Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
quark
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:10 pm

Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby quark » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:45 pm

First of all, I should note here that I was never interested in Math when I was in high school and always struggled with it. So, I took a break for about 4 years and worked till I got married and moved to the US which was when I decided to enroll in a community college. I started with Precalculus, and I had the best teacher anyone could possibly have and I realized that there was so much more Math that I wanted to learn, yada yada yada. So I did my first 2 years in the community college with straight A's and transferred to Rutgers, and since then I've only taken upper level Math, Physics (my minor), and Econ classes. I know that my success is seemingly mediocre but I do believe that I've made enormous progress. I have always tried to take the most challenging classes (that I've been allowed to take) and while that is a risk that hasn't always paid off, I have no regrets because every one of those classes has made me a better mathematician. I have the woman/minority thing going for me, but I don't think it makes a substantial change. Also, I have been doing this while managing a family (I'm married and I have some dependents who are not kids). I pay non-resident tuition which is a ridiculous amount and my husband and I have worked MANY part-time jobs for the last 2 years to pay it all off without taking any loans. I am a senior at a Rutgers and I am very keen on applying for a Math PhD, but I understand that I might not have the necessary stats, YET. I have no research experience or graduate courses, and took a couple of honors classes in which I did not receive A's.

I also did a "reading program" with a grad student in Advanced Field Theory and Set Theory, but I don't receive credit for it, so I'm not sure that they count.

In my next/last semester, I will be taking Honors Analysis II and Honors Algebra II, Differential Geometry, and Logic.

Also, I BOMBED the Math GRE subject test-the only why I can explain it is that I had 30 seconds to fill in all the answers on the scantron sheet after doing all the scratchwork elsewhere so maybe I messed something up.

So, my question is this: I really want to pursue a PhD in Math, and I think I need just a little more time and preparation to be a more competitive applicant. Because of family reasons, I can't move too far away from where I live. Rutgers doesn't offer a traditional M.S. option, so I was wondering if i could maybe apply for a Masters at CUNY or one of the decent colleges around me, and try again in 1 or 2 years. Given the high cost that I would have to pay for a Masters programs (as an international student), I really want to make sure that doing well in a Masters would offer a substantial advantage for me?
Last edited by quark on Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

dexter
Posts: 39
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:08 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby dexter » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:35 pm

Hi quark, not that my opinion really matters, but I'm definitely impressed that you could do all of this while leading such a busy life!

I can't speak for admission committees, but at this point I definitely think you can be competitive at many graduate programs IF you do well on the GRE subject test. You come from an excellent school, and you still have a semester left to leave a great(er) impression and get the best letters possible (this is easier said than done, and you will have to work very hard!). If you can even take a graduate level course in the Spring and ace it, that'd be even better.

So I'm really not sure if going to a Masters program could help you but you definitely want a program that has good faculty teaching grad-level courses. Can you stay in Rutgers as a non-degree-seeking student and take graduate courses there? I think that would be a much better option.

Anyways, it goes without saying that it's best to talk to a professor who knows you well and who can offer you personalized advice. Rutgers routinely send students to some of the best programs, so they do know what it takes to get in, and they can give you good advice.

Best of luck!

c3adv
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Apr 06, 2012 8:34 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby c3adv » Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:23 pm

I think I shared my experiences regarding my Master's program on another thread. Great experience, but not worth it in terms of cost. I was warned not to pay for graduate school by professors at Cornell, but in a somewhat similar situation without dependents, I realized too late that I wanted to seriously pursue a math major. I wanted to get a stronger foundation and look more appealing for Ph.D. admissions committees, but that could have been done with tons of self-teaching, REU's, independent studies, and more emphasis on the GRE subject test.

Definitely get strong recommendation letters; if nothing else get some research done with a faculty member that knows you well, retake the GRE as needed, and ace hard graduate classes while you are still an undergraduate student. Avoid massive student loan debt like the plague. If you can get into a fully funded Master's program, then that's probably worth it. Nonetheless, unless you have a generous employer or work for a university, you might need to go to Europe for a year and change. Your situation is complicated, but if this is something you truly want, travel might be unavoidable in order to minimize overall cost and maximize value.

quark
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:10 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby quark » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:00 pm

dexter wrote:Hi quark, not that my opinion really matters, but I'm definitely impressed that you could do all of this while leading such a busy life!

