Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
mathdude8119
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon May 28, 2012 4:50 am

Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Postby mathdude8119 » Mon May 28, 2012 5:05 am

I'm an incoming graduate student to a school ranked 20-30 on USNews and NRC. I'm interested in geometry/topology, but I'm wondering if I should only stay at my incoming institution for two years and reapply to PhD programs in hopes of something better. I'm happy to be admitted to this place, but I was hoping for a school with a larger selection of professors with whom I'd be happy to work. I'm looking more at a few of the schools in the top 10 for geometry (algebraic/differential both, perhaps even in Kahler geometry).

I had over a 3.9 cumulative GPA and math GPA with some graduate classes but only the 60th percentile on the MGRE, which I think really hurt my application. I should also add that I came from an undergrad program ranked about 50-70 on USNews/NRC.

I think I could get an outstanding masters in math (in terms of reinforcing upper-level courses that I didn't quite learn well enough and having a huge selection of graduate courses). I'm also positive I'd have a great experience for the five year program, but if I decide in a year's time that the school is not where I want my terminal degree, would it be difficult or disadvantageous to reapply to more selective schools? (My incoming institution does not mind if we leave with a MS, as I've confirmed before matriculating.)

I should also add that my MGRE will certainly improve; I didn't adequately study for the content nor the time constraints (was focused more on thesis and coursework...). If I did this plan, I would hope to have a publication during my master's as well (perhaps from my thesis? or at least be accepted to appear in a journal). I am currently trying to have my undergraduate thesis accepted to a few undergrad-oriented journals.

TL;DR High undergrad GPA, less-than-stellar MGRE, considering reapplying to higher ranked PhD programs after an MS.

Thanks for reading this.

mathdude8119
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon May 28, 2012 4:50 am

Re: Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Postby mathdude8119 » Thu May 31, 2012 7:53 pm

Anyone mind offering any thoughts/suggestions/advice? :|

c3adv
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Apr 06, 2012 8:34 pm

Re: Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Postby c3adv » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:16 pm

Some of my friends, advisers, and acquaintances have switched graduate programs, but usually it was because the dissertation adviser had moved to another institution, problems passing ridiculous preliminary (written) exams with a high enough score, or considerations concerning spouse/children. The switch has not always been to a higher-ranked school. Perhaps, wait and see if you find an adviser you would want to work with at your "current" school.

Otherwise, yes, you can leave with the Masters degree after scoring higher on the GRE subject test. Unless the admission policy is oddly strict at the other schools you are considering, you shouldn't have a problem. Nonetheless, be aware that many graduate institutions do not accept more than 8 transfer credits, so you may end up having to retake a class if there are a few core requirements in your new program. Plan accordingly. Good luck.

echo
Posts: 18
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2011 7:41 pm

Re: Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Postby echo » Mon Jun 04, 2012 5:30 am

I will be transferring to a new (substantially higher ranked) program in the Fall, so I've been there. Keep an open mind: your research interests will probably change in the course of the first year. Program ranking gives a broad sense of how strong your program is in all areas of math, but you'll find that your fortunes on the job market depend largely on the importance of your advisor. Your program is likely to have prominent faculty at least in some areas. If you can find a match and work with someone who's well known in their field and whose students get good job placements, it would be well worth the effort and far easier than transferring. In the end, I realized that my research interests are not well represented in my current department. Either way, the process of transferring is extremely stressful, expensive and I wouldn't recommend it unless you are absolutely sure you want to do it. If you do ultimately decide to go through with it, here are a few tips that I can offer:

1. If you want to enter a higher ranked program, you need to be one of the best students in your cohort. Programs who would be looking to accept you want to see that you are a serious student for obvious reasons. Ideally, you will get all of your letters of recommendation from your graduate program. By distinguishing yourself, you will not only get better letters of recommendation, but your professors will be more understanding/willing to write letters for you.

1a. If there are qualifying/area exams etc. at your current school study hard for them over the coming Summer, and try to pass at least one. Passing said exams may be necessary for the MS degree anyway, and in any case, reviewing your undergraduate math will make adjusting to graduate courses significantly easier.

2. Just because your program doesn't mind you leaving with an MS, you should keep your plans to transfer as secret as possible until you have firm offers. You do not want your current program to give away your funding or use other tactics to make your life miserable e.g. lousy teaching assignments. Certain professors may also take your decision more personally, even if your program doesn't care. That said, once you know for sure you are leaving with a firm offer, it is good manners to let your program know as soon as possible.

3. You need a convincing reason for why you want to leave, and you should make sure to mention it in your personal statement. Also, I had more success with programs where there are professors directly interested in the areas I expressed interest in.

4. Retake and study very hard for the Math GRE. This means get your calculus/diff-eq/linear algebra books out and do as many computational problems as possible, as quickly as possible. You know how to do all the problems; the main issue is that you need to do them all by reflex.

5. If you do successfully transfer, you need to be open to the fact that you will probably have to deal with some irritations such as taking qualifying exams again, doing TA training again etc. You may also need an extra year; your time to graduation will likely shift from 5-6 years to 6-7 years.

I hope these tips help you. Feel free to ask if you have any other questions.

mathdude8119
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon May 28, 2012 4:50 am

Re: Advice about switching grad schools (leaving with MS)

Postby mathdude8119 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:15 am

I think this is great advice. Thank you very much for replying. I'm definitely going to see if I'd be happy with the five years at my grad school. Recent graduates have done very well, going to the very top schools for postdoctorates or as junior faculty. In the end I'm sure it depends on the student and the support of a good advisor to really excel. I definitely don't plan on telling anyone my plans (if I decide that's the route I'm going to take).




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