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Will grad schools understand my situation?

  1. Mar 31, 2010 #1
    I'm a math major at a small college (kind of in the middle of nowhere), and am 14 years old. Since I had a ton of AP credit from high school and middle school, I have sophomore standing even though this has been my first year. In high school (for math) I did AP calc, multivariable calc, differential equations, and linear algebra through online programs. So far in college I have taken a set theory/proofs class and an abstract algebra class and have finished all of my gen-ed requirements. Though all of these classes have been very easy and the only challenge I get is through self studying, I don't feel comfortable transferring to a better school because I'm not ready to live far away from home yet. Also, I like my school a lot despite the super-easy math and have made friends there.

    I know that I want to continue doing math and go to grad school when I graduate, but am worried that since I go to a very small school that doesn't offer graduate level classes that I won't get into a good program and may not be as challenged as I would have been at a better institution. Will graduate schools understand my situation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2010 #2
    You seem to have a fairly unique situation. I can offer a story a prof. told me; there was a student who was 17 in one of his graduate classes at one of the better schools for mathematics. He was technically unable to graduate with his undergraduate at another institution because he focused entirely on mathematics and the graduate program let him in anyway. So in essence, they cut him some slack because of his exceptional circumstances.

    If you are starting your undergraduate at 14 and performing well in advanced classes, I wouldn't worry too much about it. You are apparently starting at an exceptionally young age, so I would suggest that you could consider taking a masters at a slightly more prestigious university and if you wish to do original work you could then move on to a PhD program at a top university. Try talking to your professors about research opportunities at the undergraduate level, I'm sure they would be interested in working with you if you have an ability to pick up difficult material quickly (assuming they have funding for undergraduate research assistants).

    If you have been doing quite a bit of independent study, as you indicate you have been, I would suggest looking into what the professors specialize in and seeing if they might set up individual study courses on a few topics. I would be quite surprised if you couldn't find one or two who is willing to try to challenge you. Most of them have a love of their subject, they would probably see it as an enjoyable task assuming they have the time to do it.
  4. Apr 1, 2010 #3
    I am going to offer you one bit of advice: TRANSFER.

    I'll trace back my reasoning from the obvious to the not-so-obvious.

    The reason you need to transfer originates in that the best graduate schools do not mess around with admissions. They won't even look at applicants without strong academic backgrounds, and they won't consider anyone who's future performance is questionable.

    What is required for a "strong academic background"? You need a heavy amount of coursework in mathematics (and you should be getting "A"s or "A-"s). This means some graduate-level work as an undergraduate. Moreover, there must be some way that the graduate school can gauge the difficulty of your courses.

    Here's where we get to the problem:
    1) Your college likely doesn't have high enough level courses to adequately prepare you.
    2) Even if it did, since your college isn't well-known, there is no good measure as to the true rigor of the courses you have taken.
    2a) There have likely been no great mathematicians coming out of your college, nor many notable professors teaching there.
    2b) More than 50% of people pass a course (at least). At a college with low admissions standards, this means that either grades are inflated, or the material is cut/watered down. An A in a course at your college does not necessarily equate even to passing at some of the more competitive universities.​
    3) Even if you are given the benefit of the doubt on the rigor of your course work, there will be many, many other applicants who have not only completed your level of work with better grades, but who are attached to a better college. Yes, the better college counts AGAIN.
    4) Your age will confer no advantage to you. They don't care about your age at all, except to the extent that they worry you might not be psychologically ready for graduate school at such a young age.

    Basically, you need to transfer eventually. You need to have a better college serve as a filter: they will evaluate transfer credits, place you appropriately, and then serve as a measuring stick for how well you are actually doing. This is your only hope of getting into a good graduate school.

    Good luck!

    (I'll give you more advice when I get back from class later today.)

  5. Apr 1, 2010 #4
    I would generally agree that transfer is really the best thing for you in terms of your academic future, I would say that even simply going to your state University (I assume you are in the US since you took AP credits) would suffice. They would generally be able to at least provide you with graduate courses that challenge you (in most cases).

