In serious need of advice

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed May 19, 2010 5:56 pm

In serious need of advice

Post by DontThinkTwice » Wed May 19, 2010 6:25 pm

Hi, everybody! My goal is to obtain a Master's degree in Applied Mathematics eventually leading to a job with the government or private industry, but I face a number of challenges. My info, in the forum-standard format:

Undergrad Institution: Big state school, well regarded for mathematics.
Major(s): Math
Minor(s): None, but significant coursework in Comp Sci and Econ
GPA: 2.78, ~3.0 in major
Position in Class: Probably below average
Type of Student: Domestic white male

GRE Scores:
Q: xxx (xx%) I haven't taken the general test yet.
V: xxx (xx%)
W: x.x (xx%)
M: 610 (42%)

Program Applying: Applied Math

Research Experience: 1 summer research position in non-Euclidean geometry
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: None
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: TA for one semester
Any Miscellaneous Points that Might Help: None
Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: 4 years work experience in an analytical role with a major telecom company

As you can see from my info, I am an underwhelming candidate on paper. The 2.78 GPA is probably my biggest hurdle, but it comes with some qualifiers. I certainly slacked off for the first 3 years of school, but I also scored a 3.6 GPA in my senior year, in which I took the majority of my upper-level math classes. I am also 5 years out of school.

The 610/42% MGRE score is disheartening. I was scoring in the 55-60% range on my practice tests, and I genuinely thought I did even better than that when I walked out of the test in April. I have no idea how I got so many wrong. This is after I studied as hard as I possibly could for months before the test, which I felt I had to do after scoring a 540/24% back in November. It's hard to re-learn a lot of this stuff after being away from math for so long, especially since I never took a class in complex analysis or topology. I can't see going through that a third time, so the 610 is what I'll have to live with.

I have heard that applicantions for Master's degrees can be more lenient than for PhD's. I am also sensible enough to not even apply to any top schools. I will be apply to (in order of preference):

1. University of Maryland, College Park
2. Johns Hopkins University
3. University of Maryland, Baltimore County

I know I should apply to more schools, but for a number of reasons, I'm not willing to leave the DC-Baltimore region.

Is there any hope for me? UMCP and JHU even list a minimum 3.00 GPA to apply, but I'm hoping that it's not a hard cut-off. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances? My current career is going nowhere, and I love math so much - I think about it all the time. I hate thinking that my behavior 6+ years ago that is no reflection of my current abilities could prevent me from being able to study math.

Posts: 5
Joined: Mon May 17, 2010 3:24 am

Re: In serious need of advice

Post by lambdafunctor » Wed May 19, 2010 9:20 pm

Hmmm... Well, I am going to be completely honest here. Look at, and check out peoples' results who applied to JHU and Umary-CP, and see how they fared relative to their stats. I wouldn't advise you to give up now, but it is conceivable that you are aiming too high. I do think that the thing which might put you in a really good position is to apply as a special-status/non-degree graduate student at a local (preferably large) institution, where there are at least a handful of decent grad courses (e.g. algebra/analysis/topology, etc.). Just take a few courses as a non-degree student, and work your tail off to ace them. I am guessing that you are from Maryland (given your array of prospects--UMaryland, JHU, etc.), so check out schools like AmU, as well. Good MA/MS programs near you at which would then be a viable candidate (but only after taking a few courses first!) might be UM-baltimore, American U, George Washington U, Georgetown (maybe), etc. There are some really good applied maths PhD programs which could potentially land you a job in industry or even academe if you perform well enough--I'm thinking here (regionally) of UDelaware, UNH, Vermont, etc.

Another option (a forteriori, your best option) could be to obtain one MA/MS (at a no-name school), then another MA/MS en-route to the PhD at a slightly better school (e.g. Delaware) which would be funded, then exit the PhD program in pursuit of a PhD at an even better school (the sky is the limit here), which would also be funded, and would result in a better position and research opportunities. I have had friends do this same thing, then go off to schools like Cornell, Brown, Rutgers, U.SoCal, etc.

If your into applied maths, maybe check out Claremont graduate center, SUNY Albany, K state, VA Tech, MI Tech, and a few others which might fund you, and land you a solid job in industry.

Best of luck! And seriously, don't give up hope--there have been people in worse positions than you who have made it (Stephen Smale almost flunked out of UMich as an undergrad, then went on to solve h-cobordism and get the fields medal =D).

Post Reply