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Advice on gettting into pure math grad schools

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I was wondering if anybody has some advice on how to get into top 25 programs in pure math Phd programs. After reading prospective student's applications on here and mathematicsgre, I'm not sure what grad school are looking for. I've noticed some people with high gre scores getting rejected to most places they apply, while I just finished reading about a person who bombed the math gre (with around a 570 I believe) and got accepted into northwestern!! Do schools weigh one's research interests and letter of intent heavily? Is it a matter of being interested in the right field at the right time? Or are the minimum gre cutoff scores just extremely high ( maybe > 90%).

Maybe it be better to apply to a masters program in math at a good school and then apply to a PhD program after the masters is completed. There are several good school with a master programs: Upenn, UMichigan, UCBerkley, NYU, Cambridge (Part III) etc.... Are masters programs just as hard to get into though?

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Well I got into a top 25 program, so perhaps I know a thing or two. Then again, I got rejected pretty much everywhere else, so maybe not.

Using the profiles on mathematicsgre.com, its pretty clear that the math GRE is not the end all factor in an application. However, the grad admissions director of Washington said it was likely that many schools were simply throwing out applications below some cutoff because they had so many applications for so few spots. Despite this, there are at least some schools which actually read the applications, it seems Northwestern is one by your story, and I can tell you Washington is another by the fact I got in with a 690. Here is another interesting result: http://www.mathemati...57&p=1640#p1640 a 700 on the GRE, but got into Yale, Cornell, Michigan, etc. with an ivy undergrad and lots of research.

Getting a score that no school would look down upon (at least mid-80s percentilewise, probably) would be a very useful asset to your application, regardless.

I don't think research interest is a big deal, not in pure math at least. Grad schools know that is very likely to change and become more refined as you learn more. I think strong letters of recommendation are extremely important. Make sure you get at least 3 professors who know you very well, take multiple high level classes under them. Doing research would be extremely helpful as well.

I don't think you should apply with the intent of going for a masters if a PhD is your eventual goal, though I do regret not applying to any as a backup. I don't know anything about masters admissions, though.

Edited by origin415

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It seems like most schools don't care that much about the GRE. I got a 710 (67th percentile) and got into a top 10 program, and 6 other top 20 programs. It has to do more with how much math you've seen, your grades, your undergrad institution, and your letters of rec.

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The Top10 schools want to see at least 750 on the subject GRE, unless you have done some serious (original & interesting) research. The Top25 are much open about candidates with slightly lower test scores (simply because those people with top letters, top grades and top scores tend to go to the top schools, so they have to compromise on applicant quality somewhere).

"Good fit" is not very important, unless you've already done serious research.

sD<

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<br />The Top10 schools want to see at least 750 on the subject GRE, unless you have done some serious (original &amp; interesting) research. The Top25 are much open about candidates with slightly lower test scores (simply because those people with top letters, top grades and top scores tend to go to the top schools, so they have to compromise on applicant quality somewhere).<br /><br />&quot;Good fit&quot; is not very important, unless you've already done serious research.<br /><br />sD&lt;<br />
<br /><br /><br />

This is just false...I got into a top 10 school with a 710, as I said above, and I haven't done any original research.

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It seems like most schools don't care that much about the GRE. I got a 710 (67th percentile) and got into a top 10 program, and 6 other top 20 programs. It has to do more with how much math you've seen, your grades, your undergrad institution, and your letters of rec.

What top 10 program did you get accepted to? It's nice to know that there are people with sub 800 gre scores getting into top grad schools. Congrats btw.

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This is just false...I got into a top 10 school with a 710, as I said above, and I haven't done any original research.

No offense intended, but I consider Michigan a Top25 rather than a Top10 school. Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford probably rank above Michigan, and there's too much competition from the likes of Yale, Penn, Courant, Cornell, Brown, ... to definitely put Michigan in the Top10.

sD.

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Ok, well I got into Cornell as well, so either way. However, the head of the dep't at my school said (about my choices): well, Cornell is top 15, but Michigan is top 10.

