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Math Skills Survey for this year's applicants


Math Skills  

74 members have voted

  1. 1. What is the highest level math class you have taken

    • High School Algebra
      5
    • Basic Stats
      9
    • Calc I
      11
    • Calc II
      12
    • Calc III
      4
    • Advanced Statistics/Probability
      13
    • Linear Algebra
      10
    • Real Analysis
      8
    • I invented math!
      1
    • Pi
      1


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A year away from me being as nervous as all of you! The story of math being an important skill for poli sci seems to grow every year. So I am just curious as to the level of math of those who have been successful and who have not. (Personally I have taken a methods course in my major and am in stats. I took Calc I in HS and have AP credit. I am strongly planning to take Calc II in the fall and Calc III in the spring, may audit linear algebra). Despite this I am nervous about this particular part of my application as I look a year out. I have a survey below... If you don't feel comfortable listing names, perhaps you could list your sucess/failure rate under schools accepted, rejected, waitlisted. (eg. 3/9, 4/9, 2/9 or something like that)

MATH Survey

Poli Sci Subfield:

Math Courses Taken:

Schools Accepted:

Schools Rejected:

Schools Waitlisted:

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Well, still waiting on most of my acceptances/rejections, so I don't really feel comfortable posting too much detail about the courses I took. I'll also note your survey is a bit weird, in that I don't think you could describe linear algebra and calc 3 as different "levels" of mathematics. Here's a general overview of my profile though.

Poli Sci Subfield: IPE/Formal

Taken about a year and a half of proof-based calc with analysis topics thrown in, linear algebra, math-stats/probability with calc & proofs, a topics course in math involving a lot of proofs, econometrics, micro theory up to advanced micro, and I am currently taking a grad econ course in formal theory/political economy.

So far rejected by Stanford and Michigan.

As general advice, I would say that learning how to apply mathematics to social science questions is as important as learning the math itself. Econ's a great way to do that, so I'd take courses in that as well if you can.

Good luck!

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1. There will probably be a fall 2011 results thread with profiles (including quant coursework) around March/April. You could also look at last year's results thread.

2. I'm not sure that this ordinal ranking of topics by difficulty makes sense.

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I only took through pre-calc in university, but I've studied calc on my own (thank you Khan Academy and PatrickJMT!), and I am now going through the vids on linear algebra and differential equations. I did take a stats course in college.

Edited by firefly28
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I probably do not fit any norm. I did my undergrad in international relations and my masters in mathematics. I never took real analysis or differencial equations, so I just learned that math on the side as I did higher levels of mathematics.

I am totally out there and now I think that I may have been TOO FAR out there for pol sci schools....my SOP was on how I want to work on integrating pol sci (particularly IR), algorithms and game theory to create dynamic simulation models of political processes (this was also the topic of my master's dissertation in mathematics)....

---I'm considering just applying next year for a Phd in Economics...if I don't get in anywhere

MATH Survey

Poli Sci Subfield: Comparative/IR

Math Courses Taken: Undergrad: Multivariable Calc, Linear Algebra, Theory of Algorithms Statistics, Econometrics Graduate level: Algorthms and Computations (Math for Computer Science), Discrete Mathematics and Complexity, Topology, Game Theory, Games of Incomplete Information, Disseration in Mathematics, Graduate-level Political Economy (Economics Department),

Schools Accepted:

Schools Rejected:

Schools Waitlisted:

So far I have not heard from any schools yet...I applied to Duke, Caltech, Rochester.... (a total of nine)....I am kinda starting to panic a little...I now wish I picked a more traditional part of pol sci to study.....

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Sorry I forgot to say......My feeling is that math courses probably do not matter, unless you want to do formal modeling. Just do well on your quantitative GRE for more qualitative areas.

There are probably lots of people like me who have a strong math background who are applying for formal modelling. My guess is that some professors like that and others don't care if you can count. Good Luck :)!!!! and that's great that you are starting so early. Just get good recs from well-known people in pol sci and math won't matter at all.......

