6sand7s wrote:My applicant profile might be of use to you, since I had the combination of lower GPA/not very prestigious school/a couple papers. Your graduate background seems stronger than mine, however. The book will be a nice addition to your CV as well.
I certainly think you stand a chance to get into some of the schools you've listed, but since you're asking I'll give some concrete advice from personal experience:
1.) Do well on the math GRE. The general isn't too important as long as it isn't clearly low. However, a low math GRE combined with coming from a lesser-known school and a lower GPA will mean that your application is unlikely to get much attention at these top programs. Of your list, I suspect that UCLA and Columbia are both prone to disregarding profiles like yours unless they come with a decent GRE score; I don't know much about the other schools. It's hard to say what is "decent." If you can get above 700 you're doing pretty well, and if you can surpass 800 you'll definitely get enough attention for someone to read through your application in detail. Getting your application read thoroughly is going to be a big barrier to overcome, and a good math GRE score will do a lot to get your foot in the door.
2.) Apply for the NSF graduate research fellowship. And don't throw together an application at the last minute--give yourself a month or three to put it all together. I think it's due in November. As a minority student with a few papers under your belt, some well-written statements could land you a fellowship and be the difference between a waitlist and an acceptance at these schools. Ask an experienced mathematician you trust to help you edit your materials--they've applied for grants before and know the ins and outs. Honestly, I would make this a higher priority than your applications themselves. You'll get 95% of your grad school personal statement by editing down the NSF statements anyway.
3.) Be an active participant in writing your letters of recommendation. For the sake of academic honesty it's important to emphasize that you should not write letters for your recommenders, edit their letters, or even see the final product. However, you can have more control over your letters than just throwing a request for a recommendation into the email abyss. For each of my recommenders I provided a bullet-pointed summary of what they might be able to discuss on my behalf. Remember, your recommenders work with a lot of people and frankly may not remember all of your significant interactions. Offer this as a suggestion and not an outline, and offer to meet in person to clarify anything on your CV or talk about your academic goals. For example, I had a professor from a capstone course who I suggested to write about the depth and real-world applicability of my final project and my ability to work well in teams, citing a few specific instances where it might be evident. To balance that, I suggested to my thesis advisor to write about my ability to do research independently (again with specific anecdotes). Basically, you can identify your strengths and ask that each recommender addresses a few specifically. Even professors that love you can get caught up in writing a dull letter that just rehashes your CV. It's wise and academically honest to give them some recommended talking points.
Bonus tip: When asking for recommendations, ask whether your potential recommender "has time" to write you a letter. If they do not like you enough to write for you, or are legitimately busy, you've given them an easy out to say no without making it awkward. I suggest asking via a brief email and following up in person shortly after so they don't feel put on the spot.
Maybe more than you asked for, but hopefully it helps! Good luck!
Thank you very much for the reply, I saw your post on the 2018 thread, and congratulations on the acceptances! I am planning on devoting practically the whole Summer preparing for the mGRE, my goal is to get an ~80% minimum, hopefully ~85+% but I know that's much easier said than done. Oddly enough when I visited NYU (which is my dream school) they told me they expect ~70+% which was much lower than I expected. Regardless, I'll try to get as high of a score as possible, and I'm taking the regular GRE in the coming days. I also never even considered applying for a NSF grant, so big thank you for that, I definitely will do that.
Regarding my letters of recommendation, 2 out of the 3 have already offered to write me one and even told me it'll be very strong. One of which comes from a top 10 institution as well. The other one is from my intentional REU, he works for a university abroad though he also went to a top 10 PDE school in the US for his doctorate. I suppose I shall "formally" ask them for a letter during the Summer. I will have done research with all 3 come application time.
Thanks again for all the help.