Edited by mathgrad

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I think the comments about GRE scores beg the question: what would a perfect score on the Math GRE mean? I'm a lowly high school math teacher who got a 710 on it, so I can't imagine that a perfect score would mean anything to a math department. I mean, are you likely to see Taylor equations on the GRE? Symplectic Geometry? Using vector sheaves in place of bundles based on arbitrary topological spaces? (<3 Wikipedia) In short, I think putting much weight on a GRE test would be like focusing on the spelling bee results from an applicant applying to a PhD in English. The GRE's just not going to be able to give anyone a sense of your math abilities, especially if, like most PhD's do, you're going where no one has gone before.

So, I have no advice on getting in other than, like almost all other PhD applicants, ignore the GRE beyond what it takes to get scores at 600 or above so the app isn't trashed... ;)

Edited by Postbib Yeshuist

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Postbib Yeshuist,

I somewhat agree with you in principle about the value of the GRE. The question is, though, to what extent do admissions committees agree with you? Unfortunately, I think some of them place quite a bit of weight on GRE scores. I've even heard of a Physics department that puts a high emphasis on verbal GRE scores, because "students have to know how to communicate, not just solve problems." Well, sure, but of course if they actually looked at the test, they would realize that it doesn't measure how well you can communicate, it measures how many vocabulary words you memorized.

Same thing with the Subject GRE: it's a tangible number and some people are going to assume it is accurately measuring what they want.

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So, I have no advice on getting in other than, like almost all other PhD applicants, ignore the GRE beyond what it takes to get scores at 600 or above so the app isn't trashed... ;)

Its going to take a bit more than 600 to not trash your app at top schools. Berkeley basically says not to bother applying unless you have over 80th percentile (then again Berkeley has a reputation for placing a huge amount of weight in the score). I completely agree with you on the useless of the test, in an ideal world...

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"Good fit" is not very important, unless you've already done serious research.

I strongly disagree with this. I got very good feedback during in-person and phone interviews saying how good of a fit I was for the department. I subscribe much of my success in applications this year to applying to the "right" programs (along with work and military experience, maturity, decent subject score). I have zero academic research experience.

Edited by BongRips69

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No offense intended, but I consider Michigan a Top25 rather than a Top10 school. Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford probably rank above Michigan, and there's too much competition from the likes of Yale, Penn, Courant, Cornell, Brown, ... to definitely put Michigan in the Top10.

sD.

Personally, I think MIT/Harvard/Princeton/Berkeley/Stanford are about even as the top 5, and then Columbia/Chicago/Michigan/Yale/NYU are about even as the next 5.

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@Subject test: One professor (at a top5 school) put it as "it tests your ability to solve a lot of problems in very little time, and a lot of people on the adcom want to see at least 750". Individual professors may be of different opinions, but depending on the school it's very likely you'll find that some of the people on the adcom will put a fair share of weight on the subject test score. Essentially: Grades are expected to be stellar, subject score is expected to be 80-85%+, letters are very important, SOP isn't too important (unless you have a really good idea in mind what you want to do) - this is what various profs have told me at my school / prior to application / at interviews. Personally I think the subject test is superfluous and not a good estimator for the quality of your thesis (btw, schools in the UK don't use it at all).

Obviously, what matters is the "overall impression". There're outliers, and there're loads of applicants being rejected with nearly-perfect test scores.

@Good fit: Did you apply to pure maths programmes, bongrips69? (Do pure maths adcoms really care about work/military experience?!)

sD.

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@Good fit: Did you apply to pure maths programmes, bongrips69? (Do pure maths adcoms really care about work/military experience?!)

sD.

I don't really know, can only tell you my experience. I picked up a degree and training in meteorology in the military. I was an officer, so that gives me some leadership experience (gah... dealing with DUIs and other shenanigans). Since then I worked as a software developer writing scientific codes. In my SOP I stated that my interests were in fluids, geometry, dynamical systems, etc. Some of the programs I applied to were applied, others were just regular mathematics programs with a lot of people doing fluids.

