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Where to apply?


asdf

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Hi,

The US system is completely new for me and I've got no idea how tough the competition is. I'm a graduate student in mathematics in Finland, but I've thought about applying to the US next autumn. The problem is that I have no idea how high I could aim with my applications. Here's some stats:

+ got my M.Sc. in 3 years (5 the norm)

+ had a GPA of 5.0/5 in mathematics 4.95/5 overall

- I will be 26 next autumn (old I suppose)

I graduated from the top university in Finland (University of Helsinki) in 2006 with a M.Sc. I'm able to get very good recommendations from my thesis advisor (he already wrote for a scholarship application, that I was his best student ever) who is senior faculty and probably a good one from my current faculty advisor. However, I really don't know who to ask about the third, as I haven't had more than one course with any other professor. Also the teaching system in Finland lets you just pick up the reading list for a course and write the whole course of in one big 4 hour exam, so you never even meet the professor. I did this for almost every undergraduate course that I thought was too trivial. The downside is that I really haven't had any interaction with the professors who tought those courses.

As I've understood most US math students are quite young. That's why I'm worrying that my age will be a problem as I would be 27 at the time I would enroll into a Ph.D. program. However, I graduated from high-school in 2001 and spent the following year working for a software company I co-founded while in high-school. I got into a dispute with one of the other owners and left to study CS in the autumn 2002. I quickly realized that I really wanted to study mathematics, so I began studying mathematics in the autumn 2003 after switching to the University of Helsinki. After graduating in 2006 I spent a year in the military (every man has to serve in the military in Finland) and now I've been studying math in a graduate school for about 6 months. This means that I've spent 3 years doing some else than studying mathematics. I'm also going to have already 2 years of graduate study behind me at the time I would begin at a US program. I don't know if this is a positive thing or not.

While studying mathematics I've also taken for fun some CS courses at my old university (as there are no tuition costs in Finland, this is possible). I've already done more coursework than required for a B.Sc. in CS, but I don't think I've got time to finish a bachelors thesis there, so I won't get a degree. In these courses my GPA is about 4.6/5, but I haven't put much effort in to them. I'm also wondering wether or not I should mention these studies and send the transcript or could the GPA hurt me if applying to better programs?

Thanks in advance.

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It sounds like you have a good chance for admission at US schools -- I don't think your age will count against you, since you spent your time doing meaningful work at your own business or in the military when you weren't in school. One issue with international students applying in the US is that sometimes US professors don't understand the educational traditions of other countries (and might not be familiar with Finnish universities, which are the best, which are the worst, etc.). So, try to find professors who can explain these things for you in their letters of recommendation. The recommendations are often considered the most important part of the application (along with your statement of purpose essay), anyway, so make it a priority to find good writers for this. Professors are the best option, but a work supervisor from a job that's relevant to your field is okay for one of them, too.

As for your transcripts in CS, you should submit them. If your grades are not as good as your math grades, that's okay -- you are applying for math, not CS. But it is considered dishonest not to submit ALL transcripts for ALL universities attended, and it sounds like the grades are not bad, just not as good as your other grades.

Really you have nothing to lose except the application fees, so you might as well apply anyway, at least to a few schools! Good luck.

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I definitely don't think your age will count against you. You have to send all transcripts, even from the CS portion of your academic career. I'd recommend starting to build a relationship with a professor now so they can write you a recommendation when the time comes. Alternately, could you maybe get a professional reference from a supervisor? I think building some kind of relationship, research or otherwise, with a faculty member is your best bet for the third recommendation letter. Good luck! The rest of your stats are great so I imagine you'll have a great chance of getting in somewhere.

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If I were on an admissions committee, I'd imagine you'd be near the top of the list of students I'd like to admit. Just do very well on the quantitative section of the GRE, score what you need to score on the TOEFL, find a third recommender, get your transcripts translated, find departments that match your interests and apply.

Good luck!

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You probably have a shot at top schools, if you take the advice of the respondants above. One thing I would advise, though, is to send out a wide variety of apps. Some to dream schools, some to solid programs, and a couple to backup schools in cities you would like to live. You want to cover all bases.

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