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What's the competition like at (Math) REUs?

  1. Oct 20, 2011 #1
    So I'm currently an undergrad at a top math university with ~3.6-7 GPA (probably all A's this semester). Here's my full coursework by the end of this year:
    Lower Division:
    Multivariable Calculus
    Linear Alg. & Diff. Eq.
    Discrete Math

    Upper Division:
    Linear Alg.
    Abstract Algebra
    Real Analysis
    Numerical Analysis
    Complex Analysis

    Ordinary Diff Eq.
    Functional Analysis & General Topology I and II
    Multivariable Complex Analysis
    Algebraic Topology I and II
    Differential Topology
    Symplectic Geometry
    Kaehler Geometry

    Research for 1 year [in Geometric/LD Topology]

    Also, I know that LORs make the most difference for admission and while they are highly variable, I think I should have a pretty good one from my research advisor and another from one of my graduate professors who I have a good relationship with.

    Does this put me ahead of most REU-acceptees? And what's the criteria for a very solid application? I appreciate any response, even if it be obvious. Thanks.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2011 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    What does it matter?

    If a bunch of guys on the internet tell you your chances are good, or if they tell you your chances are poor, what action will you take differently? Particularly, since, as you yourslef point out, a big factor is something we don't have access to. All you can do is apply and see what happens.
  4. Oct 21, 2011 #3
    Topics like these give information on how to improve one's application. The main purpose of the topic is to learn the 'standard' criteria that makes a strong application, so I know how to better my own. I simply listed my own background as a reference, and I don't see what's necessarily wrong about asking. You seem a bit offended.

    I just want to know what makes a solid application. After all, even with my coursework, I'm going against <5% acceptance rates.
  5. Oct 21, 2011 #4
    You have a strong application. Since you go to a top school I think you will have a good chance. A good website for this sort of thing is Physics GRE forum. If you search around you can find threads on who got in what grad schools/REU's.
  6. Oct 21, 2011 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    Shouldn't you make your application as strong as you can make it anyway?
  7. Oct 21, 2011 #6
    While I do agree with your initial sentiment, I find that the "worries" of the OP are only reasonable. Granted, he or she should be doing the best he can but what if they *can* do better but don't know what exactly that would consist of? But I suppose that's a thing that would be program dependent...

    Anyway, just apply. Good luck man.
  8. Oct 21, 2011 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Suppose a bunch of guys on the internet told him he won't make it, so he decides not to apply.

    Suppose a bunch of guys on the internet told him he'll get in and he doesn't.

    I just don't see it making sense to ask a bunch of guys on the internet - none of whom have his letters - their uninformed opinion. What should someone do differently based on this opinion?
  9. Oct 21, 2011 #8
    Vanadium, I can't remember how many posts I've read of yours that in some way have a harsh tone towards the OP or are downright rude, I know you've read so many "OMG WILL I GET ACCEPTED", "WAHTS TEH PROBABILITY FO ME BEING ACCEPTED", "HOW DO I GET INTO GRAD SCHOOL WITH A LOW GRE SCORE", but it doesn't mean you need to be arrogant about it.


    For your REU application, make sure that you get a very strong letter of recommendation from a professor/researcher THAT KNOWS YOU WELL. It is very important that the person writing the letter has spent quite a bit of time with you and can actually comment on you as a person, not just "he did good at research and is a good student, got an A in all my classes". That is quite the impressive amount of Graduate courses you have taken as an undergraduate, I'm sure you will likely be very well qualified to participate in an REU program with the base of knowledge you have. Make sure you apply to a bunch of REU programs because the acceptance rate is very low and there are many students who are quite qualified (just as you are) for a particular program, especially if you are looking at the MIT/Harvard/Caltech REU's.

    Good luck with your application, make sure you apply to as many as you are interested in participating in and it is quite likely that you will be acceptance to one or more programs.
  10. Oct 21, 2011 #9
    I'm applying regardless of a person's opinion, and you seem to completely misinterpret the main purpose of this topic: to see how I can improve my application, not to soothe my ego.

    And sure, you assert that I should just make my application as strong as possible regardless of opinion, but that's easier said than done. How can I possibly do that if I don't even know the criteria for a "strong" application? That's why I made this topic. And also, I ask that you please refrain from making more posts that aren't on the topic at hand. Thank you.

    As for everyone else, thanks for the information!
    Just as a note, I think the more 'prestigious' REUs don't necessarily correlate to the 'prestige' of the undergrad/graduate programs. In fact, I'm not sure if Harvard or MIT even have REUs. In terms of REUs, I've heard the hardest-to-get-into are places like Williams, Duluth, Cornell, etc.
    But the other info was really helpful!
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2011
  11. Oct 21, 2011 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    Then, sorry, but that's the question you should have asked. That is completely independent from "What's the competition like at (Math) REUs?" And the answer to that question is "strong letters".
  12. Oct 21, 2011 #11
    ^I'll just ignore that post.