I can't speak for admission committees, but at this point I definitely think you can be competitive at many graduate programs IF you do well on the GRE subject test. You come from an excellent school, and you still have a semester left to leave a great(er) impression and get the best letters possible (this is easier said than done, and you will have to work very hard!). If you can even take a graduate level course in the Spring and ace it, that'd be even better.

So I'm really not sure if going to a Masters program could help you but you definitely want a program that has good faculty teaching grad-level courses. Can you stay in Rutgers as a non-degree-seeking student and take graduate courses there? I think that would be a much better option.

Anyways, it goes without saying that it's best to talk to a professor who knows you well and who can offer you personalized advice. Rutgers routinely send students to some of the best programs, so they do know what it takes to get in, and they can give you good advice.

Best of luck!


Hey dexter, thank you for your kind words and feedback! :) Ideally, I would love to stay back and take a few more courses, but it would be a big financial strain on me and my family (it actually works out to be much cheaper for me to be a full-time masters student at CUNY than a part-time student at Rutgers). If, however, doing so for a year would give me a really strong chance at getting into the grad program here next year, I might seriously consider it. My target school is the one that I'm at, but with my ABYSMAL subject score (which couldn't be any worse if I randomly circled answers without even reading the question), I think I've blown any chance of me staying here.
I'm not sure about the chances of me getting permission for any other grad classes based on my conversations with the professors, but I might potentially be doing an advanced independent study (possibly in Mathematical Physics) with one of my professors next semester. As for recommendations, I will be getting them from 2 non-tenured professors who have been very actively involved in unofficially mentoring me and 2 other professors who are fairly well known in their field.
This year, I'm applying to some schools on the east coast that are in the 30-60 range, and a couple of long shots, but unless I get a really good offer from one of the better schools, I'm very tempted to spend another year in the area either at Rutgers or at some NY state school.

quark
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:10 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby quark » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:10 pm

c3adv wrote:I think I shared my experiences regarding my Master's program on another thread. Great experience, but not worth it in terms of cost. I was warned not to pay for graduate school by professors at Cornell, but in a somewhat similar situation without dependents, I realized too late that I wanted to seriously pursue a math major. I wanted to get a stronger foundation and look more appealing for Ph.D. admissions committees, but that could have been done with tons of self-teaching, REU's, independent studies, and more emphasis on the GRE subject test.

Definitely get strong recommendation letters; if nothing else get some research done with a faculty member that knows you well, retake the GRE as needed, and ace hard graduate classes while you are still an undergraduate student. Avoid massive student loan debt like the plague. If you can get into a fully funded Master's program, then that's probably worth it. Nonetheless, unless you have a generous employer or work for a university, you might need to go to Europe for a year and change. Your situation is complicated, but if this is something you truly want, travel might be unavoidable in order to minimize overall cost and maximize value.


Hey c3adv, I really wish I could travel to Europe for a year, but I can't relocate my family or leave them behind without making things very complicated. I have one semester left, and staying back at Rutgers for another year would require me to pay close to 30k just in tuition as a non-resident. Doing a masters from almost any of the other state schools in a 150 mile radius would be atleast 7k cheaper. Having said that, I don't want to do a Masters that is not going to add very much to my credentials either. :|

enomomo
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:53 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby enomomo » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:35 pm

If you are applying for fall 2014 PhD admission (fall 2013 deadlines are coming up very soon):

I would try to get some research or independent study in next semester along with a grad course. Ace all your courses, impress your research supervisor, then spend the remaining time before applications are due doing more research or independent study (I don't think this should cost you money, find someone who is willing to meet with you once a week), while studying for the gre. If you do all this I feel that your profile would be of similar strength to other successful applicants that I have seen in the admissions threads, even without considering your minority status, and you would have a good chance of getting into a decent PhD program.

topsecret
Posts: 15
Joined: Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby topsecret » Thu Dec 13, 2012 9:57 am

This is my personal advice:

It sounds like you have a reasonable application for Ph.D. programs this year, with the exception of your GRE scores. I would apply to Ph.D. programs for Fall 2013 as you are doing, and I'd add some "super safeties", say in the 60-100 range (even better if they don't ask for GRE scores, but this is uncommon). It's unlikely Rutgers will be interested without A's in their honors courses and higher GRE scores.

