Advice for a UK international

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Riemannian
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:43 am

Advice for a UK international

Post by Riemannian » Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:07 am

Undergraduate student from the latter half of COWI (cambridge/oxford/warwick/imperial) looking to possibly apply to Part III/OMMS and American universities after I graduate. Been lurking on here for a little bit and wanted to ask a few things:
  • Should I be looking to graduate with a BSc (3 years) or MSc/MMath (4 years). I looked at Part III prerequisites for various courses, and it is perfectly possible for me to pick up the requisite knowledge in my third year, (I can also take some fourth year courses in my third year, any that I have the prerequisites for) so I don't think knowledge-wise it'd be a problem. I'd assume the masters portion of an american phd would be comparable to this. Is this common however, and would I be disadvantaged for only holding a BSc? I see that a lot of posters here have a lot of research experience, would it be beneficial to stay a fourth year in the UK to accumulate some? I'm unsure whether I'll get enough opportunity.
  • I see a lot of people talking about reach/match/safety schools. Not really a familiar concept to me, safety schools aren't a thing here for undergrad admissions. How do you determine what's a reach/match/safety? Are there any guides for UK applicants in selecting suitable universities? As with UK graduate courses, the requirements are very vague and it's unclear what exactly you need. In the UK - requirements typically scale with the quality/difficulty of your undergrad, does a similar thing apply in the states? Or would it be better to consult a member of staff at my university to see what they recommend. It would be worrying if it was just a guessing game.
  • How much are factors other than grades important? I see a lot of people applying with some research and teaching experience. At my home institution, there isn't really opportunity for teaching at undergraduate level until the fourth year. (where you grade homework for a group of first years, answer their questions and help them prepare for their exams) As I mentioned earlier, I'm not sure what sort of research I'll be able to do prior to applying. We do a project as part of the 3 year degree, but this isn't supposed to be original research. Should I try to get some experience tutoring secondary school students? (there is opportunity for this in the local area) Is there anything else that I can do during the course of my undergrad to improve my chances?
  • Linking in with the first, if I'm unsuccessful in getting into anywhere, would it be worth completing a masters at my home institution/Part III/OMMS and then retrying that year?

Cyclicduck
Posts: 16
Joined: Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:55 pm

Re: Advice for a UK international

Post by Cyclicduck » Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:43 pm

If you can afford it and have the time, I think staying for a masters in the UK would be a good idea. After all, in the US, a bachelors usually consists of 4 years and typically is not followed by a non-terminal masters. Certainly a masters degree from the UK would make your application stronger. From my understanding, undergraduate research is mainly a US thing, and only in very, very rare instances does it actually produce something somewhat significant. Admission committees know this and they also know it is less common in the UK; from my understanding Princeton is the only place which might weight research more seriously. All in all, I don't think lacking research should be an issue for you. If you did stay for a masters, doing well in advanced courses, writing a good thesis, and impressing your advisors/professors would all be good things.

It would definitely be a good idea to consult people at your university. I'm not sure what "requirements" you're referring to, but there probably will be some guessing involved which is why people apply to several places.

I don't believe teaching experience is very important to getting admitted. Most schools will have you teach regardless but I've never heard anyone on a panel say that this is something they're looking for in an application. A high GRE score and strong recommendations do matter a lot though. (Are UK recommendations typically short? Again, admissions committees will take this into account, but I'm just curious.)

Riemannian
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:43 am

Re: Advice for a UK international

Post by Riemannian » Thu Nov 07, 2019 3:37 pm

Cyclicduck wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:43 pm
If you can afford it and have the time, I think staying for a masters in the UK would be a good idea. After all, in the US, a bachelors usually consists of 4 years and typically is not followed by a non-terminal masters. Certainly a masters degree from the UK would make your application stronger. From my understanding, undergraduate research is mainly a US thing, and only in very, very rare instances does it actually produce something somewhat significant. Admission committees know this and they also know it is less common in the UK; from my understanding Princeton is the only place which might weight research more seriously. All in all, I don't think lacking research should be an issue for you. If you did stay for a masters, doing well in advanced courses, writing a good thesis, and impressing your advisors/professors would all be good things.

It would definitely be a good idea to consult people at your university. I'm not sure what "requirements" you're referring to, but there probably will be some guessing involved which is why people apply to several places.

I don't believe teaching experience is very important to getting admitted. Most schools will have you teach regardless but I've never heard anyone on a panel say that this is something they're looking for in an application. A high GRE score and strong recommendations do matter a lot though. (Are UK recommendations typically short? Again, admissions committees will take this into account, but I'm just curious.)
Thanks for the reply, has been very useful.

