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"Basic" Requirements or Other Helpful Experience for MA/PhD Admission?


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Hey everyone,


I'm actually an anthropology/archaeology hopeful, but I thought I'd stop by the math/stats board to get some help for my husband. He's a very non-traditional student and will be graduating with a bachelor's in math next December at the age of 28. He's starting to look into graduate programs and is aiming to fulfill all commonly required coursework (e.g., Washington's admission requirements) before he graduates.


My question for you: are there any unspoken requirements for admission into MA/PhD programs?


Here's where he'll stand by the time he completes his degree:

Cumulative GPA: Pretty low from his first round at college over 5 years ago. Will probably end up around 3.15.

Last 60 GPA (Includes all math coursework): 3.85-3.90 (based on how he's performed thus far, this should be plausible)

Research Experience: 1) Stats-based research with professor, NSF-funded (one semester); 2) Stats-based research with professor (one semester + summer); 3) Research with a professor who specializes in topology (promised for upcoming fall semester)

Teaching Experience: Peer leader/workshop instructor for Calculus III (two semesters; this program is funded by an NSF grant that aims to improve minority participation in STEM fields)

Publications: Potentially one, second-authored stemming from research with a consistently-published professor (I know, that may not mean much, but publishing is the goal!)


Clearly, much of this is still not set in stone, but we both want to make sure he's going to have what it takes to compete with other applicants. Though he's still working on his primary interests, they seem to lean more toward pure math as opposed to applied math.


I apologize for any poor wording; my math vocabulary and knowledge of the field is pretty... rudimentary. Thanks in advance, and good luck to all of you on your admission decisions! I have figuratively bitten my nails down to the quick waiting to hear back! :P

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been lurking on this forum for awhile, and the one I don't really see in applications, but that I saw here was "fit". I also read that stem fields want you to contact potential advisors and get your name out there. What're his GRE scores?

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Depends. Is he interested in pure math, applied math, or statistics? Each has different "basic" requirements, with applied math being the most flexible (that is, MS/PhD students in applied math can occasionally have backgrounds in other fields like engineering or physics, for instance). A lot of applied math is very theoretical as well though, so the most competitive candidates will have real analysis, which is essential for most "applied" math topics like PDEs and dynamical systems which are still very proof-heavy.


If your husband has a lot of upper division math classes in proof-based classes (at the minimum abstract algebra and real analysis, but for pure math, topology and geometry are also good classes to have on the transcript), then I think he will be fine for most math programs... of course, the more math (especially graduate level classes), the better.


For statistics programs, he should have taken probability and statistical inference too, in addition to real analysis, Multivariable Calculus, and linear algebra..

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Having been through graduate school in math already (applied for PhD programs in stats but I have an MS in applied math), I also have the following insight on math grad school admissions (fwiw, I have spoken with faculty members who sat on the graduate admissions committees, including my adviser who was the one that chose to recommend me for admission):




- the more graduate level classes in math you've taken, the better you'll look. In general, it's helpful to have taken as many upper level math classes as possible (beyond requirements for the major).



- grades in upper division math classes matter much more (a lot of research in mathematics, especially pure math, bears little resemblance to Calculus I, so straight A's in algebra and analysis sequences definitely can mitigate a B- in earned in freshman Calculus)



- all letters of recommendation should come from mathematicians for pure math. For applied math, a strong letter from a physicist or an engineering prof may be acceptable too... but at least two from mathematicians would be ideal even for the applied track. Letters of recommendation are taken *very* seriously, so it's best to get LORs that are not going to be very generic but that can speak to specific examples of the applicant's research potential



- publications and research/REU can look good, but are by no means the ultimate deciding factor like they are in some other fields (I've been told REUs do not resemble graduate research in mathematics that much). Only a few superstar applicants will have produced quality publications and/or publishable research as undergraduates -- as someone over at stackexchange once said, it's unfortunately not that hard to write some vacuous article and publish it in a nonreputable journal, in which case, it wouldn't help the application that much.



- high subject GRE score is definitely helpful and very low subject score will typically hurt the application. Applied math programs may be more forgiving of lower scores than pure.

Edited by Stat Applicant
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