to get an idea of what grad programs are realistic for me. My primary disadvantage is that I started at community college, and my first course there was a high-school level course (intermediate algebra).

    I progressed very quickly, cumulative 3.93/4.00 GPA, transferred to UC Berkeley. My first semester at Berkeley I took two honors courses and one non-honors, all upper division, math courses (analysis, linear algebra, abstract algebra). I got an A+ in one of the honors, and A's in the other two classes. This semester I am in a second abstract algebra course (Galois theory, mostly), algebraic topology, set theory, and an independent study course. At this point in the semester, I am very comfortable with the material and with my performance: I have basically the highest grades in these classes so far. Over the summer and into fall I've made arrangements to work with a professor on a senior thesis. I should be able to get decent letters of recommendation, at least relative to the condition that I've been here only a short, short time. In the fall I plan also to take my first graduate class, algebra.

    So, I've come to Berkeley, which is supposedly a relatively 'tough' school, and I'm able to do hold my own quite well here. The problem is, starting at community college is terrible, and I don't know that these grad schools will recognize how quickly I've progressed (from intermediate algebra to perfect grades in tough courses at Berkeley). The other thing that graduate schools might not recognize is how hard I work. Though I don't often have trouble, I always study as thoroughly as I can to try to understand the subject inside and out. I also study with other people who are not taking the same classes as I am to get exposed to more material. These things don't always come through on a transcript and aren't always easy to work into a statement without sounding big-headed.

    Also, I've worked part time as a tutor for the past two years. I'm hoping to get enough financial assistance to be able to cut back or stop entirely during my senior year, but we'll see about that.

    What programs are realistic in my case? Were any of you accepted after starting at community college? Should I just go to Cal State San Marcos and call it a day? I wish I had four years at Berkeley so that I could have a transcript that compares to my peers!

    EDIT: Note, I'll be applying NEXT year, (that is, 8 months from now), for admission Fall 2009. This gives me a year and a half of Berkeley before grad schools reject me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2008 #2
    I went to 2 different community colleges and now I am in maths grad school. One of my professor told me that it was an advantage because it shows how discipline you are (assuming you are doing very well in 4 years univ.). Dont worry too much about that, you should rather worry about GRE, recommandation, and others which are more essential to your postgrad application. Your background is not something you can change anytime, but your application can be improved.
  4. Mar 19, 2008 #3
    They definitely will. For that matter, most grad schools (and employers) only look at your upper-division work when assessing you anyway; the assumption is that people are just partying during their first couple years of school. So it doesn't matter much whether those years were at community college or not. If anything, being a transfer student is an advantage, because it shows that you are strongly motivated and have a good perspective.

    I have a friend who not only transferred from a community college, but actually dropped out of high school before that. He's now working on his PhD in Control Systems at a very reputable school with a very reputable advisor. Don't sweat it.
  5. Mar 20, 2008 #4
    Is it highly unlikely for somebody like me to be accepted to the likes of Stanford or Caltech?
  6. Mar 20, 2008 #5

    Read what people say, please. So if someone here tells you that you have no chance to go to Stanford, then you wouldn't apply there at all? Your question is pointless.

    Indeed today I talked to a mathematician who came from a decent school (like UCB). and yet she never thought she won't never get into IAS. But she did after applying. Whatever moral of this story is, I hope you can learn from it
  7. Mar 20, 2008 #6
    Well, I did read what they wrote. Neither they nor you have answered my pointless question, whose vacuousness fills the title of this thread.

    Do you have any reason to say that my question is pointless?
  8. Mar 20, 2008 #7
    i'm pretty sure you can get into schools like caltech and stanford as long as you ahve good grades, letters of rec, gre's

    but i'm also a communtiy college trnasfer student, so take my advice with a grain of salt
  9. Mar 20, 2008 #8
    As I stated, if someone answers 'no' to you. What are you going to do? The simple principle is that if you don't try, then you would never get it.

    None of us here will guarantee you a place in those places. Thus your question is just a Bernoulli trail with nonzero probability. It is you who will affact the probability. I have also suggested ways to improve the probability.

    Furthermore, I don't see why you can't apply to top schools and regular schools simultaneously? If we answer 'yes', are you going to risk your career to apply one top school? Of course, you should not.

    Indeed, just apply to as many schools (of your interest) as you can, do well on GRE, get good recommandation, finish apps early. Then you have a good chance to get in anywhere

    for pointless question i mean
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2008
  10. Mar 20, 2008 #9
    Yeah, Leon, thanks for your advice on improving my probabilities overall. That is obviously important.

    The thing with my situation now, and really the nature of my questions, I don't know how many schools I should be applying to (it's not free after all). I don't know how many top schools I should apply to. To answer your last question: I will certainly do that. I also wouldn't follow advice that I perceive as blatantly stupid. However, I think I can collect some reasonable advice on where to apply that can help me make my own decision.
  11. Mar 20, 2008 #10
    my ratio was 1:2 for top school to decent school respectively. I applied 13 schools (if i remember correctly)

    Just look at the list in this sub-forum and pick the schools you are interested starting from the top. Then look at what schools conducts research that you are interested. Make a list then apply
  12. Mar 20, 2008 #11
    So I hope you'll forgive more questions:

    What would be some examples of the "decent" programs? Like UCSD, or farther down the list?
  13. Mar 20, 2008 #12
    i did not bother to apply any school below reputable state school because getting a PhD there does not mean too much
  14. Mar 20, 2008 #13


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    You should go speak to academic advisors at your school. Almost no one here can actually give you the answers you want.