    Still, depending on how much you want to go to an ivy league school for your graduate work, you should follow jgm's advice to a lesser or greater degree. You're 14, I don't know your temperment but being far away from home might get to you after a while. You have plenty of time to transfer later. Also, if you can get your degree at a fairly strong state school and then do well and move up to a stronger school for your masters I would say that you should be in good stead for doing your PhD level work at a top institution. All in all, if the state U isn't that far away, you should at least go there and aslo try to do some undergradute research.
  6. Apr 1, 2010 #5
    So, if I were to transfer somewhere else for the fall of 2011, would that be enough time for me to take some more challenging and fun math classes/pad my resume? I'm totally fine with taking more time than I would have at my current school to get my bachelors. By that time, I think I might be ready to live far away from home, since I've been to overnight camp before. What colleges do you people suggest I look into?
  7. Apr 1, 2010 #6
    What state are you in?
  8. Apr 1, 2010 #7
  9. Apr 2, 2010 #8
    Is it out of reach for you to go to IU Bloomington or Purdue? If you live near the Illinois boarder UIUC (university of Illinois Urbana champaign) could be under an hour away. If you just want to be able to visit home from time to time without taking a plane, Ohio State or U Michigan could be close if you live to the north or the east of Indiana. I guess if you live to the south there are fewer options. If you are close to Cincinnati, I think at the very least both UC and Xavier have graduate math programs, though they are not very strong.

    As far as transferring goes, do you have any particular interests? Are you more into Algebra or Analysis or Logic/Set theory or something else? Do you have other academic interests? There are plenty of strong schools you could try to apply to if you are willing to move anywhere in the country. You could go to NYU or Carnegie Mellon or Penn State, or UT Austin or Caltech or MIT or Harvard(if you think you could get in, either way I would try to apply if you want to go to one of them).

    I've noticed a bit of a trend in people who start very young and go to a so-so school, they can lose interest or fall away or get discouraged. If you decide to go to a stronger school you will be providing a challenge to yourself that may motivate you to achieve much more and further pique your interest in mathematics or any other field that may interest you after you arrive. I wouldn't underestimate how much the atmosphere of a school can affect you.
  10. Apr 2, 2010 #9
    We live pretty far north, almost closer to the Chicago area than to U of I. I know U Chicago is good, but is Northwestern good as well? I have a few friends that go there, and they seem to like it (though they're not math people).

    I'm really interested in Algebra right now, but that could possibly change as I take more classes.

    And I can totally understand the whole atmosphere of the school thing. That's pretty much what gets me frustrated right now (besides the level of the classes). All that I hear in the library is kids talking about how they're going to cheat on some test or how to plagiarize papers better. In my econ class, half the kids have their phones under their desks, looking up the answers.

    I've heard that graduate schools care most about your last 2 years, so does it sound like a good plan to transfer for fall of 2011? Most of my friends back in high school got their college acceptance letters yesterday, so I'm pretty sure the transfer deadlines have passed for fall 2010.

    I've been thinking about it a lot in the past few days, and I think I could be OK with living away from home by 2011. Sitting in classes the day after I posted this, I realized that if I stayed here any longer than I had to, I'd probably be extremely unhappy.

    Thanks everyone for all of your help with this :)
  11. Apr 2, 2010 #10
    This is an important piece. Having moved to another country when I was 16 to go to school, I know how it can feel, despite the increased "opportunities." Make sure you visit all the schools you are looking at to get a feel for the campus. If possible, visit the math departments and talk to some of the profs. While you may or may not be able to narrow down the "best" school, you can often quickly figure out the ones you don't want to go to.

    Good luck!
  12. Apr 2, 2010 #11
    You could also try to find some professor who will mentor you. This would mean that a special Ph.D program will be designed for you by the Prof. You then don't have to follow any regular university program, instead you have to follow those courses and study those books the Prof. decides. Later, you'll do the Ph.D research under the guidance of the Prof. earning your Ph.D title straightaway.

    But this can only work if you are at graduate level. A prof. will want to invest time in you if he/she thinks you're (almost) ready to produce original research publishable in leading journals. The Prof. can then use funds from some grant to fund your research and studies.
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