Suggestions for "safety" schools

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
josephgerth
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2014 6:49 pm

Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby josephgerth » Tue Mar 24, 2015 4:59 pm

Hi all,

I'm just looking for some suggestions for some good "safety" schools. I will be applying next year (so I wouldn't start grad school until fall 2016). My goal is to get into a Big Ten school, but I want to have a few safety schools just in case. So far, I've picked one safety school (UW-Milwaukee) on account of the fact that it's close to home for me. I realize, obviously, that location isn't the most important thing when comes to getting a Ph. D, but I have no other information to go off of when it comes to choosing other schools.

At this point, I have no real interest in any particular area of math, but I do want something pure math related (so no applied math or statistics). However, maybe someone knows that School X has a great algebra program, or School Y has a great number theory program... That would be helpful to me.

I'm thinking of visiting some of these potential schools this summer (I'm a teacher, so my summer is quite open) to ultimately help me make my decision.

Thanks for the help!
Joe

xor
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:34 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby xor » Tue Mar 24, 2015 5:29 pm

As far as I know, there are no "safety schools" generally speaking.

A safety school for each student's particular case will depend on the student's research interest, the particular program applied to, and the usual acceptance rates for that department.

In other words, person A's safety school might be a very slim chance for person B based on research interest and the program applied to.

MathCat
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby MathCat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 5:48 pm

I would recommend against applying to any PhD programs that won't get your the career you want. If you want to go into academia, it's not worth having a safety school that is so low ranked that you will almost certainly not get an academic job with a PhD from there, for example. In that situation, it would be better to take another year, reapply, and hope to get in somewhere better.

Safety masters programs are a decent idea, if funded. I'm Canadian, and our Masters are almost always funded, so that was my "safety" option. Unfunded is alright if you can actually afford it, I suppose.

You should apply to a broad selection of programs, but keep it within the range that will serve your long term goals. It is simply not worth putting 5+ years into a PhD that won't get you what you want. I want to be an academic, so I only applied to PhD programs ranked about in the top 20-30 or higher (depends on rankings). As I said before, I had a solid backup plan of doing a Masters first if it didn't work out.

edit: Also, without your profile (e.g. GPA, research experience, etc.) we cannot make suggestions of what is a good bet vs. what is a reach for you.

xor
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:34 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby xor » Tue Mar 24, 2015 5:57 pm

@MathCat Great advice there. Please where do you find these rankings? The couple of lists that I saw only mentioned few schools. If you have a couple of links (for Applied Math) that I can check out, I'll appreciate it.

MathCat
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby MathCat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 6:02 pm

xor wrote:@MathCat Great advice there. Please where do you find these rankings? The couple of lists that I saw only mentioned few schools. If you have a couple of links (for Applied Math) that I can check out, I'll appreciate it.

I can't pretend to be an expert on the various rankings, but there's things like the NRC report (now 5 years old) or US News (says more about reputation than anything). AMS has some information too but it's not as readily accessible, at least not that I saw. I didn't see any that ranked applied math programs, sorry.

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby rsk » Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:13 pm

I have to disagree with MathCat on whether it's worth applying to lower safety schools. Sure, if you want a position in academia, you probably won't get a faculty position coming out of those schools. But, I still think it's better to apply than not apply at all. If you only get into those schools (with funding), that's an obvious indicator your record wasn't good enough to get you into a better school. But if you really do want that position in academia, which option would serve you better: 1) reapply again next year after either working or taking a few more classes on your own dime, or 2) spending a year or two FUNDED at that low ranked school taking graduate classes and doing research? My money is on the second. Sure, you can apply to masters, but most US masters programs don't offer funding. Why not get paid to take graduate classes, get some TA experience, and reapply in a couple years with what should be a better application if you keep all your ducks in a row? Just my two cents.