    Anyways, what's the competition like at (Math) REUs?
    Now that I know what makes a good application, I'm curious what the actual REU experience is like. For anyone who's been to one, how has your background fared compared to others? I've checked out a lot of past REU threads here, and almost all dealt with REU admissions rather than the experience itself. Did you feel that you were at the right level with everyone else at the REU? Or were they perhaps older, younger, etc.?
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2011
  13. Oct 21, 2011 #12
    Note about prestigious REU programs:


    I'd guarantee that these programs are likely a lot harder to get into than the REU held at North Island College in Rhode Island (fictitious unknown school).

    When I attended a program that was not an REU, but pretty much the same set-up as what one would be I took a few mini-courses at the institute before participating in research with a group mentor, so essentially it was a huge burst of new information and then applying some of it right away and relying on any previous stuff you've learned in the past. I noticed that I felt ahead of the other students because I had the opportunity to self-study abstract algebra and real analysis when most of the students had yet to take real analysis or had only done Algebra I. You should enjoy your time and you should meet a lot of people that you will hopefully be able to building lasting relationships with who could later be collaborators on research projects in the future. You are spending a lot of time in close proximity with a few certain people so you do get to know them quite well. More than anything else, it helps you realize that you know NOTHING compared to what there is to be known and that the small fraction of knowledge squeezed out in an undergraduate Math/Physics degree is just one drop out of an eyedropper that dipped into a vast ocean of seemingly endless knowledge.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2011
  14. Oct 21, 2011 #13
  15. Oct 21, 2011 #14


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    The thing is that many people on this forum have experience with this kind of thing. There are lot of engineers, physicists, and current graduate students here and this forum is not highly representative of everyone on the "internet" in general.

    In terms of people making their own decisions, well thats the same argument whether someone is asking advice from people in their physical presence, or on an internet forum.

    I don't know why you have issues with people asking for advice. Of course he/she will make their own decision: they are just seeking for information to make a more informed decision: any one making a big life decision of any sort does this.
  16. Oct 22, 2011 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    That's the point exactly - what is the decision being made?

    If it's apply/not apply to an REU, I would argue a) it's not a big life decision, and b) it doesn't hurt to apply.
  17. Oct 22, 2011 #16
    I think the value of opinions is pretty clearly not what is being stated, but what reasoning is given behind what is stated. So by asking for opinions on the competition, and how good of a chance the given individual stands, I'd assume Anonymous also seeks the reasoning behind why she/he stands low or high relative to other applicants.

    I do of course agree with Vanadium fully that one should never make a decision purely based on the opinion of random people on the internet.

    From the above, while reading in the most literal sense, it is not clear Anonymous wishes to improve the application, it can be guessed being interested in the criteria for a solid application involves wanting to improve it. Especially if it can be guessed that this candidate would make a decision randomly to apply or not based on the opinions of people on the internet. Both guesses can be wrong, but I wouldn't rate the first guess as far less reasonable than the second.
  18. Oct 22, 2011 #17
    I have heard many times that applying to REUs is a little like applying to grad school. You have a solid background, especially in topology and geometry, having done both research and advanced coursework in both. That makes you a good candidate for graduate school, and I would say also for REUs.

    One thing I am not sure of is how much REUs match you to their projects based on the background you show. For instance, if you were applying to some REU which primarily studies number theory, I'd be a little skeptical, because what evidence is there that you want to work on such a project?

    Just as with graduate school, your being a good candidate for strong programs does not mean I'd encourage being overly confident (I'm not suggesting you are, just being complete). Apply to a fair number of places with projects which INTEREST you, and not just the most prestigious ones.

    A comment: with your background, you might consider doing a physics project of some sort (well, mathematical physics). It could be enriching, fun, and put to use a lot of what you've learned in unique ways. I'm not sure if this is relevant to your REU applications, but it might be.
  19. Oct 22, 2011 #18
    I was going to say this as well; quoted for truth.
  20. Oct 22, 2011 #19
    Thanks for the info. Is it really the case that research in one field might cause difficulties when applying to another? I'd imagine that any research would be good on applications (for REUs), regardless of the field.

    I'm aiming to do geometry/topology in graduate school (hence, the geometry/topology coursework and research), but certainly, REUs wouldn't mind if I did these instead of something like combinatorics, right? After looking at the topics in most REUs, they seem geared towards an 'applied' or very 'problem-based' field (reasonably so given it's just a summer program). And although I'd prefer to do an REU in a more 'pure-based' subject, REUs don't seem to have that option.

    Of course. Given that acceptance rates are so low, I'm planning to apply to as many programs as I can (if they interest me). Oh, and REU applications are (all?) free so that's a big bonus. :]
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2011
  21. Oct 22, 2011 #20
    That's true - many are a lot more applied, probably because it is hard to do something in a short period of time in the "pure" areas. For these, just being good at math and showing promise at research of any kind probably works fine. Of course, it can't hurt to have a strong combinatorics background if you're applying to a combinatorics REU :-)

    If you do end up applying to something pure though, I'd imagine having the right kind of background is going to help.
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