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Q& A About Graduate School in the Mathematical Sciences

1. Who pays for graduate school?  The basic answer is that students in mathematical sciences doctoral programs do not pay for their graduate school. Instead they receive either a teaching assistantship (which requires them to teach some elementary mathematics classes in return for a monthly check) or a graduate fellowship (which is a scholarship with no teaching duties attached). Some students in masters program receive financial support.


2. When are graduate school applications due? Graduate school applications will be due in December and January of your senior year, and some fellowship applications (e.g., NSF and Hertz) are due even earlier in the fall.


3. What must I do to apply to a graduate school? Your application will consist of an application form (often including a question “Tell us about your mathematical interests and studies to date”), a transcript, letters from three or four mathematics faculty members who have taught you in classes or undergraduate research, and GRE (=Graduate Record Exam) scores. The application may also ask for a copy of mathematics that you have written (e.g., an REU or CSUMS report).


4. When do I take the GRE exams? There are two separate GRE exams. Almost all graduate schools require the “general GRE” and you take that exam on-line at almost any time. Many graduate schools also require the advanced mathematics exam, and that pencil and paper exam is given only twice in the fall, in early November and early December. However application deadlines are much earlier, often in September and early October. The advanced mathematics exam is not something that you take with no preparation. Historically, about 60% of the exam has been related to calculus and linear algebra, and you may have forgotten a lot of that material. Pre-exam review is essential.


5. Can the mathematics department here help me with the GRE advanced mathematics exam? We will help you in three ways. First, we will give you a commercial study guide that previous year’s students have found very helpful, and if you have lost your calculus book, we can give you an old calculus book that we have in storage. Second, we will hold a series of evening review sessions of calculus and linear algebra in October. Third, provided you give the department a copy of your GRE advanced mathematics score report (so that we can keep confidential records of our students’ scores), we will refund $75 of the cost of the GRE advanced mathematics exam.


6. How do I know which graduate schools are the best? The American Mathematical Society publishes a ranking of doctoral mathematics departments in three groups, with Group I being the highest ranked 50 departments (Harvard, Berkeley, etc.). See www.ams.org/employment/groups des.html, and we can give you a copy of the rankings. In addition, other familiar ranking organizations publish their own lists. But these rankings are not the complete story. If you are interested in some particular part of mathematical sciences, talk with your professors and investigate the websites www.ams.org, www.amstat.org, www.siam.org, and www.informs.org.


7. How many schools should I apply to, and how do I know which schools are right for me? In recent years, our majors have generally applied to eight or ten departments. This is a lot of work, but it’s necessary, so start early. As for which schools fit your interests and abilities, this is where you need to ask the professors who have taught you in your upper division mathematics department courses. Your strategy should mix a group of “aspirational schools” with several “insurance schools”. Often our graduates choose their “insurance schools” from the list of Group II departments mentioned above.


8. Some departments offer both a masters and a Ph.D. To which program should I apply? Unless you are absolutely and perfectly sure that you want only a masters degree, you should apply to the Ph.D. program. Departments give financial support to doctoral students first, and masters-only students get whatever is left.


9. Which courses should I take in order to increase my chances of getting into the graduate school of my choice? We have heard many times from graduate program directors that they look at Math 307 and Math 311 when evaluating a student’s undergraduate program, no matter whether the student is aiming for a pure or applied mathematics graduate program. Year-long sequences are important – if possible include second semester courses in Algebra and Analysis. If you want to study statistics or operations research, you should include several courses in your target discipline.


10. Does William and Mary have any graduate programs in mathematics to which I might apply? Yes, we have a masters program in computational operations research. For details, please consult Professor Kincaid or Professor Leemis.