MathCat
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby MathCat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:21 pm

rsk wrote:I have to disagree with MathCat on whether it's worth applying to lower safety schools. Sure, if you want a position in academia, you probably won't get a faculty position coming out of those schools. But, I still think it's better to apply than not apply at all. If you only get into those schools (with funding), that's an obvious indicator your record wasn't good enough to get you into a better school. But if you really do want that position in academia, which option would serve you better: 1) reapply again next year after either working or taking a few more classes on your own dime, or 2) spending a year or two FUNDED at that low ranked school taking graduate classes and doing research? My money is on the second. Sure, you can apply to masters, but most US masters programs don't offer funding. Why not get paid to take graduate classes, get some TA experience, and reapply in a couple years with what should be a better application if you keep all your ducks in a row? Just my two cents.


Transfers from other funded PhD programs are not viewed that favourably. Sure, it's possible, but they have to wonder if you're going to do the same to them - take their funding and leave.

Not getting in this cycle doesn't mean you couldn't get in the next. It is not an obvious indicator your record wasn't good enough to get into a better school - you perhaps should have chosen different schools, or written your SOP differently, contacted professors, etc.. Also, you will be competing against a different crop of people next year. It's impossible to predict the admissions process.

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby rsk » Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:34 pm

I've actually asked around a good bit about the "ethics" of transferring PhD programs, and it's not as bad as you'd think. Academics are pretty understanding when it comes to transferring to a better school if it'll better your chances of getting the job you want. They pay you funding to teach, not to get an education, so there's no financial obligation to stick around or anything (i.e. they won't take your money back).

Sure, you want to be professional about it. Don't disparage the school you're transferring from on your personal statement or anything like that. And be completely honest with your research advisor as soon as you know you're planning to leave. But it's not at all uncommon to get into a PhD program, and transfer after getting the masters en route.

Here's a good article discussion where professors talk about the ethics of transferring programs: http://academia.stackexchange.com/quest ... ram-irrepa

mathgirl1016
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Sep 26, 2014 9:07 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby mathgirl1016 » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:41 pm

The school is only one factor in getting an academic position when you complete your degree. Scholarship, letters of recommendation, and teaching will also play very important factors. My goal has been to get a Ph.D. in math since I was very young. If I would have had to accept one of my safety schools, I would have still been very happy. It would have meant that I had to work harder on the area areas of my resume. Hard work overcomes a lot.

With regards to "safety schools"; depends on your stats. If you have lower stats, be realistic with the schools you apply and apply to more schools. There are a lot of really good students applying to the same schools. The competition is tough.

MathCat
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby MathCat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:52 pm

mathgirl1016 wrote:The school is only one factor in getting an academic position when you complete your degree. Scholarship, letters of recommendation, and teaching will also play very important factors. My goal has been to get a Ph.D. in math since I was very young. If I would have had to accept one of my safety schools, I would have still been very happy. It would have meant that I had to work harder on the area areas of my resume. Hard work overcomes a lot.

With regards to "safety schools"; depends on your stats. If you have lower stats, be realistic with the schools you apply and apply to more schools. There are a lot of really good students applying to the same schools. The competition is tough.


This is completely true, but one will be at a disadvantage coming from a school that is not as well-regarded. The academic job market is tough enough already; I wouldn't want to make it any harder if I could avoid it. If you look at the faculty pages of most high-ish ranking departments (say, top 100? I dunno), most come from schools ranked above that level. There are of course exceptions, and you should not choose a program based just on its ranking!

Your thesis and publications and your advisor's/committee's connections (so, how much weight their LOR carries) matters more than the name of the school. But the hiring committees may not know your advisor, they may not know your thesis, and thus they look at the name of the school to try to gauge quality. It sucks, but it happens. This is more for first cut; the name of the school will absolutely not get you a job on its own. It may get your application looked at more seriously.

josephgerth
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2014 6:49 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby josephgerth » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:53 pm

Great advice guys, I really appreciate the input.

I went to a very small, very non-prestigious private university. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA, and my worst math grade was a B- in Calc 3. I have done no research. Based on everything I've read, my credentials are very poor. I will need to score very high on the GRE subject exam in order to have any chance to get into a reputable school.

My short-term goal is to teach at the university level. I'm not really sure that I'm searching for a tenured job at a prestigious research university. Instead, I'm looking to secure a job at a university similar to my Alma Mater, where my main job is teaching undergrads. My long-term goal is to write textbooks. Particularly at the secondary level, there is an embarrassing lack of decent curriculum, and I'm dead-set on changing that. I suppose I don't need a Ph. D for that goal, but it should help in a few areas, particularly in the area of getting published.

