Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
forallepsilon
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Nov 10, 2013 12:50 pm

Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Postby forallepsilon » Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:50 am

Hi all, as you can tell from the title, I failed a graduate level course this year (my final year) as an undergraduate. I had been gearing up for the grad application season, with many of my apps already finished, before this had happened. Now, I am totally disheartened and feel like I shouldn't apply at all.

However, I honestly think it would benefit me if I opened this question up to others. Here is the deal...

Other than this F, my GPA is somewhat competitive (3.53). I am a math major currently looking at pure math programs, but I had been applying to schools on the lower end of the spectrum (above the top 50). I felt as though I had a pretty good chance prior to this considering that my GPA was above 3.5, I will have had several grad courses under my belt prior to next year (other than the one I failed, doesn't count!), I have done two research projects (only one very minor publication), and my two of my letters are very personal and come from well-respected mathematicians. Also, I go to a top 10 public U.S. university.

Yet, part of me is telling me that I just blew my chances at a doctorate program with that F. Granted, this was a hard graduate level course, I still believe this will look terrible on my application. The one thing I have going for me is that my mentor was the one who taught that class (and incidentally is one of my letter writers). We had a pretty heart felt conversation about my results. I let him know that I worked hard but that I merely had a panic attack on the test which caused me to do way more poorly than I should have (totally true). He also was unaware that I have been working a lot while going to school. This being said, he let me know that he would highlight the F in his letter and let the committees know that this was a result of external circumstances and is not very representative of my skill set.

Do you think I should bother? I'm not trying to get into MIT or Harvard (or even UW!)... The schools I'm applying to are mostly lower tier Ph.D. programs in mathematics.

Any help would be appreciated. My other option is to do a Master's first but at 26, I really don't want to add another 2 years to my schooling.

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redcar777
Posts: 34
Joined: Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:59 am

Re: Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Postby redcar777 » Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:51 pm

If you want to go to grad school, then yes, you should apply.

You might as well pitch one in there, you might get a hit. I don't think failing a class is a disaster. In fact, I'd recommend applying to some schools you're not sure you're strictly qualified for (UW?) because, who knows? If you don't even try then you definitely won't get in.

I think there's a different question about whether it makes sense to go to math grad school in the first place if its not top tier. If you want an academic job, then you will need to get an advisor who can place you well in the job market. They exist at 2nd tier schools, but the further down the list you go, the more out of the loop you are. If you want to be a high school teacher, then a PhD will help you career wise... though I think most teachers get their PhD simultaneously with teaching. In general, math grad school is not good as professional school. You're typically better off just working the 4-6 years to develop your career directly rather than spending that time in school. The less prestigious the school, the more true this is.

On the other hand, grad school is fun, and math is fun, and if you don't mind living on a TA stipend, then why not?

forallepsilon
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Nov 10, 2013 12:50 pm

Re: Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Postby forallepsilon » Thu Dec 12, 2013 8:11 pm

redcar777 wrote:If you want to go to grad school, then yes, you should apply.

You might as well pitch one in there, you might get a hit. I don't think failing a class is a disaster. In fact, I'd recommend applying to some schools you're not sure you're strictly qualified for (UW?) because, who knows? If you don't even try then you definitely won't get in.

I think there's a different question about whether it makes sense to go to math grad school in the first place if its not top tier. If you want an academic job, then you will need to get an advisor who can place you well in the job market. They exist at 2nd tier schools, but the further down the list you go, the more out of the loop you are. If you want to be a high school teacher, then a PhD will help you career wise... though I think most teachers get their PhD simultaneously with teaching. In general, math grad school is not good as professional school. You're typically better off just working the 4-6 years to develop your career directly rather than spending that time in school. The less prestigious the school, the more true this is.

On the other hand, grad school is fun, and math is fun, and if you don't mind living on a TA stipend, then why not?


Pretty much what I was looking for, I will apply but might shorten my school list a bit. Actually, I have chosen schools pretty carefully. I made sure that each school had an active Algebra department (specifically commutative rings, cohomology, etc) with professors that have recent publications. Then I also looked at their recent Ph.D. list and made sure that many of the Ph.D. recipients got jobs post-graduation. Honestly, I want to work at the community college level so I am hoping that as long as I join a place which has a good track record of job placement post-graduation, I should be okay. Thanks for your reply!

greenblob
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2014 1:12 pm

Re: Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Postby greenblob » Thu Feb 06, 2014 2:13 pm

I'd contact professors, ask them about their research prospects, talk about your research interests and past projects, ask if there are any imminent research projects that might be good for a recent grad to pursue at the school, take time to explain your situation, etc. Even without the F, it'd be a good idea, since you'd be working closely with an advisor rather than with the school or even department.

acy77
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:53 am

Re: Failed a grad course (as an undergrad), should I bother?

Postby acy77 » Sun Feb 23, 2014 11:04 am

You should still apply. A friend went to a top 30 US undergraduate program state school and failed an entry-level physics course with a D grade. He retook the course and got a B. He got straight As in all subsequent physics courses, ranking in the top 3 students, and even considered double-majoring in physics. His cumulative GPA was around 3.7, and major GPA around 3.9.

He is now getting his PhD in an engineering field at Berkeley. The acceptance rate was around 3%.




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