General Enquiry

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:09 am

General Enquiry

Postby rudcwt » Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:58 am

Hi all,

Here's some boring background about me -
I've just graduated with a Master in Mathematics (MSci) in a.. top UK uni other than oxbridge with First class honours. Using the wiki conversion scale between marks & GPA (and assuming the scale is somewhat linear) I'd say I have a GPA of around 3.8 or so. I'm interested in doing a PhD in number theory, and originally I was planning to stay in the UK; as such I have only applied for PhD in the UK so far. I've received an offer from a not-so-top university (though with a good supervisor - a former student of Richard Taylor). As for other related things I've done a supposedly master's thesis on class field theory (nothing original to be honest) as well as a research assistant over 2 summers in an Asian uni (top-ish in terms of ranking but not really that good at all; besides I was doing TA-stuff more than real research...) - I'm an Asian if that matters.

Here's my question -
Recently I've spoken to a couple of professors (yes yes I should've done that ages ago :P) and they all pointed out that the US system for postgraduate is more complete than the UK one (and you get much more funding), so I'm just wondering if it's worth it to take a year off (whence turning down my offer in the UK) and apply to the states for entry in 2015. To be more precise:
- With my grades (I know I haven't taken GRE..) roughly which tier of grad schools would I be looking at if I apply to the states? For example I'm sure with my grades/CV places like Princeton is way beyond. What would be possible reach? safety?
- What would be most beneficial for me to do should I take a gap year that will help with my application? TA? RA?
- Any other general remarks regarding US vs UK for PhD?


Posts: 17
Joined: Fri May 27, 2011 7:52 pm

Re: General Enquiry

Postby mathgradhopeful » Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:28 pm

I am familiar with both UK and US Math PhD Programs, so I can give my input. My response is long (and contains my opinion on which programs (you should aim for top 1-75 to have at least some possible safeties). Let me know if you have more questions.

There are advantages and disadvantages with both systems. With your background, you could get accepted to a good PhD Program; however, you will have to study for the Math Subject GRE intensely and efficiently. I took the Math Subject GRE around a year or two ago (Fall 2012) and I did not score well (27th percentile). Note that there are students who do well on the test and get into great programs. A friend (he wants to work on research in Algebra) of mine got accepted to UW Madison with a 3.8/3.9 GPA. My friend and I are both Americans (and studied at a good university: top 25 undergrad/top 50 Math grad Program in the US). On the other hand, I chose a great PhD program (top 5-10) in the UK and I will be doing research under a great advisor in Dynamical Systems.

Admission practices between the US and UK are dramatically different!

The US places most of its admission decisions on the Math Subject GRE since most students applying to top tier (top 25) programs have GPAs around 3.7-4.0 (a First in UK standards). Since you studied at the UK, you will be considered an International student. US Programs have different admissions standards for International Students. You should aim for a score of at least 720+ to get into a good (top 50) program. Considering you studied at the UK, I think you might do well in the subject GRE. Do you do well on standardized tests and have you taken the Practice Math Subject GRE? If you score (say around 770+) well on the Practice Math Subject GRE, then you have a good chance of doing well on the actual subject GRE. The Funding at the US is great. Also, US Programs give you a chance to switch research areas during your first 2 years (as these are the years you are doing quals).

You know the UK PhD admission and Program structure very well. Admissions in the UK are mainly up to your potential advisor and it is up to him/her to give you an interview offer (and then an admissions offer hopefully). That is why your choice of potential advisor is critical. Funding is much more available for UK/EU students than non EU students. An advantage of UK Maths PhD Programs is that you get to start on research much earlier and you get to hopefully finish much earlier.

The US PhD Program typically takes 5-6 years while the UK PhD Program takes 3.5-4 years.

You need to ask yourself this question:
Where will you be happy to work on your PhD studies/research:
The Program at the UK that admitted you or A Program at the US? Does your potential advisor at the UK have connections to great universities? If you're not sure, do you want to take a gap year to figure out which Program that you want to attend or do you want to attend the Program at the UK? Would you consider applying to both US and UK PhD Programmes next year?

