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Phds and "signal" courses

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I think this is really an mpa/mpp forum, but I know there are some phd threads, so I'd like to seek some input from anyone who can comment. To clarify I am interested in getting a funded offer at a top 20 public policy or public administration phd program.


I went to a US News T30 university in undergrad and due to personal challenges and poor decisions graduated with a low gpa and no math. I am now in a mediocre MPA program and killing it. I have a 4.0 and extensive research experience including a paid RA and TA position in the research methods course. My GRE scores are above median for top programs in verbal and at median for quant. I am a part-time student and have a dynamic public service career going, political experience and a really powerful backstory. I've been given every indication by all my professors, and one prof on an adcomm at a top phd program (my profs advisor), that I am competitive anywhere I want to go.


Still all have shared concerns about the optics of my application (low UG GPA/ mediocre grad institution). My closest professor (also my research mentor who has all his degrees from top programs) has indicated that I can improve my profile by taking supplementary math courses and for all intents and purposes mirroring the minimum math qualifications for econ programs. (I'm pretty good with statistical techniques, and doing an econometrics IS next semester, but I lack the "math maturity" to really understand what I'm doing right now).


Though I plan on applying in feb 2016, that still doesn't give me time to take an econ style math sequence for credit. However I have networked into the math department at my current school (the administrative supervisor for my TA job is also a math prof) and have developed a strategy of self-study and targeted coursework to "signal" quantitative ability by my application deadline. I would like to hear some input on the plan.


I've been spending 3 hours a week in the tutoring center working on math prep, and auditing calc 1, but I feel I need to be more aggressive. My plan is to pay a math tutor with a pedagogical background to design an ambitious curriculum of self study and guide me through it on a once per week basis. This summer I will be able to take calc II & III at the local community college, and will finally choose an advanced course such as Real Analysis at my UG in fall 2015 (I'm still in the same city) where I can hopefully be at the top of the class/ get an LOR from the prof. I think this will provide a strong "signal" of quantitative ability to adcomms, but I would like to hear what anyone else thinks of this strategy. I think I can do this, because despite my personal challenges already happening in HS, I was a strong math student (700+ math SAT) before the wheels fell off. At this point in time I am intensely focused and I have a experienced a very high aptitude for everything I've done recently


Let me know if anyone has anything constructive to say about this plan.Thanks.

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