Finances here should be fine. I asked because while the American degree course is 4 years, I got the impression that the UK 3 year degree is comparable because we generally only study one subject, and typically go faster as a result. That said - I really would not fancy applying just with a bachelors, getting rejected, and then having to go through the cycle again... I wouldn't be so fussed if applications were not so expensive, doing two cycles like that could easily cost over £1000. If it's the case that I'll have a significant advantage for a masters, I'll probably apply for a masters here. (though I'm not exactly spoilt for choice since my institution is top 4 here, a status I view as a bit misleading) There are undergraduate research opportunities here, but they do not seem to be targeted at pure maths (my likely specialism at this point, though I did entertain the idea of stats) and are more so targeted at the humanities and life sciences, that sort of thing. Good to know it doesn't matter however. I'd think having a masters dissertation with a good mark to upload with my application would reflect very well.

By requirements - I mean de facto what sort of marks you need. I'm still confused how people determine what's a match school for them. Is it based on their GRE score? (I'd imagine for top schools the majority have near perfect GPAs, and the US doesn't seem to use percentages like the UK does based on people posting their stats here) Sorry if I'm asking stupid questions here, lol. Well, getting possibly squeezed out by competition is a good reason to apply to many places. Not necessarily that you're unsure that you're the right standard.

That's good - I know US undergrad is heavily weighted on non-academic factors at times (or at least, I got that impression from reading. It put me off applying to the US for undergrad, that and being so broad for the first two years) so was wondering if grad schools were similar. Not really sure if they're typically short. Will find out when I come to getting one ig lol.

Cyclicduck
Posts: 16
Joined: Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:55 pm

Re: Advice for a UK international

Post by Cyclicduck » Thu Nov 07, 2019 7:19 pm

Schools don't set any rigid cutoffs for marks, though some highly ranked ones may discard your application if (say) your GRE percentile is under 60. I believe GRE scores are the most important for schools 1 or 2 tiers below the top, while at top schools they don't care if you got 85th or 99th percentile. (This is hearsay from multiple sources, and it makes sense to me.) As for grades, you can definitely get a perfect GPA without getting perfect marks. At almost all universities a 94 in a class would give a 4.0 GPA for that class. I'd like to emphasize that strong recommendation letters are very important.

Applicants generally guess what a match school is by estimating how their profile stands relative to others and asking other people. Probably an adivsor or staff member at your university would help you to gauge where you're at. I take it in the UK students have a pretty clear sense of where they'll get in and thus apply to less schools?

Yes, undergrad in the US is weighted on a lot of factors, which honestly seem both random and opaque. The graduate schools are a lot more straightforward.

Riemannian
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:43 am

Re: Advice for a UK international

Post by Riemannian » Thu Nov 07, 2019 9:34 pm

Cyclicduck wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 7:19 pm
Schools don't set any rigid cutoffs for marks, though some highly ranked ones may discard your application if (say) your GRE percentile is under 60. I believe GRE scores are the most important for schools 1 or 2 tiers below the top, while at top schools they don't care if you got 85th or 99th percentile. (This is hearsay from multiple sources, and it makes sense to me.) As for grades, you can definitely get a perfect GPA without getting perfect marks. At almost all universities a 94 in a class would give a 4.0 GPA for that class. I'd like to emphasize that strong recommendation letters are very important.

Applicants generally guess what a match school is by estimating how their profile stands relative to others and asking other people. Probably an adivsor or staff member at your university would help you to gauge where you're at. I take it in the UK students have a pretty clear sense of where they'll get in and thus apply to less schools?

Yes, undergrad in the US is weighted on a lot of factors, which honestly seem both random and opaque. The graduate schools are a lot more straightforward.
Thanks again for replying.

Oh I see. Yeah that makes sense, after all people have bad days, and accuracy in computations doesn't always mean understanding. That said, looking at the GRE I was expecting it to be fairly harder... I don't really know what GPA is, to be honest - I thought 4.0 GPA just meant straight As in courses. 94 is an insane mark, lol, that would easily put you in the top 5 or higher over here. (you only need 70% for the top grade but competitive programmes will expect more) I see - hopefully can get some particularly flattering recommendation letters in that case. I'm sure, considering the standing of the institution, there will be some staff familiar enough with US admissions. Or you'd hope, anyway.

Ouch, that sounds flawed particularly because not many people have a realistic opinion on their ability. People will probably incorrectly surmise what sorts of grades you need. I'd have hoped some more solid guidelines would exist somewhere. Though I realise admission at this level is probably very individual. Unfortunately unlike the UK a lot of the unis I'd be applying to aren't subject to FOI. (which would the usual way of getting admissions data if universities don't release them) Think the best idea in that case would be talking to advisors at my university, then. At undergraduate level a lot of courses aren't really competitive in the traditional sense. Most universities for maths (notable exceptions being oxbridge, imperial) post that they want x grades in A-levels, give approximately everyone with that sort of grade predicted an offer, and whoever meets it gets in. It sounds haphazard but it usually results in the numbers they want since the offers are demanding. I have no idea what the situation is at graduate level. I'd assume not much different from the US. What's expected for Cambridge Part III is equally mysterious and I'm trying to wrap my head around it.

That's nice to know. The mystique of the American process was very offputting, and it was quite scary to see quite academically strong students receiving straight rejections...



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