I know at one program my interests helped me get an IGERT fellowship (by definition, not really a pure math award).

Edited by BongRips69

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I strongly disagree with this. I got very good feedback during in-person and phone interviews saying how good of a fit I was for the department. I subscribe much of my success in applications this year to applying to the "right" programs (along with work and military experience, maturity, decent subject score). I have zero academic research experience.

For applied mathematics, I believe its a bit more important. The various subfields are further away from each other than in pure math.

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I remember when I visited UCSB, one prof said, "...and I like combinatorics, but don't get to do much of it here. If you told me you were interested in combinatorics, I'd tell you to go somewhere else." Replace UCSB with any department, and combinatorics with some subject in which the school doesn't have much expertise. Mathematics is a social endeavor!

We've already concluded in this thread that GRE scores are relatively unimportant. If your fit in the department isn't important, than what is? In my opinion the two most important things are (in no particular order) research interests/fit and letters of recommendation. Besides that you'll see that all the quantitative measures are roughly correlated (department ranking, applicant GPA/GRE, undergrad institution ranking), but can be overcome to some extent based on the first two.

Oh yeah... here's my profile on mathematicsgre.com, just so you can take my comments with the appropriately sized grain of salt.

http://www.mathematicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=357#p1599

Two parting comments:

1) If you see people with maxed out subject GRE scores getting rejected from a bunch of places... check their country of origin. We Americans get a pass!

2) Many top schools (NYU, for instance) will gladly "accept" you into their Master's program, providing you're willing to shell out for it!

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Well, if anything we see that there is a diversity of opinion on what is important.

For what it is worth, I am under the impression that "fit" is very important.

However, "fit" is both a function of faculty interest and time (i.e. who will need a student soon).

Best of luck.

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I've got a 910/99% GRE and was rejected by a lot of schools, including several ranked 30-50. One of my classmates with a 800+ sub received no financial aid this year. Although I was accepted by one top 25 program I have no idea why I was accepted as well as why I was rejected or waitlisted by others.

<br />I was wondering if anybody has some advice on how to get into top 25 programs in pure math Phd programs. After reading prospective student's applications on here and mathematicsgre, I'm not sure what grad school are looking for. I've noticed some people with high gre scores getting rejected to most places they apply, while I just finished reading about a person who bombed the math gre (with around a 570 I believe) and got accepted into northwestern!! Do schools weigh one's research interests and letter of intent heavily? Is it a matter of being interested in the right field at the right time? Or are the minimum gre cutoff scores just extremely high ( maybe &gt; 90%).<br /><br /><br />Maybe it be better to apply to a masters program in math at a good school and then apply to a PhD program after the masters is completed. There are several good school with a master programs: Upenn, UMichigan, UCBerkley, NYU, Cambridge (Part III) etc.... Are masters programs just as hard to get into though?<br />
<br /><br /><br />

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I think a lot has to do with who you're competing against. For example, at least where I'm coming from, a lot of the stronger students tend to want to go into number theory, algebraic geometry, topology, etc. I would guess that most of the top students intend to go into one of these more glamorous subjects, but if they only accepted these students then the analysts, combinatorists, etc. would have nobody to teach. So if suspect that if you state an intention to concentrate in a less sexy subject you will have an easier time getting in to top schools (I am pretty certain that was the case for yours truly).

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From what I've heard on my school visits, I don't think the GRE scores are terribly important for American students. If your GRE scores are really low, your application might not even be looked at, and a high GRE score might get you noticed, but things like a bad letter of recommendation will hurt you a LOT more. I got in where I did (see sig) with a 680/60% and I know for sure I was not the lowest score that was accepted at one of those places.

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Are there any top-25 programs that are joint pure/applied math depts that don't require the math GRE? At this point, its too late for me to take it and I have to wait until next April to take it.

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