    That said, Berkeley is a great school, and has one of the best math departments in North America. So you have a lot of excellent resources and mathematicians at your disposal, which is a lot more than can be said for many other applicants. The burden is on you to make the best of what you have.
  15. Mar 20, 2008 #14
    I self selected myself out of the very top engineering schools because I didn't think I was "good enough". Come to find out, some of my peers with comparable achievements were accepted all over. If you don't apply to a school, you're guaranteed to not get accepted.
  16. Mar 22, 2008 #15
    So I have another question:

    One thing I really enjoyed thinking about was the idea of a topological group, even though I barely got to spend any time on that topic. It's something I'd definitely like to spend some more time on in graduate school, and possibly even go into some area of research that looks at similar ideas.

    So my question is, what are some areas people are doing real work that might be related to topological groups? Also, where are these people doing that real work?
  17. Mar 22, 2008 #16
    you should be able to get in somewhere in the top 40 at least, maybe even better, check out http://www.ams.org/employment/asst.pdf
    you should also check out the departmental websites of the places you are considering, do your research, it's a big decision
    of course
    you could if that's what you want to do, but you can go elsewhere I'm sure

    Again make sure you consider all the factors involved in the decision; ie, location, research areas, funding, cost of living, etc... You'll be wherever you go for a long time so think hard about it and try not to stress about the whole admissions process. You'll get in somewhere good i'm sure, so you should focus on learning as much as possible before grad school. Don't forget to apply to a few "safety schools" too.

    more useful links
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2008
  18. Mar 22, 2008 #17
    Thank you for those links ircdan. I'm going to try to simultaneous strategies as I research programs: building a list up from one with only a few schools and adding ones that are compelling, and a second list that starts long and that I remove schools from that are not compelling. I'll definitely be making use of these lists.

    Also, a note to forum-goers: I wrote another question as the last post on the first page, which might be easy to overlook now that we're on the second.
  19. Mar 22, 2008 #18


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    Look into harmonic analysis. Incidentally Berkeley has a couple of harmonic analysts.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2008
  20. Mar 24, 2008 #19
    I think with that kind of progression through Berkeley, and the fact you even transferred from a CC to there and did well shows that you're a highly motivated person.

    I currently also go to UC Berkeley and even though I didn't transfer, you sure did better than I did in those classes.

    It shows you had a good foundation in the stuff you learned.

    I wouldn't rule out great grad schools. Just apply and see where you can get into. Other than monetary issues, you don't lose anything by applying to these schools. You either get in or you don't. If you don't apply at all, then you wouldn't know the answer to your own question. The only way to find out if "others" think you're capable is to apply.

    If you have to do essay questions, that one of the modes you can use to display this motivation you have.
  21. Mar 25, 2008 #20

    I'm also a UC Berkeley math major. I'm finishing this semester and now I am in the fun/stressful stage of visiting grad schools and ultimately trying to decide where to go.

    I know of a guy from a few years ago who transferred in from a community college and then went on to Princeton for grad school, so don't rule it out. That being said, to be completely honest, while Berkeley is a great place for mathematics, I've found that this really isn't true for undergraduates. The undergrad courses don't compare with other places like Harvard or Princeton, so if you really want to be a competitive applicant, you need to take advantage of Berkeley's wonderful graduate department and take graduate courses. This is the easiest way to meet professors who can write letters of recommendations for you, but of course, you don't just want letters from your teachers. It's great that you are doing a senior thesis, this will make for a good letter. Who, if I may ask, are you planning to work with?

    By the way, if you like topological groups, as someone mentioned harmonic analysis is one possible route. Incidentally, Richard Borcherds is teaching a course on abstract harmonic analysis (math 260) in the fall, though the prerequisites might be a bit high. But don't let this stop you if you are motivated enough. I find that the most exciting way to learn mathematics is by trying to fill in holes (because it gives you a reason to learn the stuff!), though it's certainly not the most painless way. Another direction is of course Lie groups and Lie algebras. Also lucky for you, Mark Haiman is teaching a course on Lie groups (math 261A) next semester, but again it will be tough if you haven't had graduate training before.

    With all that being said, if you'd like, I'd be happy to speak with you in person about your concerns. I'll be in Berkeley tomorrow afternoon, so we can chat whenever it's convenient for you. I vaguely am aware of what is necessary to get into a good grad school coming from Berkeley (I've been accepted by Chicago, MIT, and Princeton -- sorry I'm not trying to brag -- and a friend of mine from Berkeley was accepted to Harvard), so hopefully I can be of some assistance.

    Oh and my name is Steven. My e-mail address is ssam@b -- you know how to finish it.
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