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College Freshman thinking about grad school




I'm a rising sophomore who is very interested in mathematics and my future career goals are in math. I'm at a Big 10 school for math currently, but here's the problem:

1) I struggle with anxiety and certain mental health issues over the past year

2) I pull good grades in non math classes. I have pulled straight B+s in my math classes (the introductory calc sequence). Is it time already to stop thinking about graduate school due to such a terrible record? I'm up for taking linear algebra next. When should the indicator be to quit with math and start looking for something else? The issue is I don't want to be doing something else because I can do mathematics for hours. I can wake up at 4AM for it and keep playing with it and enjoying it, but I suck at taking tests. I make silly errors, get anxious and blank out sometimes and the rest is history. For my entertainment, I also read texts and self study number theory, a little bit of group theory and proof writing, as I didn't intend on being a math major until my 2nd semester. 

Any advice? I don't want undergrad to be the end of the road for me. I'm also not as eligible for research experience as I am not a US citizen/PR so NSF funding runs very thin. Plus these grades won't really help me get any stellar REUs because I will be up against the people who have obviously done a lot, lot better than I have in these classes, and have a leg up on me in terms of already starting analysis and upper level content.

It worries me how all these forums mention a 3.9+ with research, etc. is probably one of the only ways to be considered. I'm not even looking at a tier 1 school now, not even remotely, but I want to chart out a smart way of getting into things. I'm giving myself one semester - if I do bad in linear algebra, I will accept that I'm just not meant for math, study it for fun and end up doing some other major half assed so I can be a grown woman after college, get myself a job and not regret anything.

Any advice from you guys would be appreciated. All professors and graduate students currently tell me 'calculus means zilch' but it obviously affects my major GPA, and overall GPA. If I finish with straight 3.8s/4.0s till I graduate, I'll be up to a 3.8, otherwise a 3.6 will be my heaven. My math GPA will never cross a 3.5 because of this streak of Bs, unless only upper division courses matter. I'm clueless, and I'd love to know.

(sorry to be the munchkin creeping up on grads only territory. I know how much you guys hate this :) )

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I don't think anyone hates younger people asking questions, first of all. That would be pretty mean, as the goal of the forum is to help others.

Also, as a woman who is always apologising for things, stop doing it! Really. It'll help you.


Onto your actual questions.

First of all, most people here don't have 3.9s. I see people say this all the time, and it's just not true. I'm starting to think those are the people you remember, because it causes you anxiety to see those really high grades, but it's not reality.

Second of all, you can still do well. For most people, first year is where their worst marks are. Which means you're doing fine and you're probably like a lot of other people you see on this site.

Upper year courses matter a lot more, so I know it seems like you're doing badly now, but you're honestly fine. If you enjoy it, things will get better. The people who do really well at the beginning are usually those people much better at tests, but they likely aren't the ones that are passionate and willing to keep sticking it out when things get challenging (but fun!). 

You don't need stellar first year marks to get research experience. Talk to your TAs, email professors, go to their office hours, or ask other people you know how they got into research. Can you afford to volunteer for a while? It can be hard to get paid doing research as an undergrad, but there are usually volunteer spots available.

I think you should speak to someone about your anxiety and mental health issues. Talking to someone can help you with your test performance as well.

Its great youre thinking about these things so early. Good luck!

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It's unfortunate, but very common for students to struggle their first year or so. Depending on what school(s) you apply to, the graduate committees may put more weight on your final years, so this is where your grades are going to matter most. Obviously it's best to do well all throughout undergrad, but you have more than enough time to improve your grades and GPA (not that your grades seem that bad at all, they sound good to me but I can't tell you grade expectations for math as it's not my field.) Work on improving your grades and trying to gain some research or volunteering experience, this will definitely help with your application. Do well on the GRE (especially the quant portion) and I think you will be quite competitive.

I think the fact that you really enjoy math and are passionate about it is really going to help you succeed. Spend the next few years honing in on your particular interests so that you have a more solid grasp of what you would like to study during grad school. You are also starting to think about it so early, which helps immensely as well. However, I would try to address your mental health issues and test taking anxieties as soon as possible. You definitely do not want to carry these issues with you through the remainder of your studies, and especially not grad school. Have you looked into any mental health services or clinics available at your school? As for your test taking worries, could you discuss this with a professor or somebody who could help you come up with strategies to cope? 

Hope this helps!

(P.S. I don't know of anybody who isn't happy to help younger students with advice or questions. I think it's great that you have a good sense of direction with your studies. I definitely had no idea what I was doing until the last couple of years of undergrad. I wish I had thought about my life after graduation sooner and had a place like this to ask for help.)

Edited by Danger_Zone
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Also, don't talk yourself out of things before you even try!

Apply for the REUs anyway. Apply with self-confidence. I'm a foreigner doing a PhD in the USA - although I'm ineligible for a lot of funds and awards, it just means I need to search harder for those I can apply for. Volunteer to conduct research during the semester. 

The great thing about grad school is that the coursework (and testing) is basically done with. Your ability to conduct research is a more important trait in grad school than your ability to score highly on tests. You don't need a perfect GPA: as others have said, focus on the positive exit trajectory. 

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