Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Post by gedt11 » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:10 pm

I an an international student studying in a big public school in US (top 15 in math) with an around 3.9 GPA.
As a junior, I applied to a lot of the REU programs and right now it's highly possible that I will be rejected by all of them.
However, I think I have a pretty strong background: will finish 4 grad math classes by this semester (analysis and algebra sequences), putnam top 100, decent letters (I believe?), so I just wonder is not have an REU going to really hurt me when I apply for grad schools? Is my goal of getting in a top 20 school in math too high given my background? Thank you in advance!

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Re: Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Post by lambert » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:39 pm

Short answer is no. All the REUs do is give you research experience, and this is something you can get through other means, e.g. staying at your institution to work with a professor over the summer, or even over the year.

I wouldn't say an REU is even worth it; lots of professors at top-tier universities have commented that they don't really like or recommend REUs. Or, rather, they are a bit skeptical of their quality as research potential indicators. A lot of them function as businesses, they don't fund international students so unless you're a US citizen you have to shell out the $$. Also, generally speaking, a paper being written on a topic after like one and a half months of research *probably* means it's not a very interesting or hard topic, so that casts doubt on the quality of research. Especially so if it's a paper written by like 4 or 5 people, then that won't help you either because the graduate admissions committee looking at your application won't be able to tell YOUR research potential from a thing written by 5 different people. So in a sense I kinda agree with professors' skepticism of these mass-paper producing REUs.

Some of them are fun though. A lot of the top applicants do them because honestly it's just expected of them. When you're a 4.0 gpa guy from Harvard with grad courses and papers on algebraic topology since freshman year, attending Ken Ono's REU (or another prestigious REU) is just the next thing on the Good Applicant ™ list, but we get those every year, so don't worry about them.

You can get into top 20 schools without any research (even top 10), but I wouldn't recommend it.

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Re: Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Post by blackmaverick176 » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:48 pm

I don't think a top 20 grad school is unreasonable for you. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you got into a top 10 school. My profile is weaker than yours and I was admitted to two top 20 schools without participating in an REU. Admission committees also look at your application as a whole, so you can make up for weaknesses if you're strong in other areas (which seems to be the case with you). To echo the answer above: the primary purpose of an REU is to gain research experience. If you've done research with a professor at your undergrad institution, I think that will make up for any lack of REU's.

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Re: Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Post by Rise » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:57 pm

Not at all. Professionally, REU's are not any different than doing serious research with a professor at your home institution. In fact, you go to a really good school so that might be a better option for you, as your professors are likely to be more famous than those leading REU's at lesser known universities.

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Re: Does not having an REU matter when apply to grad schools?

Post by jxwatmg » Wed Mar 07, 2018 12:38 am

Cannot agree more with lambert. I won’t be surprised if you get into a top 20 even without an REU, but I would recommend talking with professors at your home institution about what they can do. Wish you good luck!

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