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Math Courses Taken: Undergrad: Multivariable Calc, Linear Algebra, Theory of Algorithms Statistics, Econometrics Graduate level: Algorthms and Computations (Math for Computer Science), Discrete Mathematics and Complexity, Topology, Game Theory, Games of Incomplete Information, Disseration in Mathematics, Graduate-level Political Economy (Economics Department),

Dude, that is BADASS. I'd bet that you'll be hearing some good news very soon.

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Dude, that is BADASS. I'd bet that you'll be hearing some good news very soon.

Yeah, I concur. Unless the other parts of your application were terrible, I don't see how you'll not get at least one, and probably many more, generous acceptances.

On the topic, I really wish now that Canadian poli sci departments required much more mathematical training than they do. I took the equivalent of Calculus I but did so only because I had a hare-brained notion of doing physics. My major in poli sci required absolutely no statistical or formal training. In grad school, I took the research methods core course, which was pretty basic, and rational choice, which was also rudimentary (though quite enjoyable). I really wish I had had the opportunity or had been required to learn and apply the more advanced methods that many of you have. I'm realizing now how uncompetitive my profile is in this regard.

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Yeah, I concur. Unless the other parts of your application were terrible, I don't see how you'll not get at least one, and probably many more, generous acceptances.

I often think that people overestimate the importance of mathematics in pol sci. Of course for economics, an extensive math background is pretty much mandatory. But for pol sci...it seems like "fit /interests" matter a lot more. My apprehension is that most pol sci schools do not have profs exploring my area of interest. I could really only find strong fits at Rochester, Caltech. For those two programs, I will definitely be competing with other people who finished my master's program in mathematics. There are many people with an even more extensive math background than me (I, at least, know two applying to Caltech).

On a side note, I don't know if I would encourage other political scientists to jump into mathematics. I actually had little interest in math as an undergrad and only applied for a masters in math because of the suggestion of my dissertation advisor who thought it would be a great idea if I wanted to get into Political Economy. I spent many hours studying to catch up with the other students in my math program and at first it was pretty much hell. Mathematicans approach problems from a completely different perspective...the whole program I spent learning how to think like a mathematican...how to set-up proofs, algorithms, think in black and white....after that I'm not really sure how applicable pure mathematics is to political science...even in game theory, the open problems have little obvious or direct application...(most people overestimate the connection...you don't even think in the same way)

Anyway by the end of the progam, I learned to really enjoy mathematics for mathematics itself...(writing a proof can be surprisingly exhilerating!!...Yes I'm a nerd on the inside :) )...but if you are truely interested in pol sci...there is no real need for entensive mathematics...other than maybe as a signalling mechanism...but you can do that in other ways such as a high Quant score, a quantitative dissertation, etc.....

all the proofs/models I have ever seen in pol sci or pol econ. papers may not be very neat, but are pretty straight forward...a couple strong econ, methods, modelling, basic game theory courses is really all you need (if you have any further problems with proofs,etc when writing papers...in reality there are a lot of mathematicans out there to help...make friends)....

Just keeping it real....Mathematics actually detracted my ability to write, especially write a nuanced political analysis, and I had a hard time writing an effective SOP which could relate to pol sci professors (even though I did my undergrad in Pol Sci)....Math confused what I thought my interests really were...

the only reason that you should take a tremendous amount of math is if you want to push the boundary in game theory for political science...(then you need at least a good three years of post-grad work in mathematics to catch up...and once you catch up, a brilliant new idea).....

Taking advanced economics is good enough...most pol econ models are based on economic models that already exist....most of the best political economists in my opinion, i.e. Persson, Tabellini, Levy, Prat....all got their PhD's in economics....

At this point in the process, everyone wishes they were stronger in one way or another, but if you have the time to prepare...I think there are better places to spend that time, than writing proofs...just my thoughts....

