Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

Overcoming poor grades in math prereqs


Recommended Posts

Hi, I'm new to these fora. Please forgive me if questions of this type have been answered elsewhere.

 

I am interested in applying to (top-15) biostatistics graduate programs. I graduated in the spring of 2014, and ideally I would like to apply to programs this fall, with the intent to matriculate in the fall of 2016.

 

I have a strong application in many ways--co-authorship as a statistician on an original, peer-reviewed article; 2 years' experience doing data analysis for other PI's; 3 years' experience using SAS; strong letters of recommendation; A's in other relevant upper-level coursework (Bayesian statistics, epidemiology, biostatistics...); etc.--but not in every way. Ultimately I just didn't so hot in the standard prerequisite mathematics sequence: AP credit for Calculus I, A in Calculus II, B+ in Calculus III (multivariable), and a whopping C+ in linear algebra.

 

So my question is less "Is this a problem" than it is "So now what do I do about it?" Even if I crush the GRE (my current focus), my sense is that I need to do ore to overcome that C+ in linear algebra. Do I need to re-take the class? (Not possible to re-take at mu undergraduate institution, but I could look into taking it locally or online.) Do I need to take a different, higher-level "pure" math class? Do I need to pre-emptively offer to retake the class at the institutions to which I apply (i.e.,in the summer of 2016, as part of the "refresher" course/sequence that many universities encourage/offer)? Do I give up altogether and look into becoming a poet?

 

Insight and suggestions are much appreciated. Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

B+ isn't so bad. I got a B+ in Calc3, and also in Diff Eqs and I got into grad school with that. Granted, I got pretty much straight As in tons of upper level stuff, including real analysis honors and differential geometry. I also TAed Calc3 one semester during undergrad. The C+ is a problem. By crush the GRE, do you mean the regular GRE or the subject GRE?

If it's convenient, take linear alebra somewhere this summer. It shouldn't be too hard to find a school where it's offered this summer. Don't offer to retake it before the start of grad school. Either take it this summer or don't.

The biostats students I've met seemed to have a pretty weak knowledge of abstract algebra, real analysis, topology, etc., and had never taken courses in them. I'd just try to take linear algebra somewhere else this summer and focus on the rest of your app.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought about trying to take the math subject test, but I don't have anywhere near the math background to do fair, let alone to do well. I just meant 95+% on the quantitative reasoning part of the regular GRE.

Edited by wittywonka
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understand. Well I'd just focus on that and try to find a linear algebra class this summer. If not, maybe you can explain why you messed up that class in your SOP or LORs (if there is a good reason). If not, just see what happens. If you took it your first year (or even 2nd year), it may not be that big a deal anyway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Overall GPA is >3.8. I'd love to lie and get false reassurance, but the reality is that I took linear algebra in the fall of senior year. So, hardly an "upward trend." The only momentum I can show is experience and recommendations (and hopefully more publications) from my job, since graduating.

Why did I do so poorly? I spent more time with my then-girlfriend than I did doing problem sets. Not blaming her--I'm certainly to blame for the decisions I made. But I'm just saying--it's not exactly a sympathy-winning explanation for an admissions committee.

Edited by wittywonka
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Either retake it or take real analysis and do well.  Are you applying to MS or PhD programs?  I don't think one grade in linear algebra will be the end of the world (I had a B-), but you might need to do some things to make up for it.  Exactly how much will depend on whether you want an MS or PhD, what type of school you want to go to (top 5 vs top 15 is huge for biostats because there are so few schools.  We're talking Harvard vs. Pittsburgh), and the strength of your letters/level of your publication.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With the grades you quote, the obvious concern from an admissions committee perspective is that you're hitting your "math ceiling" at undergraduate-level linear algebra, which would obviously be a big problem if true since you will need to handle more advanced math than that to succeed in any reputable biostat grad program. 

 

I would try to find a real analysis course to take this summer; getting an A in that class would go a long way towards telling the alternate story that the C+ was an anomaly rather than an accurate reflection of your mathematical abilities.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm from a different field so my experience may not be directly applicable but I don't think that schools care as much about grades as we think they do. I got into biophysics PhD programs with a few Cs and Ds in some very relevant courses (like physics, math, and chem courses). No one mentioned it at interviews. Programs seemed to care way more about LORs, knowledge of the field, and passion for research than anything else.  About half of the programs I got into would be considered top 15. A couple of the top 15 schools added extra fellowships on top of their normal stipend offers. I say this to stress that programs REALLY don't care about grades like we think they do.

 

 

If your LORs are terrific and you really know your field (like read literature regularly) then I really don't think they will care about that one grade at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With the grades you quote, the obvious concern from an admissions committee perspective is that you're hitting your "math ceiling" at undergraduate-level linear algebra, which would obviously be a big problem if true since you will need to handle more advanced math than that to succeed in any reputable biostat grad program. 

 

I would try to find a real analysis course to take this summer; getting an A in that class would go a long way towards telling the alternate story that the C+ was an anomaly rather than an accurate reflection of your mathematical abilities.

 

This is definitely what I would recommend. The best way to compensate for a low grade in an important math class is to excel in a harder math class. Especially because the math in your profile sounds a little borderline either way, and Real Analysis is a great boon to any profile and highly recommended if you're aiming at top programs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the feedback, all.

 

I am willing to take a "make-up" class, so to speak, but I live in a smallish-city. It looks like, based on the research I've done, that the two four-year colleges/universities within driving distance of where I live don't offer any advanced-, or really even intermediate-, level math classes over the summer. I am considering taking a class in the fall, but I wouldn't have my grades back until after the application deadline at many PhD programs.

 

Does anyone know if PhD programs would consider my application anyway, if I sent them my final grades ASAP after I finished the course in the fall? Or perhaps, any recommendations as to online classes I could do, instead?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most PhD programs will allow you to send updated transcripts including fall grades.  There may be some programs whose deadlines are January or later too, although this is much more common in statistics than biostatistics.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many schools have January deadlines. Even if it's in December, I doubt they start reviewing applications before the new year.

 

Can you find a school somewhere else in the country for a summer class, or do you have work or family obligations? When I was an undergrad, I took linear algebra over the summer. It was just a couple months so I packed a couple bags and hopped on a plane.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To be competitive in a statistics PhD program, you are going to need a real analysis course. Also, linear algebra is very important in statistics. you can, of course, apply with a C+, but I wouldn't recommend it. These two courses are often pre-requisite for PhD programs in stats/biostats, so it helps to have good grades in them.

As far as "crushing" the GRE; if you meant the math subject GRE, then yeah, absolutely! That will certainly help a lot. But I see you mean the general GRE... The quant section tests only very basic math knowledge, and as such isn't that important. Generally, as long as you're above 160 you're usually fine. Between 160 and 170 there isn't an awful lot of difference as far as most adcoms are concerned. So "crushing" that isn't really going to help you that much. Having the right courses and good grades in them helps a lot more.

Also, it takes many weeks after an application deadline until your application is reviewed; I'm sure any classes you are taking in the Fall will be in by then. Just make sure you mention that you are taking them in your SOP.

Edited by Ellies
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Grades are not everything, do not feel limited by them! I am stats, rather than biostats, but I got a C in Real Analysis and low B's in multiple other math courses. My cumulative GPA is hovering around a 3.5, so my grades are far from stellar. My GRE score isn't anything spectacular either. Yet I have just accepted my place in Columbia's PhD program starting Fall 2015. In my experience, it is far more important to show them that you are driven and inspired and are the candidate who will make the most of the opportunity they have given you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.