Of course, I could go off to grad school and fall in love with the research process or who knows what else, so maybe my goals will change. I am, however, certain that I want to get my Ph. D.

Thanks again for all the excellent input.
Joe

MathCat
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby MathCat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:07 pm

josephgerth wrote:Great advice guys, I really appreciate the input.

I went to a very small, very non-prestigious private university. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA, and my worst math grade was a B- in Calc 3. I have done no research. Based on everything I've read, my credentials are very poor. I will need to score very high on the GRE subject exam in order to have any chance to get into a reputable school.

My short-term goal is to teach at the university level. I'm not really sure that I'm searching for a tenured job at a prestigious research university. Instead, I'm looking to secure a job at a university similar to my Alma Mater, where my main job is teaching undergrads. My long-term goal is to write textbooks. Particularly at the secondary level, there is an embarrassing lack of decent curriculum, and I'm dead-set on changing that. I suppose I don't need a Ph. D for that goal, but it should help in a few areas, particularly in the area of getting published.

Of course, I could go off to grad school and fall in love with the research process or who knows what else, so maybe my goals will change. I am, however, certain that I want to get my Ph. D.

Thanks again for all the excellent input.
Joe


In that case, I think that our "debate" above is not that relevant. Your teaching experience and recommendations to that effect will matter a lot, I believe. You will want to go somewhere that will foster this - in fact, I would say a very top department is probably not ideal for this, but I could be wrong!

Also, I do not think your credentials are "very poor". They are not superb, but you can still get into a good program! I actually don't think lack of undergrad name prestige holds you back - my undergrad institution is nothing special (not even top 200, although I have no idea what the actual ranking is).

unitofobscurity
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Dec 21, 2014 3:30 am

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby unitofobscurity » Wed Mar 25, 2015 12:50 am

If by "safety" you mean "school that I will definitely, absolutely get into no matter what" it is worth knowing that a number of well-respected schools in Europe have open enrolment for master's programs. Seriously consider Germany: if you look carefully, you can probably find an open enrolment, English-language, free master's program that's strong in something you're interested in. In my case, I took a serious look at TU Darmstadt, which has a well-known logic group. You have to be a little intrepid, I guess, but I would certainly take a mid-range German program over a bottom-of-the-barrel American program any day.

But also, transferring en route is totally an option, as previous commenters have said.

Edit: if you want to be a pedagogue at the "secondary" (high school?) level, have you looked at math education programs?

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby rsk » Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:30 am

josephgerth wrote:Great advice guys, I really appreciate the input.

I went to a very small, very non-prestigious private university. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA, and my worst math grade was a B- in Calc 3. I have done no research. Based on everything I've read, my credentials are very poor. I will need to score very high on the GRE subject exam in order to have any chance to get into a reputable school.

My short-term goal is to teach at the university level. I'm not really sure that I'm searching for a tenured job at a prestigious research university. Instead, I'm looking to secure a job at a university similar to my Alma Mater, where my main job is teaching undergrads. My long-term goal is to write textbooks. Particularly at the secondary level, there is an embarrassing lack of decent curriculum, and I'm dead-set on changing that. I suppose I don't need a Ph. D for that goal, but it should help in a few areas, particularly in the area of getting published.

Of course, I could go off to grad school and fall in love with the research process or who knows what else, so maybe my goals will change. I am, however, certain that I want to get my Ph. D.

Thanks again for all the excellent input.
Joe


Looking at your stats, it's very similar to mine when I graduated. The only notable differences are that: 1) I went to a bigger university (not top 50 in math though), 2) I did some light research in physics (not published though), and 3) at a small college, you may not have had access to many higher level math classes (though that depends on the college).

With that in mind, I can tell you that you are very likely to get admitted into a PhD program in the 50-100 range. The problem, however, as I learned, is not in getting admitted. It's in getting funded. Even with schools in the 50-100 range, it seems to be pretty damn tough to get full funding with our stats. Even these schools are still almost exclusively funding people with 3.7+ GPAs and some research experience in math. It's crazy the difference in how hard it is to get admitted versus get funding (at these rankings at least).

