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Profile Evaluation: Statistics PhD


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Hello statistics forum. Like many people posting their profiles here, I don't really feel that I have a good sense of how competitive I am as a PhD applicant. I have a few programs on my short list but would appreciate feedback as to what range (e.g. Top 25, 25-40) of programs I have a shot at getting into.

Undergrad Institution: Top 50 Liberal Arts College

Major(s): Math

GPA: 3.96

Type of Student: Domestic White Male

GRE General Test:

Q: 167 

V: 169

W: 3.0 (I plan on retaking to bump this up. I didn't practice at all and froze under the time pressure)

GRE Subject Test in Mathematics: N/A

Research Experience: Pure math senior project as an undergrad.

Courses: Calculus III (A) Linear Algebra (A), Introduction to Proof (A), Differential Equations (A), Probability Theory (A), Combinatorics (A), Number Theory (A), Complex Analysis (A), Statistics with Applications (A-), Introduction to Computer Programming (A-), Abstract Algebra I (A), Abstract Algebra II (A), Real Analysis I (A), and Real Analysis II (A)

Letters of Recommendation: At least two from pure math professors--one was my senior project adviser and the other was my undergrad adviser. Fell out of touch with my statistics and probability theory professors (one moved after my sophomore year and I only had the other for a summer course at a different institution), so my third letter will come from another pure math professor, one of my employers, or an economics professor.

Work experience: Held two math tutoring jobs throughout college: one standard peer tutoring position and the other leading group sessions for high school students. 

Applying to:  

Statistics PhD programs, hoping to focus on applications in public policy.

PHD (tentative):

  1. Cornell
  2. Purdue
  3. Carnegie Mellon
  4. University of Michigan
  5. University of Minnesota
  6. Colorado State University
  7. Northwestern
  8. Rice
  9. University of Illinois


  1. My GRE AWA, but I plan on retaking the test anyway.
  2. My undergrad institution and its relative obscurity.
  3. My lack of research experience.
  4. My third letter. Is it best to stick to pure math professors or to diversify my letters of recommendation? One other possibility is my employer from my job tutoring high school students in mathematics and statistics. I was the first dedicated math tutor for the program and stuck with it for 3 years, ultimately training every tutor who started after me. A third possibility is an economics professor who has always strongly vocalized his support for me.
  5. Am I shooting way too high?


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I am also an applicant for this cycle so take my advice with a grain of salt.

I don't think your AWA is that bad.  You can look around in the results and compare it, but I would think it's fine.  Maybe replace one of the higher ranked programs with something a little bit easier to get into.  I am changing my 3rd letter based on whether the program is more math focused (using real analysis professor), or interdisciplinary (using research ethics professor).  I would think a letter from your supervisor from your tutoring job would be better than another pure math professor.  

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I'll throw in my 2ps mate, I think your GRE scores are competitive, your grades look great, GPA is stellar,  IDK if I'd retake the GRE just for the writing portion; however, if you do get it mate! (I also recommend glucose tablets for revitalization instead of relying on the snack break—bring in like 4 tablets and just casually munch on them.) 

I believe your application is weak in the following areas: writing GRE portion (minor), research (medium/big problem for Ph.D. programs), recommenders (hopefully the have published/research themselves and can attest to your ability to, if not that's a major problem). So, focus on getting people who have published and can at least say you're a good candidate, and make sure you ask your recommenders what they're going to say... if you don't you could be shooting yourself in the foot. 

Heres what you can do: get the people who get attest to your strengths in class and your ambition coupled with fervor in the field you're applying for. Next, if you have no research experience start doing projects outside of the class NOW and get a professor to overview, or simply look at it often. Anything in R or STATA, grab some info on who is who at the universities you're going to apply at and tally their areas of interest and whoever has the most tallies, for example, say in forecasting of modeling, you do a project with that either on known or unknown data (i.e. a simulation or us the Engel data in R (my personal favorite)). This will help you sell yourself as working independently as well as strengthen your application. Make it meaningful, track what you do, write it up in latex (overleaf.com) each weak so it amounts to something tangible. Send that as additional docs in apps. Boom you just made yourself look like a phenomenal, hard-working go-getter! 

BTW your programs are very reasonable given your GRE score and how you accounted for your weaknesses.

Hey, check out my post on the matter, similar to you. Best of luck mate, message me on here for my email and more—we could talk over the phone or something. I really would enjoy talking to someone who is in the same place I am, especially given you wanna go to the same places! Cheers!

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It's probably not necessary to retake the GRE to fix your AWA score. With a 169 verbal and a liberal arts education (with, presumably, A's in virtually all your non-quantitative courses), any reasonable admissions committee member is likely to just dismiss the 3.0 writing score as an anomaly.

Generally speaking, a student with a 3.95+ from a "respectable" school (i.e., a place that most academics have at least heard of; it doesn't have to be "famous") should be competitive for PhD admission at most programs. Your list of schools seems pretty reasonable to me. You might consider throwing an app at Washington, since they have a fairly robust social stats group.

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