How to get into Math REU?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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How to get into Math REU?

Post by 1mathboy1 » Wed Mar 26, 2014 6:23 pm

I'm a freshman at a liberal arts college (about to be sophomore this fall) and I am wondering how to get into Math REUs. I applied to 12 different summer REUs I think, and so far I've been rejected to 8 and accepted into 1. luckily, that one REU was one of my top choices (I really like the sample projects). My main question is, how important is your personal statement/how should it be written? My personal statement was fairly boring and generic sounding. Is it supposed to be like college admission essays, where you try to be interesting and have memorable anecdotes?

some background info: took real analysis, complex analysis, topology, algebra 2, linear programming, and cryptography. I did a lot of self studying, and right now im reading rotman's intro to homological algebra. I'm guessing i got fairly strong recommendations from my professors. BUT I have no research experience, and basically I only have grades and letters of rec. Did my bad personal statement impact my admissions decisions for the other REUs?

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Re: How to get into Math REU?

Post by Comrade » Thu Mar 27, 2014 12:04 am

You're a freshmen. Most of the people applying to REUs are juniors and sophomores. Don't take offense to it--even if you may be as competent as someone older, the colleges have the understanding that getting REU experience is more urgent for a junior than for a freshmen, especially because freshmen have 2 more years to apply for REU's.

REU's are also hard to get into in general. In fact, many REU's simply don't consider freshmen (and sometimes sophomore) applicants. If you got into one as a freshmen, that's outstanding! You should have no trouble getting into several in the years to come.

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Re: How to get into Math REU?

Post by lVlathI3oy » Thu Mar 27, 2014 1:39 pm

Lol, what the heck? dude you've practically completed the math major in your freshman year... Take a chill pill yo! Not saying you shouldn't apply to REUs... but all the people I know who did it waited till summer going into junior or senior year. And as the previous poster said, maybe they were looking for older students; I wouldn't take it to heart.

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Re: How to get into Math REU?

Post by Atmosck » Fri Mar 28, 2014 12:33 am

You may actually be overqualified for some of the programs.

I got into a program after my freshman year with Calc 3, a semester of linear algebra, and a course in non-euclidean geometry under my belt (which i took for the sole purpose of getting a letter of rec for reus-because i had only one other math class that was a professor rather than a grad student). According to the people running it, they really wanted all the participants to have the same background - so it was mostly sophomores with roughly the same classes. The first two weeks were a crash-course on the relevant material, and if I had already taken abstract algebra the progression would have felt really awkward and remedial. I applied to lots of programs after my sophomore and junior years, and didn't get into any of them. My theory is that once you're through the standard algebra and real analysis sequences (no pun intended) and are taking graduate classes, there aren't as many programs looking for students like you, and those programs are much more competitive.

That said, keep applying every year. I can honestly say that the one I went to was the best two months of my life, not to mention that they pay very well (or so it feels to an undergraduate) and are one of the best things you can have on a grad school application, especially if they lead to a publication.

Another thing to take into account is that they all tend to accept 8-15 people out of often like 300 applications, so chances are, if you are totally qualified, so are 50 other people, so there's a lot of luck involved unless one of your recommenders knows someone in the program personally. To answer your original question, the advice i received on personal statements is to be pretty straightforward, but include a paragraph with something you are particularly interested in with some detail - demonstrate that you're really independently engaged and can understand and communicate mathematical concepts - but be prepared to talk about that same thing in an interview (I did a phone interview for the program i got into). Though I struck out two years out of three, so maybe my advice on statements isn't the best.

From what it looks like, as people have said, you have a freaking ton of coursework under your belt. Starting next year, it would look into trying to do some research at your home institution. See if there's a professor that could help you find an accessible problem or is working on something they think you might be helpful at - they'd probably be willing to give you course credit for it as an independent study.

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