Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
virgo
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Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby virgo » Sun Mar 03, 2013 11:23 am

I have friends in other fields (bio, physics, and computer science) and it seems like it's easier to get into good programs for other subjects. For example, in math you literally have to have a shitload of grad courses+good research experience in order to get into a top 10 program. In physics, you can get into a top 10 program without any grad classes even if you go to a crappy school (I know several people who did this). Sure, there's more emphasis on research experience, but it's still easier. My friend got into a top 10 school for physics and he started research the summer after sophomore year, and only took like 2 courses more than what was required for his major. He also took some of his upper level courses late. He took quantum 1 and 2 senior year and only took a few physics classes each semester. The school that I go to isn't well known for physics and he wasn't extraordinary (I beat him in several courses and I wasn't that good at physics). My other friend had a similar experience although he had started research the summer after freshman year. I just feel like you have to do so much more for math in order to get into a top 10 school and I'm wondering why this is the case. In order to get into a top 10 program you need start taking grad courses by junior year at the latest (although sophomore year would be better) and on top of that you should start research sophomore or junior year. This means that really you should take modern algebra and real analysis freshman year. However, most American students don't know this and are already behind in the game. You're basically screwed if you have a late start.
Last edited by virgo on Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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redcar777
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby redcar777 » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:24 pm

Its easy: supply and demand.

There's relatively more supply to demand for pure math spots than for, say, biochemistry or materials science. At the other end of the scale is psychology, where there is significantly more supply but massively more demand.

Legendre
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby Legendre » Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:29 pm

I agree that a lot of people want to do PhD Math, but there are a lot less places, especially for Pure Math. Also, mathematics students tend to be extremely competitive people, so there is a lot of crazy profiles out there to compete against.

I felt that it is much tougher to get into PhD for Math than for other subjects.

colldood
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby colldood » Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:50 pm

I feel this way too, but do we have any evidence to actually prove it? Others often dismiss the claim as merely whining.

Browsing physicsgre.com shows profiles pretty similar to here with similar outcomes. However I do know someone who was accepted to a reasonably good school for a funded Master's in Canada with a <3.2 GPA in physics, yet a 3.7 was insufficient for funding in the math department at the sames school.

ajrasmus
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby ajrasmus » Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:41 pm

I think it pretty much has to be the case that math PhD programs are harder to get into but it's still kind of hard to come up with conclusive evidence. I live in an apartment with some smart kids at a somewhat well known liberal arts college. I'm second in my class and have gotten accepted into some pretty decent programs but I'm also doubting that I'll get into any of the top 20 programs that I applied to (I did have a pretty late start in the math major). On the other hand, my roommate is applying to neuroscience programs after leaving our school with a degree in computer science (and only one or two bio courses) and he's already gotten interviews at MIT and other top places. Granted, he still doesn't know whether most of those places have accepted him or not. We're pretty on par academically although I've definitely taken a lot more advanced upper level classes in my major. We also have similar amounts of research experience.

One thing I've noticed: there are at least 3 schools that are paying for him to fly across the country, go out to eat and drink with the faculty, and stay in decent hotels during his trip. I've gotten some schools offering to reimburse a couple hundred dollars of my travel expenses but that's pretty much the extent of it. So it's pretty clear to me that life science departments just have a lot more money and stand to profit by taking more grad students.

Another example: my girlfriend's lab instructor is encouraging her to apply to ivy league bio programs. Her GPA is mediocre.

dollar
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby dollar » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:34 pm

You're basically screwed if you have a late start.

This is so true. I finished my undergrad math major requirements by the end of second year and started taking grad courses then. I thought this would put me ahead of the applicants at princeton, mit, etc. So naive. Then I came across mathematicsgre.com and all hope was crushed.


Then again I did end up getting into a few top 20 schools even though my LoR were mediocre because I didn't know my professors very well. I didn't even get letters from my REUs because they fizzled pretty badly. If I were in another non-math science I don't think I would have a chance with my LoR.

So I think as long as you get good advice in your freshman year, maybe just a pointer to mgre.com, you should end up with a lot of grad courses and it shouldn't be too hard to get into a top 20 program from there. If you go to a good school it seems like you don't even need much research experience and good grades+lots of coursework will suffice. (This is based of other peoples profiles and my own experience).

In the end it just seems that there is more emphasis on research experience and fit for lab sciences, but more emphasis on coursework for maths.


I have noticed that a "good" GPA in maths is 3.9+ whereas a "good" gpa in most other sciences is quite a bit lower , say 3.6+. What is the reason for that?
Last edited by dollar on Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

virgo
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby virgo » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:36 pm

dollar wrote:
You're basically screwed if you have a late start.

This is so true. I finished my undergrad math major requirements by the end of second year and started taking grad courses then. I thought this would put me ahead of the applicants at princeton, mit, etc. So naive. Then I came across mathematicsgre.com and all hope was crushed.