As others suggested, it might be ideal to stay at Rutgers one more year and take grad classes, ace them, study hard for the GRE, and apply again next year, but since you have a difficult financial situation, this may not be the right choice.

Instead you might want to look into masters programs that are funded. They do exist. Typically the schools that offer them are not the best, but that doesn't mean that going their can't strengthen your mathematical background significantly.

If you apply to the schools you are already applying to in the 30-60 range, plus some super safeties, plus some funded masters program, you can see how your admissions turn out, and make your decision later. If you get into a great Ph.D. program, then the decision is obvious. Otherwise, hopefully you will still get into a safety Ph.D. or a funded master's program, and then you will have time to make your decision in the spring.

One last note - the choice you make partly depends on what your ultimate goal is. If you want to be a researcher, it is important to go to as good a school as possible, and get started on research early on. If you want to teach, it isn't as important to go to a prestigious school (although of course it still helps). You should take this into account as well as your financial situation to decide what to do. My advice is to be ambitious, but don't risk your happiness and financial security pursuing something that might not work out.

MattW
Posts: 47
Joined: Sat Oct 09, 2010 6:34 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby MattW » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:14 pm

I don't think that doing a master's is a waste. It will definitely boost your credentials when applying again, although having to pay your way sounds horrifying. Here's my story:

The first year which I applied for PhD programs, I applied to around 10 schools and was accepted into around half. I decided to do a (fully funded) one year masters program to better my credentials and to help me decide which area to pursue. In the second round of applications I knew that I wanted to do functional analysis and applied to only five schools. I was accepted into all of them and was offered entrance awards by three of the schools.

echo
Posts: 18
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2011 7:41 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby echo » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:23 pm

As the others say, it's just not worth it to go to a master's program where you'd have to pay. Taking on that kind of debt when you'd be in a PhD program (and potentially in postdocs/temporary visiting positions) making very little money would be extremely annoying.

On the other hand, your profile doesn't necessarily rule out going to a less well known Ph.D. program where they would fund you, and you might potentially be able to obtain a master's degree (though don't tell anyone if that's your intention). As you can see from my past posts/profile, if you make good grades, a strong impression and improve your GRE scores in this situation, you can be quite competitive for some of the best Ph.D. programs.

colldood
Posts: 41
Joined: Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:45 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby colldood » Fri Dec 14, 2012 4:04 pm

I think your credentials, while not absolutely excellent, are quite good, especially given your circumstances. So for one, you should try to go for PhD programs straight away. As a back up, the financial aspect of it will be your decision to weigh, but a Master's will both improve you as a student as well as buy you time to improve your application, get better refs/experience, and retake the GRE, and is an excellent choice (I know many people who didn't get in their first time, did a Master's, then got into good places).

Second piece of advice: Canada, baby. Master's funding is not guaranteed and it's all harder to get into if you're international, but there's definitely a good chance. I don't know if an 8 hour drive is too far away though - but maybe the funding will compensate for the distance.

quark
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:10 pm

Re: Is Masters a good intermediate step?

Postby quark » Sat Dec 15, 2012 4:14 pm

Thank you all for your responses; you guys were really helpful! I have decided to apply to some colleges in the east coast and see how things turn out. I am only applying to the places where I think I have somewhat of a chance, are within driving distance from my family (or are located in cities so that my partner can find a job and my family can relocate), and I will actually attend if I get accepted. If I get in, I could see how things go and my family can relocate soon after. If I don't get in anywhere, I'm going to just stay back a year and do some independent research/advanced study and/or a few grad classes like most of you suggested and try again next year. I might revisit the Masters option in May if all else fails by then. In any case, it's only a matter of time and perseverance. Good luck to you all!




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