With that in mind, I would suggest applying to a couple schools at least in the 100-125 range, just in case you don't get funding to the higher-ranked schools. Who knows, maybe you will get lucky. The process isn't a science. But insulate yourself just in case.

Last, don't be one of those people to put all your eggs in the GRE basket. Unless you're historically a really good test taker, it's not realistic to expect you'll ace the subject test, even if you spend months practicing the questions. That thing is heavily biased toward naturally fast test takers. Just focus more on getting a "respectable" score otherwise. Beef up your application elsewhere with classes and research.

sabq
Posts: 31
Joined: Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:59 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby sabq » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:04 am

rsk wrote:I've actually asked around a good bit about the "ethics" of transferring PhD programs, and it's not as bad as you'd think. Academics are pretty understanding when it comes to transferring to a better school if it'll better your chances of getting the job you want. They pay you funding to teach, not to get an education, so there's no financial obligation to stick around or anything (i.e. they won't take your money back).

Sure, you want to be professional about it. Don't disparage the school you're transferring from on your personal statement or anything like that. And be completely honest with your research advisor as soon as you know you're planning to leave. But it's not at all uncommon to get into a PhD program, and transfer after getting the masters en route.

Here's a good article discussion where professors talk about the ethics of transferring programs: http://academia.stackexchange.com/quest ... ram-irrepa


I couldn't agree more. People transfer all the time.

I would also suggest you look into one of those funded terminal master's programs; I think this option (assuming you get admission) is way better than just waiting another year to apply.

josephgerth
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2014 6:49 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby josephgerth » Wed Mar 25, 2015 9:31 pm

rsk wrote:Looking at your stats, it's very similar to mine when I graduated. The only notable differences are that: 1) I went to a bigger university (not top 50 in math though), 2) I did some light research in physics (not published though), and 3) at a small college, you may not have had access to many higher level math classes (though that depends on the college).

With that in mind, I can tell you that you are very likely to get admitted into a PhD program in the 50-100 range. The problem, however, as I learned, is not in getting admitted. It's in getting funded. Even with schools in the 50-100 range, it seems to be pretty damn tough to get full funding with our stats. Even these schools are still almost exclusively funding people with 3.7+ GPAs and some research experience in math. It's crazy the difference in how hard it is to get admitted versus get funding (at these rankings at least).

With that in mind, I would suggest applying to a couple schools at least in the 100-125 range, just in case you don't get funding to the higher-ranked schools. Who knows, maybe you will get lucky. The process isn't a science. But insulate yourself just in case.

Last, don't be one of those people to put all your eggs in the GRE basket. Unless you're historically a really good test taker, it's not realistic to expect you'll ace the subject test, even if you spend months practicing the questions. That thing is heavily biased toward naturally fast test takers. Just focus more on getting a "respectable" score otherwise. Beef up your application elsewhere with classes and research.


Which is what I was planning on - applying for a few schools in the 100 - 125 range (I assume you're using the US News ranking, and if not, which ranking are you using?). The issue that I have: How do I know which one to choose? I was honestly going to apply to schools in locations I'd like to go to, but obviously, that probably isn't the best way to go about things.

Generally speaking, I'm good at tests. I just need to review much of the content on the test since it's been so long since I've used it. I'm fairly certain I'll do well on the October exam, as I've been fairly dedicated already the past two months. If I keep up my current studying rate, I should do well. As you say, though, it's certainly possible for me to do poorly on that test and then I would be in a bit of bind.

Your final advice - to "Beef up your application [with] classes and research" - how exactly would I go about doing that? I graduated college in 2010 and work full-time as a teacher. Are there summer classes I could take? Or research opportunities? If so, where can I find more information? I can't imagine something like this would be cheap...

unitofobscurity wrote:If by "safety" you mean "school that I will definitely, absolutely get into no matter what" it is worth knowing that a number of well-respected schools in Europe have open enrolment for master's programs. Seriously consider Germany: if you look carefully, you can probably find an open enrolment, English-language, free master's program that's strong in something you're interested in. In my case, I took a serious look at TU Darmstadt, which has a well-known logic group. You have to be a little intrepid, I guess, but I would certainly take a mid-range German program over a bottom-of-the-barrel American program any day.

