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Improving Weak Math for Political Science


bctheory
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I am a junior poli sci and econ double major and I want to go to graduate school for formal methods in political science. Unfortunately I have all Cs in my math courses (Calc1-3, lin algebra, real analysis, and stats) and believe this is probably crushing my chances at going to a top school. I'll be doing game theory research this summer, taking a grad course in quant int'l relations in the fall, and hopefully study my ass off and do well at the quant part of the GRE. I think I underperformed in the math classes and would be able to do the math associated with formal government theory. Is there any other way I can demonstrate this to adcomms? Would it be worth retaking previous math classes or taking new ones if I do well?

Also what schools which are quant heavy would I have decent chance of getting into?

cGPA: 3.2

Major GPAs: 3.9 and 4.0

Should have 2 strong letters of rec so far and hopefully a 3rd after this semester.

TAd an upper level game theory class

Doing own game theory research this summer with an advisor

Well that was a lot, but I'm extremely interested in studying this field so any advice would be great, thanks!

Edited by bctheory
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As a caveat, I am NOT your field, but I think that if I were you and going into a math-heavy field, I would take a relevant/upper level math course and get an A and perhaps address why your math grades were low and then improved later. Maybe it's just me or grade inflation, but C's seem pretty low in classes that may be relevant for your graduate work. I'd definitely make sure to get a high quant score and maybe do another math class or so to compensate. Good luck!

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So I'm doing formal substantive work at top 20. Your course work is substantially stronger than mine was/is on admission, but your grades will throw that into question. It would likely be better to not sell your self as a modeler. Focus on substantive work you'd like to do in your admissions essays. When you get admitted, it is easy to transition and then you won't be trying to battle what is otherwise a very strong signal that there could be a problem with your file. That said, more quantitative places like Stanford (and Harvard even has a special section of their app dedicated to your math) are going to be suspicious of you regardless with numbers like that.

If you are insistent on signaling quantitative ability, I can think of two suggestions: take another math sequence and demonstrated MARKED improvement. Also, though it is kind of expensive, it might be worthwhile doing a session or both at ICPSR in Ann Arbor this summer and taking the game theory sequence. Morrow will be teaching the advanced section and if you were to impress him I imagine that a letter from him speaking to your ability to do actual modeling would go a LONG way to helping your case.

The GRE isn't going to help much considering the way it is used, though you should still try to your best. At many schools, the GRE is simply used to determine which files to open and read further versus put in the circular file. The GRE is also considered a weaker signal of being able to do quantative work than actual course work since the topics tested are so basic that it likely will not outweigh bad marks.

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You could do the following to demonstrate strong quantitative skills:

1. Get a letter of recommendation from a math professor or statistics professor. Hopefully they will say "X got a B in my course, but really demonstrated sensitivity to quantitative approaches and real dedication to the field, so in spite of the low grade, I think X will go far in a quantitative discipline."

2. Take the Math GRE and get a high score.

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Another obvious thing to do is to analyze the reasons for your poor performance in your upper level mathematics courses and resolve those problems. People study and learn in different ways so perhaps your math courses were structured in a way that didn't allow you to perform to your best abilities in the courses. I get used to different disciplines in a very gradual way, and I like to have a historical view of the discipline along with the straight technical aspects. Figure out the problems that held back your better performance, judge whether you can correct those problems or not (math anxiety? part-time job took up time? Need to use words along with numbers?), and take another course or exam after resolving those problems. Repeat these steps until your grade improves.

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Thanks everyone for the responses. I looked at the ICPSR website and would love to do that, unfortunately it is probably not a possibility for this summer. I'll definitely be working hard to do very well on the GRE quant section. Also I think I'll try to work on how I learn and study for math courses and take some classes this summer. I think I'll definitely re-take real analysis as I did poorly and don't feel like I fully grasped the material. Despite the grades I feel comfortable with using calculus so won't bother retaking those. But what else would people recommend taking for formal gov't? I was looking at diffy q, advanced linear algebra, and topology as possibly useful. Thanks again!

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