Both the UK and US have great PhD Programs, so I wish you good luck in making your decision!

Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:09 am

Re: General Enquiry

Postby rudcwt » Sun Jul 13, 2014 12:59 pm

Thanks for the detailed reply! I guess I should be fair and say my offer in UK is in say top 15 or so it's definitely not a bad offer at all. I'm convinced if I study hard enough (fingers crossed...) I'll do fine at the GRE... well I'm fine with nearly all of the pure questions I just need to pick up on my calculus which I abandoned since second year.. :P And yea should I decide to gap a year I'll definitely be applying to UK again - for one thing its more or less free to apply haha and for another my final year grades were slightly higher than before (and I somehow did rather fine on courses on modular forms & elliptic curves which will help a bit). Anyway I just have a couple more short questions if you don't mind.

- By "different standards" for international students do you mean they are generally higher for international?
- Is it true that the general GRE doesn't matter so much? Well as long as I do.. somewhat sensibly? My English is generally sufficient for survival but I can't promise any more than that...
- Would http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandr ... s-rankings be vaguely accurate for postgraduate rankings in the states? I know of course ranking by a number is pointless but just as a casual reference?
- Do most grad schools interview you? I'm presuming it'll be over skype or phone even if they require it? What sort of interview would it be like?

Can I just add a short rant that I do actually hold a proper (not BNO) british passport but my offer still counts me as international students since my family hasn't been paying taxes in UK :( sigh totally sucks.

Thanks again for your time!

Posts: 17
Joined: Fri May 27, 2011 7:52 pm

Re: General Enquiry

Postby mathgradhopeful » Mon Jul 14, 2014 6:25 am

First, I hope you carefully consider your options for this upcoming school year. If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to ask me.

Now, here are my answers (much of it is from my past discussions with my former university's Graduate Vice Chair, i.e. he is in charge of Math PhD admissions for the university and he is a Full Professor; and what I have read online):

Top 15 in the UK (according to the QS rankings) would be equivalent to the Top 70 in the US (according to the QS rankings and US News rankings as there is some correlation between their rankings of US universities. The university you have been admitted to at the UK is decent/good. I can tell you that admissions in the US and UK can be sometimes be unpredictable (as my friend and I have both been rejected by a few lower ranked programs but accepted by some highly ranked programs).

By "different standards", I do mean that Math Subject GRE scores are generally higher for international students. That is why I mentioned that you need to have a high score/percentile on the actual exam (720+). Have you taken the practice exam provided online? The Math Subject GRE is a Tough exam (since it tricks students with the questions it gives and not that much time is given on the exam). For this reason, Math Departments tend to judge students by their Subject Test scores. Public universities tend to give priority to Americans (due to funding restrictions), so I would recommend adding additional Private universities to your safety list (in addition to the Public universities you would have on the list).

As long as you meet the minimum General GRE scores for Verbal and Writing for your desired Math Department (each Math Department sets a different minimum scores for Verbal and Writing). The Quant section is very elementary beginning Secondary School math, so with some (or a little) study, you should do very well.

The US News rankings are generally accurate in terms of grouping universities into various tiers (for instance, the difference between Princeton and Berkeley is marginal). These slightly recent rankings should also help (though they correlate with the top 50 rankings of US News) ... ey/group_i
The US News rankings and AMS groupings are reliable as they reflect the general tiers (of programs) and selectivity (usually correlated with program quality) of programs. Ranking is even more critical for students choosing to attend US Programs since most students have NOT chosen a single research area (like Topology, PDEs, or Analysis), yet.

Most US Math PhD Programs DO NOT interview you! Some PhD Programs, such as UNC Chapel Hill, will interview you if you are in their waitlist. Interviews for US PhD Programs (in my point of view) would not be useful because American undergrads and sometimes International students do not know which research area they would like to work on and they would not have much research experience (not even a thesis) in general.

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