Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
koala
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:45 pm

Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Postby koala » Thu Apr 02, 2015 3:05 pm

I am a first year graduate student at a mid-ranked university and I am looking to transfer to another graduate program. My research interests were very broad coming into graduate school, but now I am starting to focus in on one specific research area. I have talked to professors at my university about this area and they have politely said "we don't do that here".

Here is a little more info about me:

Undergrad Institution: Large state school, not well known, and small dept in mathematics
Majors: Mathematics, Physics
Major GPA: 3.7 / 4.0
Type of Student: Domestic Minority Female
GRE: 42%
Other Info: 2 REU's, another research project at my university, undergrad TA, lots of tutoring, participated in several activities, a few awards, one of my recommendations came from someone well known

Grad institution: Large state school, mid ranking
GPA: 3.6 / 4.0
Other Info: I have been nominated twice for teaching in excellence awards

Two of the programs I am most interested in transferring to are ranked in the top 10 so I really want my application to stand out. I definitely plan to retake the GRE to get a more competitive score, my score the first time around was pretty low. I am also working on bringing up my GPA.

As for letters of recommendation, is it better to have 3 good letters from undergrad professors who know me really well, or 2 good letters from undergrad professors and one "okay" letter from someone at my current university? I haven't really taken any classes related to my area of interest and I don't know if I have built that strong of a relationship with one of my graduate professors just yet.

I was wondering if anyone who has experience in transferring would share some other advice as well? I want to make my application as competitive as possible and your advice would be much appreciated!

p-adic
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Mar 27, 2015 6:42 pm

Re: Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Postby p-adic » Thu Apr 02, 2015 4:28 pm

I'd retake the GRE, like you said, and aim to do better. I'm retaking it too. Hopefully I can get in as a standby in a couple weeks and get a good score. If not, I'll have to wait until September. I took it twice before and got 56%, then 67% a month later, so it seems to be a test where you can really improve pretty quickly. I've been going through the PR book and the review tests (it's been several years since I took it) for about a week and everything seems super easy to be honest. Unfortunately the 2 exams available from the 80s are ridiculously easy. Hopefully my graduate studies is what prepared me to find this so easy and I won't be shocked by a test that's way harder than any material available.

I'd probably try to get 2 strong undergrad professors to write you LORs, and one from grad school. It can be tough to get to know grad school professors, especially in larger programs, and especially before you start doing research. It's not like they're going to be impressed if you get an A in their class either. Or possibly one from an REU advisor. But if you don't believe any of your grad professors would be able to write you a strong letter, don't bother with them.

koala
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:45 pm

Re: Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Postby koala » Sat Apr 04, 2015 4:04 pm

p-adic wrote:I'd retake the GRE, like you said, and aim to do better. I'm retaking it too. Hopefully I can get in as a standby in a couple weeks and get a good score. If not, I'll have to wait until September. I took it twice before and got 56%, then 67% a month later, so it seems to be a test where you can really improve pretty quickly. I've been going through the PR book and the review tests (it's been several years since I took it) for about a week and everything seems super easy to be honest. Unfortunately the 2 exams available from the 80s are ridiculously easy. Hopefully my graduate studies is what prepared me to find this so easy and I won't be shocked by a test that's way harder than any material available.

I'd probably try to get 2 strong undergrad professors to write you LORs, and one from grad school. It can be tough to get to know grad school professors, especially in larger programs, and especially before you start doing research. It's not like they're going to be impressed if you get an A in their class either. Or possibly one from an REU advisor. But if you don't believe any of your grad professors would be able to write you a strong letter, don't bother with them.


Thanks for your reply p-adic! I too have been looking at GRE problems the last couple of weeks and I think getting a better score this time around will be much more manageable, especially with graduate studies under the belt. I hope you will make it as a standby this month and I wish you the best of luck!

p-adic
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Mar 27, 2015 6:42 pm

Re: Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Postby p-adic » Sat Apr 18, 2015 1:39 pm

Thanks, you too. After my 1 week of study, I got busy with other things and decided to put it off until September. But yesterday I changed my mind and decided to spend a couple hours studying and to show up as a standby to basically use this as a practice test since nothing recent has been released.

To be honest, it felt much easier than the 2010 tests I took, maybe on par with the 2005 practice exam available. I managed to answer 53-54 questions I think (didn't have time to count exactly before they rushed to take my answer sheet away). If I got a few wrong, I may retake in September but for almost no preparation (really haven't done any math in a couple years now other than the week of review), it seemed like a pretty easy test.

I've seen lots of complaints around here that it's just a speed test and everyone was busy proving things in college and not doing computations like this (not all the problems are computational!). The best way I trained for this test was through 5 years of TAing, mostly calculus. Being able to do well is a good measure of overall math knowledge and of ability to be a decent TA I think (aside from language/public speaking issues), which, you can argue, is what they really are hiring you to do until you've passed your quals and gotten started with your thesis. Through my TAing, I definitely learned to do computations quickly, make very few mistakes, and become very good at calculus. Such complaints remind me of all the grad TAs who whine about having to do the "low-level" arithmetic in their recitations -- these are the same TAs who make tons of mistakes on the board and don't know their stuff as well as they should.

A lot of the theoretical analysis/topology questions are easier once you've worked on analysis quals (obviously). The algebra and linear algebra questions didn't seem too difficult.

koala
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:45 pm

Re: Advice for transferring to a different graduate program?

Postby koala » Thu Apr 23, 2015 9:50 pm

p-adic wrote:I've seen lots of complaints around here that it's just a speed test and everyone was busy proving things in college and not doing computations like this (not all the problems are computational!). The best way I trained for this test was through 5 years of TAing, mostly calculus. Being able to do well is a good measure of overall math knowledge and of ability to be a decent TA I think (aside from language/public speaking issues), which, you can argue, is what they really are hiring you to do until you've passed your quals and gotten started with your thesis. Through my TAing, I definitely learned to do computations quickly, make very few mistakes, and become very good at calculus. Such complaints remind me of all the grad TAs who whine about having to do the "low-level" arithmetic in their recitations -- these are the same TAs who make tons of mistakes on the board and don't know their stuff as well as they should.

A lot of the theoretical analysis/topology questions are easier once you've worked on analysis quals (obviously). The algebra and linear algebra questions didn't seem too difficult.


Great, thank you for your advice! You sound very confident about this recent GRE and I hope it went well for you.

To be honest I grumbled about the GRE when I took it a couple years ago, because it was just one of those extra application requirements you needed to fulfill. Now I realize that it is a very important factor in grad school applications and I should have studied harder the first time. Oh well. TAing and tutoring have been a great review so I feel much better about it this time around.




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