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PhD Stats Profile Evaluation

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Hi everyone,

I’m a rising senior undergrad coming from a mostly math background, interested in applying to stats PhD programs for the fall.

Undergrad Institution: Top 50 public (somewhat well-known STEM school; we don’t have a dedicated stats dept but math and applied math grad programs are top 20)

Major(s): Math

Minor(s): CS

GPA: 3.76 (major: 3.80)

Type of Student: domestic white male

GRE General Test:

Q: 170 (97%)

V: 169 (99%)

W: 5.0 (93%)

GRE Subject Test in Mathematics:

M: xxx (xx%) (taking it this fall and shooting for 80%+ which I know is far from an easy task, but shouldn’t be out of the question given my math background and dedicated studying)

Programs Applying: Statistics Ph.D (or masters I guess if I get rejected from PhD programs). Interested in probability/theoretical stats.

Research Experience: Number theory project freshman summer, 2 pure math REUs (one in topology and one in discrete math/combinatorics) resulting in some preprints and submitted papers. Presented work at 5 well-known math conferences. Senior thesis in probability. Some of my research involved a non-trivial amount of programming in Python and MATLAB.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Putnam Top 500, scholarships/departmental awards. Passed the probability actuarial exam freshman year.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: TA’d calculus one semester and did some high school tutoring here and there.

Courses: I took a heavy load of math/stat/CS courses (26 math/stat/CS courses completed by start of senior year)

Intro to CS (A), Discrete Math (A), Linear Algebra (A), Analysis I (A-), Analysis II (B), Differential Geometry (A), Complex Analysis (B+), Data Structures (A), Stats and Probability (A), Data Analysis (B-), Algorithms (B+), Abstract Algebra (A), Linear Programming (A), Topology (A), Algebraic Topology (A), Fourier Analysis (A-), Software Development (B+), Mathematical Statistics (A), Graduate Algebra I (A-), Graduate Algorithms (A-), Graduate Real Analysis I/Measure Theory (A), Computational Geometry (A-), Seminar in Probability (A), Graduate Algebra II (A), Graduate Complex Analysis (A-), Stochastic Processes (A),

Senior year fall: I am taking more grad math/CS courses and doing research/working on my thesis. I tried to enroll in grad stats classes but the profs wouldn’t give me permission.

Letters of Recommendation: Probably going to do all 3 from REU/research advisors, who are all math profs. I hope that is ok.


Mostly worried about my grades.

I got B’s in analysis II, complex analysis, and algorithms, but then took the graduate versions of these classes and got A/A-’s. So, I hope those are somewhat “made up for”. My only other B’s are in data analysis and software development, for which I have no excuses. I’m hoping the fact that I did well in grad math courses and took a lot of classes makes up for my subpar GPA. My GPA was ~3.9 in junior year.

Another concern is Calc III and IV. I actually took these in high school via dual-enrollment over five years ago at the same institution and got a B+ both semesters (they are on my transcript and factored into my GPA). I know this is bad and I’ve considered retaking the courses, but virtually everyone I’ve spoken to has told me that would be a waste of time at this point. How do grad programs feel about college courses taken in high school?

I’m also worried about not having taken enough stats courses. The only stats classes I can take in the fall are graduate stats classes, but the dept wouldn’t let me sign up because they just don’t like letting undergrads take grad classes (its somewhat bureaucratic). I also never formally took “probability theory” as a class because I skipped out by taking the actuarial exam instead. I hope this won’t hurt me too much. I was initially interested in probability freshman year, but more on the applied side which is why I took the actuarial exam. Then, I studied pure math for two years and got interested again after taking a seminar in probability last semester and meeting a great professor (who I am trying to do my senior thesis with).

What are my chances at a Top 10 PhD program in stats? Any suggestions on particular programs to apply to? I just started thinking about grad school apps and even looking at schools. I was dead-set on applying to math phd programs until a friend recently suggested I consider stats programs. Please be brutally honest, especially if you think I should be aiming much lower. Any evaluation, positive or harsh, will be greatly appreciated!

Edited by kevinn1209
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I'm applying this year as well, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

I think you seem like a very strong applicant. Most statistics programs I've contacted want to see maybe one or two formal statistics courses, but are mainly concerned with your ability to handle the theory. You seem to easily jump this hurdle with your A's in graduate analysis and REU's in pure math.

Especially with an 80% (around the average for applicants to Stanford's PhD in Statistics) I think you would be in contention at every program in the country, the results from there would be are a bit unpredictable, it seems. If you do score that highly, I don't think any program you would consider going to would not be a waste of your money or time to apply.


That said, I do wonder why you want to make the sudden switch to statistics after being 'dead-set' on math. It seems to me that you would be a successful applicant for either type of program, so you should do what makes you happiest. Academic careers in statistics or mathematics hardly ever result in fame and fortune, so you might as well make sure you enjoy what you'll be grinding on for the rest of your life. 

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Hi, thanks for the reply! I should have clarified. I am definitely applying to math phd programs and am also considering applying to statistics phd programs as well. My post says "stats phd" because it seems people on this forum are only interested in stats. I was going to make a separate post on mathgre or somewhere else for math.

More specifically, I became interested in probability through a seminar course I took last semester (we covered topics like brownian motion, random walks, markov chains, etc. using the language of measure theory). I applied to some REUs covering probability, but was rejected from all of them. So, I decided to do a math REU in another field. I also became interested in fields like topological data analysis and information geometry in the last year mostly from talking to other people and going to conference sessions on these topics (although I don't have any coursework or research experience in these regards). I assumed these topics were typically studied in a stats or applied math phd and not a pure math phd.

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If you're only interested in probability, then I think the rankings system falls apart--that is, there are schools outside the top-10 that are well known in probability (UNC's STOR program comes to mind). You definitely have a good shot. I would just say research the schools that do a lot of work / have well known professors in probability theory instead of just looking at the rankings. 

In my opinion, the rankings are more useful if you're not really sure what exactly you want to do.

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  • 1 month later...

I just saw this, but thanks! I'm still working out where to apply, but UNC's probability group is one that an adviser in the applied math dept mentioned as well. So, I will definitely look into that.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Update: I just got my Math GRE score.

I got a 79% falling just short of the 80% mark. I'm retaking it in 2 weeks but I have to say I that I have not really had a chance to study for it in between classes and everything else going on in my life.

Do you guys think this is a score worth submitting to programs which recommend but don't require it?

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I'm assuming you got an 800 on the subject test if you got 79th percentile? This is purely anecdotal, but I have a friend who got an 800 on the Math GRE subject test last year, and he applied for math PhD programs and was accepted to quite a few schools, including Berkeley and Caltech. Of course, the GRE isn't everything, but I think it's safe to say that you'll be fine, given that Math programs are generally much more competitive than Stat programs, some of which explicitly say that they do not consider subject test scores. I think an 800 is high enough that you shouldn't be focusing on the subject test anymore, and instead on the other aspects of your application. 

Edited by Radon-Nikodym
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