Narrowing down graduate schools

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Narrowing down graduate schools

Post by berkeleymath » Wed Nov 05, 2014 12:55 am

I'm currently in the process of narrowing down which schools I will be applying to, and I was wondering if anyone could lend some advice.
I'm a fourth year female mathematics major at UC Berkeley, 3.7 GPA. I've done one summer REU at UCLA, and I'm currently writing my honors thesis. I'm going to have letters of recommendation from two professors, my thesis advisor and my research mentor, and one post-doc. I've also got a year's worth of on-campus research in neuroscience labs, which is my area of interest. I took the math GRE subject test in October, and though I don't feel I performed that well, I don't think it was disastrous.
Anyways, my research interests are in applied math and neuroscience. So far I've been looking into the programs at UCLA, Rice University, and UT Austin. I understand that these are relatively prestigious schools, so should I be looking into a safety school? How would I go about figuring out a decent safety school? Generally, I'm not sure how to go about finding the right school for me, given that there are so many to choose from, so any advice would be appreciated. Also, if anyone knows of any applied math programs working with neuroscience, please let me know!

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Re: Narrowing down graduate schools

Post by bulla » Wed Nov 05, 2014 4:18 pm

Definitely apply to safety schools. Look into which universities have research groups or faculty members researching in your area of interest. Do you want to go to a big university with lots of graduate students or a smaller one? Check how many students are enrolled or did phd thesis in your area of interest. Try to ascertain the level activity in your area of interest by looking into seminars, colloquiums, research awards. See which ones might have easier application, e.g. late deadline, or maybe doesnt put too much emphasis on mGRE so if you get a low mGRE score then apply there. You can use the US news ranking, to get a quick list of not so fancy universities (not a highly recommended method since the rankings are very subjective and lower rank doesnt necessarily mean easier to get in). Consult the people you worked with in the neuroscience lab about what are some good but not very competitive departments; they should be able to give a couple names.

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Re: Narrowing down graduate schools

Post by MathCat » Wed Nov 05, 2014 6:18 pm

Think about what you are looking for in a school. You know your area of interest, but what other things? Size, location, do you care about how frequently there are invited talks?, are you willing to go abroad? etc. Then I would ask your professors, but have some schools in mind already. They may be able to tell you whether or not that department is a good fit based on what you have outlined, and they may have their own suggestions.

Also, you probably want more than one safety school. At the PhD level, you can't really be guaranteed of getting in to any particular school. Pick a few 'reach/dream' schools, a few that are competitive but at which you have a good chance, and a few that are safer bets but which you would still attend (no point applying somewhere you wouldn't go). Again, your recommenders can help here.

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