But also, transferring en route is totally an option, as previous commenters have said.

Edit: if you want to be a pedagogue at the "secondary" (high school?) level, have you looked at math education programs?


Actually I would be interested in studying in a place like Germany. I'm going to look into that a little bit more, I think. Thanks for letting me know about that, as I had never even given that a thought.

As for teaching at the secondary level - I already do. That's my current job! :) It's a great job and although there are some difficult days, I can't complain. I do aspire to get to the next level, however. It's a dream and a goal of mine to get my Ph. D, to teach at a university, and to write books, textbooks, and curriculum on and for math.

Again, many thanks for all the great advice. You guys are enlightening me with a ton of information I didn't know about!
Joe

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Suggestions for "safety" schools

Postby rsk » Thu Mar 26, 2015 8:07 am

josephgerth wrote:Which is what I was planning on - applying for a few schools in the 100 - 125 range (I assume you're using the US News ranking, and if not, which ranking are you using?). The issue that I have: How do I know which one to choose? I was honestly going to apply to schools in locations I'd like to go to, but obviously, that probably isn't the best way to go about things.

Generally speaking, I'm good at tests. I just need to review much of the content on the test since it's been so long since I've used it. I'm fairly certain I'll do well on the October exam, as I've been fairly dedicated already the past two months. If I keep up my current studying rate, I should do well. As you say, though, it's certainly possible for me to do poorly on that test and then I would be in a bit of bind.

Your final advice - to "Beef up your application [with] classes and research" - how exactly would I go about doing that? I graduated college in 2010 and work full-time as a teacher. Are there summer classes I could take? Or research opportunities? If so, where can I find more information? I can't imagine something like this would be cheap...


Which schools you apply to comes down to the intersection of schools you have a shot at and schools you'd actually go to. The schools you have a shot at I've already mentioned (approximately). The schools you'd actually go to depends on what things you place weight on. When I decided where to apply, I used weights as follows:

Average stipend the program offers adjusted for cost of living (30%), average rank using PhDs.org and US News rankings (20%), course and research variety in department (30%), and miscellaneous factors like weather, application due date, distance from home, etc. (10%). I used this to create a decision matrix to analyze around 45 schools in the eastern US I thought I had even a remote shot at. From there, I further separated them into 3 categories (reach, middle, safety) using Peterson's acceptance rate data. And from that, I took the top 5 in each category, and picked 8 from the total.

Regarding the subject test, I'm going to strongly caution you to avoid being too optimistic. You have to realize that only aspiring mathematicians are taking the thing, so pretty much only people who are already pretty smart are taking it. Thus, 50% means you're testing better than 50% of aspiring mathematicians. That's no small feat. And 80%+? More power to you, but keep some perspective here.

And yeah, if you've already graduated your options are a bit more limited obviously. I assume you're working full time, so taking higher level math classes is a long shot. The same goes for research if you've been out of school for a few years and your professors barely remember you (which will affect your letters for grad school too, as they all want letters from math professors pretty much). Independent study isn't out of the question though. Give yourself a thorough review of algebra, analysis, and discrete math. If you're interested in applied math, working on your programming skills won't hurt either. Then start trying to tackle graduate level textbooks on your own. It's what I've been doing. Try to spend 4 hours a day or so working through those books, almost every day. That way you'll at least be able to say on your personal statement how you're preparing in the mean time to make up for the time gap, and sound convincing.

PS: I think whether you choose math education versus regular math research depends on what level of textbooks you want to be writing one day. If we're talking about high school or freshman level textbooks (i.e. calculus and below), math education might be the way to go. If we're talking higher level math (i.e. abstract algebra, analysis, topology, etc.) you'll want to focus more on specializing in that field, because to write those kinds of textbooks you have a long, long road ahead of you lol...




Return to “Mathematics GRE Forum: The GRE Subject Test in Mathematics”



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests

cron