Then again I did end up getting into a few top 20 schools even though my LoR were mediocre because I didn't know my professors very well. I didn't even get letters from my REUs because they fizzled pretty badly. If I were in another non-math science I don't think I would have a chance with my LoR.

So I think as long as you get good advice in your freshman year, maybe just a pointer to mgre.com, you should end up with a lot of grad courses and it shouldn't be too hard to get into a top 20 program from there. If you go to a good school it seems like you don't even need much research experience and good grades+lots of coursework will suffice. (This is based of other peoples profiles and my own experience).


I have noticed that a "good" GPA in maths is 3.9+ whereas a "good" gpa in most other sciences is quite a bit lower , say 3.6+. What is the reason for that?

I agree. I don't know why math majors are required to have such good gpas. It's not like we're curved easier than all other sciences. For example, at Berkeley, math majors have close to the lowest gpas.

virgo
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby virgo » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:43 pm

colldood wrote:I feel this way too, but do we have any evidence to actually prove it? Others often dismiss the claim as merely whining.

Browsing physicsgre.com shows profiles pretty similar to here with similar outcomes. However I do know someone who was accepted to a reasonably good school for a funded Master's in Canada with a <3.2 GPA in physics, yet a 3.7 was insufficient for funding in the math department at the sames school.

Hmm, I used to follow PGRE a lot as I intended to go into grad school for physics. The first time I encountered MGRE.com was December 2011 when I was first considering going into grad school for math and I was absolutely terrified. People with 10+ grad classes, 3.9+ gpas, and a decent amount of research experience were being rejected from most top 10 programs. I found it a lot scarier than PGRE although it might have changed since. Physics isn't even close to that bad. Along with the 2 examples I gave in my initial post, I have a friend who got into a top 25 physics ph.d program with a 3.6-3.7 gpa from a crappy program and only a year of research experience. Furthermore, he did not take one course beyond what was required for his major. He only took 3 courses (not all physics) a semester for his last 2 years and played starcraft the rest of the time :lol: .

virgo
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby virgo » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:44 pm

I actually even think that math admissions has gotten a lot more competitive in just the last 10 years or so. At least that is what some of my professors tell me. I'm just curious as to why this is the case and would like to know if it's going to get worse.

elektron1999
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby elektron1999 » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:55 pm

The reason is simple. If you get an undergraduate in Math, you pretty much MUST go to a PhD program. A significant part of good engineering students, or biology students, or any other field, go to get a job right away, therefore competition is much less. For math, in most cases you have to get a PhD in order to get an entry level job.

quinquenion
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby quinquenion » Sun Mar 03, 2013 5:03 pm

dollar wrote:I have noticed that a "good" GPA in maths is 3.9+ whereas a "good" gpa in most other sciences is quite a bit lower , say 3.6+. What is the reason for that?


In most other sciences, it is easier to have done significant research as an undergrad. As such, GPA and GRE matter much less. I was explicitly told after publishing a couple of papers in analytical biochemistry that if I wanted to go to grad school in that field, my majors/GPA/GRE were of little to no importance even for top schools.

In math, it is much more difficult to do original research as an undergrad, and even when done, adcoms are left wondering how much was your contribution and how much your advisor's. As such, GRE and GPA are given a little more weight.

Essentially, in the sciences, given significant undergrad research, GPA is no longer predictive of grad school success above a particular point. However, since it's much harder to do significant undergrad research in math, GPA remains an important data point for adcoms.


p.s. As a former scientist and now budding mathematician, I don't strictly consider math a science, but that's another discussion entirely :-P

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redcar777
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby redcar777 » Mon Mar 04, 2013 1:25 pm

@electron1999: you touch on the a good point, the presence of alternatives. This is especially relevant for high-demand fields like computer science. Why get a ph.d. when google is just like grad school in terms of intellectual stimulation, and they will pay you 6 figures?

There's another part of the equation you can't ignore: the supply part. How many grad slots are there in pure math vs. the cumulative number of slots in physics or biology other fields? I don't just mean pure theoretical physics, I mean physical chemistry, materials science, engineering disciplines, etc. Second, where does funding for grad students come from? A small number of top math researchers get funding for a small number of students... but fields with applications get more money, and actually need grad labor for research (those Erlenmeyer flasks don't wash themselves!).

So its not just demand-- in fact, a lot of people are probably dissuaded from pure math by lack of ability. Though the glamor of pure math makes it appealing. Its also supply-- who wants students, how many do they want, and for what work?

quinquenion
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Re: Are math programs harder to get into than the other sciences

Postby quinquenion » Mon Mar 04, 2013 8:06 pm

@redcar777: Those are very good points, but on the other hand, especially at large State schools, there's a very high demand for math grad students to teach/TA all the intro math classes. Unlike pretty much every other field besides writing/composition, math is usually a requirement for nearly every non-major.

I honestly don't know if the number of extra TA slots math depts have balances out the extra funding the sciences bring in, but it's at least an ameliorating factor.




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