Should I take an "extra" year?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Should I take an "extra" year?

Postby exxx » Sat Nov 12, 2011 2:36 pm

Hey everyone! Great forum.

I'm looking for a sampling of advice. I think I'm in an interesting position, so any thoughts would be appreciated.

I'm a senior mathematics student, here's my basic info:

Undergrad Institution: Big State School
Major(s): Mathematics
Minor(s): n/a
GPA: 4.0/4.0 (may drop a bit after this semester, I did iffy in a grad-class midterm)
Type of Student: domestic white male

I attended an REU this summer in combinatorics/graph theory at a top-20 school. No publications yet, but I might still submit. I have some academic distinctions: many scholarships, won a math competition at my school. Plus I'm attending the Math in Moscow program next Spring.

Now, the thing is, I've only been in my university for the last two years. For two years in high school I was technically "homeschooled"--really my parents just put me in a community college and I started earning college credit before graduating. So when I went to college, I transferred in with already half the credits required for my degree.

I took the Mathematics GRE this October and bombed, ended up just cancelling my scores. I took it again this November, did better, but might have scored as low as in the ~60'th percentiles. I'm really bad at standardized testing, I'm a nervous wreck. To give you an idea of how poorly represented I am in standardized test scores: four years ago I failed my calc placement test, I had to beg the teacher to let me in, she did and I became the first student to get a perfect 100% grade in the class.

I have some grad courses, some pretty good recommendations, REU experience etc. However I really feel my Math GRE score is going to bring down my application something brutal. I'm so concerned about this, that I'm considering taking another year to take some more courses, maybe finish a minor, and work on getting a better score on the Math GRE. I could also do another REU next summer, and definitely by then publish my work from this summer's REU.

I want to get into a good top-20 school, I know my job prospects for a career in academics largely depend on it and I love math research so that's my goal. Do I have any chance of getting in anywhere really good with such a low GRE score and nothing phenomenal on my CV otherwise?

Also I feel that, having only been at my university for two years, another year wouldn't look so bad on my record. Any thoughts? I think I'm in an interesting position here, so I hope people find this interesting to think about and contribute their ideas.

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Re: Should I take an "extra" year?

Postby mreek » Sat Nov 12, 2011 8:06 pm

I did exactly the same thing as you: homeschooling + dual credit + college, however, I chose to stay for the whole four years of "real" college, and I'm really glad that I did. When I was 19, I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do in mathematics and I really did not have the mathematical maturity that I have now. You sound like you have great credentials, however, if you have some sort of scholarship or something at your school I think maybe you should wait another year, maybe take some graduate classes as an undergrad, and don't put this much pressure on yourself.

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Re: Should I take an "extra" year?

Postby bemonocled » Sat Nov 12, 2011 8:06 pm

The GRE is just one aspect of the application and definitely not the most important one. I have a friend at Harvard who scored around 50th percentile who otherwise had a very strong application, and it sounds like you're in the same boat. On the other hand, another REU cannot hurt. I decided to take an extra year to graduate and ended up doing an REU at Caltech because of it, for example (though whether that will help me get in as much as I hope remains to be seen).

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Re: Should I take an "extra" year?

Postby exxx » Sun Nov 13, 2011 12:28 am

Thanks for the responses, makes me feel a bit better!

If I'm just going to get rejected, I'd rather stick around another year, but if I have a chance of getting in I'd like to send some applications and at least give it a shot, if only because some of my scholarships will drop off when I hit 120 credits.

How unreasonable would it be for me to send in some applications now, and wait to see what happens when they come back? Then if I get rejected, just change my mind about graduating and take another shot next year? I'm sure my University would let me defer graduation (they'd be happy to take my money for another semester), but the trouble it seems is that by then it would likely be too late to apply to another REU, wouldn't it?

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