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I think a lot of what veracious_star mentioned illustrates the importance of taking courses that apply mathematics to social science questions (like economics courses), in addition to taking math courses. Formal modeling, when applied correctly, can be extremely useful in insuring that your work is logically consistent with its assumptions, and insures those assumptions are as clear as possible. Econometrics tends to help in making causal inference in a subject where experiments are often unfeasible. But it does make sense to try not to lose sight of how one might use what one's learned from math courses in their political science research, and not all mathematicians make good social scientists.

As to the OP's question, I think most adcoms would like to see first year calc and some statistics to get a sense you can handle the methods courses, but if your work isn't all that quantitative/formal, more than that will likely be unnecessary. An econometrics course might serve you better than more math. And non-econometrics econ courses will tend to be useful both for the substantive knowledge you'll get from them, and because the "economic" way of thinking tends to pervade a lot of political science literature, even when that literature is not explicitly formal.

Edit: Actually, I feel I should clarify what I said about formal modeling. I don't think formal modeling is ONLY useful as a check of logical consistency. I think you have a bit of a cyclical process, where you have political science intuition that leads you to construct a model in a particular way, and then that model allows you to check logical consistency and often provides you with nontrivial (unobvious) conclusions from your assumptions that in turn modify your intuition and fuel new intuition. So I think math can be extremely useful, but it needs to be connected to that social science intuition/knowledge in order for it to produce good political science research. Not much good work in political science was derived in a self-contained fashion from mathematical logic.

Edited by RWBG
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@Hopefulfall12gradstudent

I think your question is essentially how do you signal to the admission committee that you can make it through your methods courses? it depends on how rigorous the program and the qualifications of the other candidates... Rochester, NYU prefer a strong quant prep and they get many more mathematically strong candidates...Columbia, Georgetown on the other hand does not really mention anything of the sort. I did not get the feeling there is any interest in quant methods (probably just need statistics)....and then there are schools in the middle...Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley,etc...where I think they look for both....

I am still convinced a good quant GRE score 760+ will signal quantitative ability probably better than a few math courses.

But if you have the choice, between economics and math.....at the undergrad level, def take math over economics. Even economics applicants are told to take mathematics over economics at the undergrad level. I sort of feel that pol sci is moving in that direction. It's just a less hazy signal of quantitative ability (even though economics courses may be more directly applicable in the long run).

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@Hopefulfall12gradstudent

But if you have the choice, between economics and math.....at the undergrad level, def take math over economics. Even economics applicants are told to take mathematics over economics at the undergrad level. I sort of feel that pol sci is moving in that direction. It's just a less hazy signal of quantitative ability (even though economics courses may be more directly applicable in the long run).

If you are solely interested in signalling quant ability, math would be better. However, political scientists like to see Econ on transcripts both because it signals analytical capacities, and because a lot of even non-quant work intersects with economics. Not to mention I think studying Econ can improve your polisci work. In terms of your broader profile, if you're applying to non-quant programs, I'd probably just do some Econ courses and study hard for the quant GRE.

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@RWBG- I'm thinking about applying to some quant leaning programs such as MichiganĀ and WashU but not doing methods as a main field of work. I want to study American Politics- Congress and Elections to be specific. (esp. Congressional Elections!)

@veracious_star- I took the GRE and got a 780 on the Quant. Sadly my verbal scores was a bit lacking. So I need to take it again. Hope I can keep the quant while improving the verbal!!

Overall I'm leaning towards taking Calc II at the very least (don't have room for both Calc and Econ), but still deciding.

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I applied last year with a 710 Quant score on the GRE, and two math-y classes, a political science methods course and an upper level statistics course (did not get an A). Among the top programs I got into were Berkeley, UCSD, and Michigan. The rest of my application package was pretty good, but nothing super exceptional. In my experience, then, strong math skills are not a prerequisite to entry into top programs.

That being said, my life would be much easier if I knew more math. Not only would the methods classes that I want to take be less work (I've had to teach myself calculus in a very short time frame, and that is a tough task, and I still find proofs impossible), but I'd be able to take far better advantage of the many math tools available.

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I am not a math person, and in fact had to spend four months reteaching myself math before taking the GRE. I got a 670, which is a 62nd percentile.

