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Should I take a gap year?


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I came from a top LAC with a decent, though small, math program. My professors say I can get into math PhD program in schools like UCLA, Columbia or Michigan (as I will start taking grad level courses in my sophomore. I'm also doing a decent REU for freshman summer). However, I want to have a better chance for Harvard, Princeton, MIT or Berkeley. I want to go to Math in Moscow (http://www.mccme.ru/mathinmoscow/index.php?page=10) program and take 12 to 14 courses on a gap year. Then I want to do a domestic exchange to Harvard/ MIT (many people did that in my College, not very hard) with probably more than a dozen grad courses taken in Moscow so that I may secure some good rec letters together with some personal relations (and yet more grad courses) in those big school. The only problem is it is going to take one more year to finish my undergrad and I don't know how much it will actually increase my chance. Do you think it is advisable?

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Wait are you currently a rising sophomore (sorry but I was a bit confused)? Also taking a gap year to do gain some cool research experience (I assume you would be able to work on some sort of project with these opportunities) is totally fine. What is getting into your PhD 1 year earlier going to do if you could gain some better skills by waiting? I took a gap year to do more research and was totally fine. 

Edited by eteshoe
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Thanks. Yes, I am a rising sophomore. I'm very sure that I will embark on math research. I'm going to take a graduate level one year sequence course on Abstract Algebra, another one year sequence on Real and Functional Analysis. I may also audit graduate topology. However, it seems that I still may need one more year of research, as well as course work experience, in order to have a shot for the top programs. I'm basically asking is that worth it? Is spending one more year to increase my chance to the top 5 (which I might still not get in) better than going to a decent program (ranked 7 to 15 on US News) 'on time'. I may sound very shallow but I do believe that a top program would give me more chance to become a good mathematician, not just fame. 

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Taking some time to make your profile as strong as possible is always my advice. Also nothing is wrong with aiming for top programs (I went to a top 5 undergrad and I'm going to a top 10 grad) since those programs have the most resources to conduct cutting edge research.

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I think whether it is worth it to you is a personal decision. Its hard to give advice since we don't know exactly what you want out of life. Is your goal to be a PI as fast as you be? If so then taking a year off probably isn't a good idea. Is your goal to do math research that you find fulfilling and enjoy? If so then I think that taking a year off to do math research fits perfectly with that goal...

 

I don't think you should make big decisions like how to spend a year of your life based on how it will help your chances of getting into grad school. We can guess but we don't really know your chances. If you think that taking a year off in Moscow will be something that you enjoy, will improve your resume, and will let you do math research (your professional goal) then why not? I see no downsides and many positives. I'm not really sure why it would matter whether you go into a grad program "on time." There is really no such thing. People go to grad school at all different ages. I believe the average is around late 20s so by that metric, you would be going to grad school early. I just started my PhD at 25. Taking a few years off has none nothing but help me. I did research I loved (my goal in life) in the mean time and was able to get a couple solid first author publications. It was time well spent and now I am incredibly prepared for my PhD.

 

I agree that there is nothing wrong with shooting for top programs. I'm at a top 10 program in my field. I probably wouldn't have gotten in without taking time off however I didn't take time off because I wanted to get in. I took it off because I wanted to spend a few years improving myself as a researcher before jumping into the PhD.

Edited by bsharpe269
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