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Patrick McMahon

Am I killing myself with potentially the wrong major? What do grad schools think about a degree from BC anyways?

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Hi. (Apologies, this is a little lengthy)

So, I'm a sophomore at Boston College double majoring in Math and Music.  I am having a really hard time deciding whether or not I really should keep the math major. The math classes here at BC are really hard and even though I pass, it's always by the skin of my teeth (C range). Such has been the sake for my science classes too. I am a really bad test taker; I have really bad testing anxiety such that I'm paralyzed with stress beforehand and the stress makes me sick because it compromises my immune system. I have extended time but it doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things. I also think that I am just not absorbing everything fast enough in time for the exams, which isn't surprising considering the amount of information I need to know for the rest of my classes. It's like putting a ton of water into one sink with a drain; the water can only drain out soo fast. So too is it the case with my absorption of knowledge I just don't have enough time.



I have a history of anxiety and suicidal depression that almost forced me to drop out first semester freshman year but I was able to make it through but I'm still only keeping it at bay at this point. Yes, I see a therapist. Every Wednesday.


I currently take 5 classes (2 math (a 200 course and 400 course), 1 chem, 1 philosophy, 1 music) and 1 lab for a total of 16 credits this semester (I don't know if thats normal; several of my friends at other schools only take 4 per semester and thats normal) and they are all sucking the life out of me because they are all an impossible amount of work to deal with together.

The math and science especially have really hurt my GPA over the last two years; I currently have a 2.698 GPA and I don't foresee it getting any better after this semester, considering this has been my hardest semester in terms of content. I originally had intentions of getting a Ph.D in math because I really wanted to teach and do research, but now, given my difficulties, I'm starting to wonder if that's at all possible.  I have music as a backup option and I could just drop math down to a minor, but I'm nervous about closing the door completely on the idea of grad school for math.  But also, I could arguably go to grad school for music too, but I'd need to back off the math so that my GPA could raise. I totally think I'm capable of getting a Ph.D in math if I weren't devoting all the rest of my energy into soo many other commitments and classes. 

I've done really well in my music classes here at BC and would love it if I could teach (again, at the college level) and I sing in a choir that not only gets to travel to Europe every year, but that also performs with the Boston Pops Orchestra every year; I've done things with music I never could have imagined doing before and it makes me happy.


So I have several questions:

If I drop my math major to a minor, what do grad school prospects look like if I decide I want to get my doctorate in math one day?

If I decided to keep the math major with music and assuming my GPA stays in roughly the same range, what are my chances of still getting into a good grad school with a degree from BC (Not looking for Ivy League level or even the tier beneath like BC; just something that's still got a good program for math)?

If I keep math but decide I don't want to get a graduate math degree, what are my chances of getting into a decent school for music, again, assuming that my GPA stays roughly the same given the difficulty of math?

What the heck can I even do right after college with a music degree and a minor in math?

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You may want to try mathematicsgre.com, as most pure math grad applicants go there to discuss.

I think that getting into any kind of decent math PhD program with 2.7 GPA will be extremely hard. The best chance would be to ace the GRE subject test (which may be hard if you aren't a good test taker), get much improved grades in the upper level math courses you take from now on, and possibly to do an MS first and get a good GPA there. 

That being said, you may want to reconsider. Grad level math courses are substantially harder than undergrad classes, and in many cases you will also have to juggle other responsibilities such as TA and research. In general, grad school is not known to be good for your mental health. Of course, that's not to say that you couldn't do it, it's just that you should prepare yourself for what you are getting yourself into.

If you like teaching and want to do something math related, one other option to consider might be teaching middle/high school math.

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Posted (edited)


@Patrick McMahon 
First of all, I wanted to tell you that it takes a very strong person to be able to get through college when you have suicidal depression. My mother has had it on-and-off, and I know how it eats away at you every single day, and how it takes conscious effort to ignore how you feel/ think. You are doing a great job, and don't let anyone tell you differently.
Second of all, and to answer your questions, I believe you should be making academic decisions that will be beneficial to you in the long run (i.e., do not inundate yourself with a heavy workload if it would lead to you performing worse and worse). With your drive, and I can tell you have it, you will be able to succeed in a field like music (assuming you go on to grad school for it). However, if Math is truly your calling, you should focus solely on that and try to select only courses that are required for that major (and keep music as a hobby).

Regarding how grad schools look at people applying to a major when their undergrad was in a different major: It would be very difficult to do a Math PhD if you major in music for your undergrad. The courses required in a Math PhD assume you have a firm understanding of the Math fundamentals. Other students you would be competing against for the PhD position will most likely be students that majored in Math in undergrad (or a STEM major like Engineering, Physics, Computer Science, etc.). Thus, they would be preferable from the get-go because they would be less of a risk.

Tips for you in particular: 

-Try to talk to your counselling office about getting special accommodations for your test anxiety. Every university must abide by national laws regarding these issues.

-Consider doing your undergrad in 5 years instead of 4. I am doing mine in 5 years, and after going through the grad school application process, I can tell you that doing undergrad in 5 years will not be looked down upon by grad school admission committees. Doing undergrad in 5 years will give you the option to take fewer courses per semester/quarter and would give you more time to improve your mental health through extracurricular activities.

Edited by Zanelol

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Posted (edited)

Just to piggyback off of Zanelol's suggestions, my girlfriend has a disability that she works with her university on, and there's a lot more that they can be doing to help you with regarding your test anxiety -- different testing environments, proctoring, sometimes(?) allowing emotional support animals in to the test.  She says that you often need to jump through some hoops to accomplish this, but you already seem to have a working relationship with your school's disability resource center, and your therapist should help you get the necessary documentation.  Furthermore, talk to your professor about this.  I have a relative who is a professor, and I know that they have administered tests fully orally to students who have issues with written exams.  My girlfriend has also had good experiences working with her professors -- nobody wants students to fail or get low grades for reasons that aren't lack of understanding of the material.

Also, I took classes over more than 5 years and several summers -- it isn't rare for grad school applicants to take that route, and if it's monetarily viable for you, you should consider it.

Finally (as something of an aside), it looks like you might have used your actual name as your username.  Just in case you aren't aware, you cannot really delete posts on this forum, so if you are hoping to preserve privacy about these topics in the future, you may want to consider changing your username on your profile/account settings page.

An addendum, since I didn't address your questions:  if there are any advisers or professors you really like at BC, they are probably better resources for major choices than we will be at a distance.  Lots of people change majors, though, so if that is a consideration for you, then you shouldn't worry about having a meandering path.  Music majors can do plenty of jobs, but you will have to explain to employers how your music skills will make you successful in that position (hard work, creativity, effective leadership, autodidaction, etc).  As for your chances at music after college, the Fine Arts forum on here might be a good place to start, along with your favorite music profs.  Sorry I can't be of more help, unfortunately these are questions that require more knowledge of you personally and non-math/statistics fields in general to answer satisfactorily.

Edited by Geococcyx

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