On the other hand, I got a perfect verbal score, so who knows.

Yeah, that's amazing to me. I could never get a perfect score in verbal. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and who really knows what exactly add coms are looking for. Good Luck to everyone ;)....I'm sure it will work out for everyone evenutally.

@RWBG

I found your analysis of creating a formal model quite interesting....I think there is a lot of truth to that...political intuition matters a lot and it definitely distinguishes good pol econ papers from bad ones....

Have you heard of mechanism design....I think that it is usually the way that microeconomists began creating formal models...I've never had the opportunity to take a class in it...but as I understand it...it's creating a model by starting with the equilibrium and working backwards (real-life backward induction)...I have found starting with the equilibrium and working backwards usually makes most pol econ papers much easier to understand.

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I feel unqualified to give you advice on WashU and U Mich, given that U Mich has rejected me, and WashU has de facto rejected me by omission. Suffice to say that math ability is certainly not sufficient to get into those schools, although they do seem to like some background in calculus and econ. Their average GRE-Q score is a 720, so not too intimidating. As far as the GRE, in my experience, as long as you don't get thrown off by a question and run out of time, GRE-Q scores should stay fairly consistent. GRE-V scores tend to be a bit more unstable.

Is calc II year long at your school? And what would be the econ course you'd be taking otherwise?

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@RWBG- Calc II is not a year long- but I only have one spot open in my next semester (fall of next year). This is the last semester admit committees will see. I have already taken intro micro and macro econ. If I took an econ course it would be some sort of application of econ to a topic in public policy.

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Probably calc II will look better then a "topics" econ course, especially one that doesn't require intermediate micro/macro. It might be nice to have a math grade at the university level on your transcript.

Edited by RWBG
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That's what I am thinking. I will have my Stats grade by that time.

Probably calc II will look better then a "topics" econ course, especially one that doesn't require intermediate micro/macro. It might be nice to have a math grade at the university level on your transcript.

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That's what I am thinking. I will have my Stats grade by that time.

If you're not into formal theory, then I'd recommend taking a "Mathematics for Economists" course if your school offers one. Such a course emphasizes math literacy over proofs and covers a range of topics that span basic calculus to differential equations. Check out the book by Simon and Blume (http://www.amazon.co...n/dp/0393957330) -- you could read a chapter a day and finish the book in a month. Additionally, you should also take a course in game theory. These courses should suffice for comprehending the arguments presented in formal models in journal articles.

Edited by gradstudent2011
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If you're not into formal theory, then I'd recommend taking a "Mathematics for Economists" course if you school offers one. Such a course emphasizes math literacy over proofs and covers a range of topics that span basic calculus to differential equations. Check out the book by Simon and Blume (http://www.amazon.co...n/dp/0393957330) -- you could read a chapter a day and finish the book in a month. Additionally, you should also take a course in game theory. These courses should suffice for comprehending the arguments presented in formal models in journal articles.

Or, for a free option:

http://www.economics...e/MathTutorial/

Edit: It's not quite as comprehensive as Simon and Blume, but it's a pretty good tutorial. I also don't think you need all the stuff in Simon and Blume for understanding polecon work. The tutorial covers most of what you need to understand mathematical optimization. Also, you can pick up Osborne's book, Intro to Game Theory.

Edited by RWBG
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For what it's worth, I have never taken a university-level math course. I took calculus in high school, and in undergrad, I took a research design/stats course as part of my psychology degree and a course in symbolic logic as part of my philosophy degree and my grad degrees were in the humanities.

So far, I'm 1 for 2: in at Madison but not at Michigan. But I'm also into a much more historical/area studies approach with mixed or qualitative methods in comparative politics.

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Don't get into urinating contests about math classes taken. A good department will give you the training you need as you go, and the dedicated student can pick up skills as needed.

I don't mean to poo-poo the achievements of many of the posters in this thread, but I do fear that applicants (or potential applicants) will see this and run for the hills. Certainly, it's nice to have technical training, but I would not call it a prerequisite.

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