Graduate program after graduating a decade ago

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Graduate program after graduating a decade ago

Post by murball1 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:34 pm

Hi everyone.

A quick summary of my background. I graduated college in 2008 with an actuarial science degree. My overall GPA was around 3.5. I have been working as an actuary for the last 10 years, and I am currently an ASA (an associate of the society of actuaries). For those who don't know about the actuary profession, we have a laundry list of professional exams that we have to take in order to attain the ASA designation. They cover math up through calculus with a little higher math thrown in. Mostly, it covers a lot of statistics and probability theory. In order to pass each exam, you need to be in the top 40% of the exam takers (they have a moving goal line intended to limit how many pass each exam sitting).

My ultimate goal is to teach at the college level. I am not sure if I want to do research for the rest of life, but I am not opposed to the idea.

The question I have is about the entrance qualifications for a master or PhD program. I can self study to refresh all of the topics covered on the mGRE (I am used to working 40+ hours a week plus self studying for my professional exams), but I am also contemplating going back and retaking some of the courses at the college level. George Mason is a local university that I am considering. The other concern for me is the letters of recommendation. I can ask my current employers for letters. Since they took the exams as well, they can attest to the material needed to be mastered in order to pass. Would letters from them be enough to cover that aspect of the application, or should I try to contact my professors from 10 years ago? Alternatively, I can try to get on the good side of the professors at GMU if I decide to retake some of the mGRE math topics.

Is it possible for someone in my position (a 33 year old who graduated college 10 years ago with an OK GPA) to get into a masters or PhD program? I assume it is possible, but what is the likelihood of getting into a really good program? Do the application committees look into what the applicant has done to make him a better candidate (like going back to school as a refresher as well as to get on the good side of current professors)?

I appreciate any comments or suggestions, especially if it's from someone out there who was in a similar position to mine.

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Re: Graduate program after graduating a decade ago

Post by djysyed » Sun Aug 19, 2018 6:37 pm

Almost everyone on this site is an undergraduate or early graduate student. I know there are a few professors on r/math that have experience with graduate admissions committee meetings and can give you much better advice. Something else that might work is emailing the graduate directors at universities you are interested in applying to.

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Re: Graduate program after graduating a decade ago

Post by ponchan » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:39 pm

You might want to look into some terminal master's programs. Off the top of my head, I know that Miami University in Ohio and Wake Forest both offer funded, terminal master's degrees in math. Those would help you build up your profile while also figuring out if getting a PhD is indeed what you want. Otherwise, take some classes at a local college. If you ultimately decide you want to pursue a PhD, you'll have to convince grad committees that you understand what you're getting into (and that you can handle the work). Getting an MA first might be the best way to go about doing this. (Note that terminal MA programs - the few that exists - are much easier to get into that PhD programs).

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Re: Graduate program after graduating a decade ago

Post by blackmaverick176 » Wed Aug 22, 2018 11:08 pm

I'm an ex-actuary who was in a similar position. I graduated in 2012 with a math degree, earned my ASA, and applied last fall. I was accepted to several good programs (you dig up my profile here for more info) so it's definitely possible to get into a good program after an extended stay in industry. However, my background is in pure math and I was a fairly talented student, so maybe I'm not the exactly the example you're looking for.

I think you'll have to be strategic about your application. I've heard the mGRE carries a non-negligible, but not considerable, amount of weight in the eyes of admission committees. For you it might carry more since it's a better indication of your current mathematical abilities, but this is just speculation on my part. I think you'll find the actuarial exams will give you a leg up in terms of study discipline and solving tricky problems under time pressure (that was my experience at least).

I would also be hesitant to get letters of recommendation from supervisors and/or actuaries. The letters are usually one of the most important, if not the most important, part of you application and they should speak to you ability to complete a math graduate program. Most people in industry cannot do this. Getting letters from your profs of 10+ years ago will also be tricky since they might not remember you well enough to speak to your abilities. Another concern is that they might not be able to speak to your performance in areas of math admission committees care about. It would probably be difficult for a professor of actuarial science to say much about one's abilities in subjects relevant to a pure math.

For what it's worth, I think going for a masters or taking courses at a local university might be a good idea. This will allow you to shore up any deficiencies in your background, form relationships with professors who can write letters, and give admission committees more recent data with which to make decisions. Some of what I've said also depends on you mathematical interests. If you're looking to get into applied math then maybe your work experience will be viewed favorably and your actuarial knowledge will be relevant.

I hope that was helpful. Feel free to PM me if about this if you'd like.

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