Applying to Grad School? Or Just Thinking About it?

Slides on Applying to Grad School with html links This file is emporarily off line.

Timeline for applying to grad school

Early in your studies: Learn the basics of managing a web site.

Why? Here is the rationale. Many of you during the course of your studies will develop projects or specialities that will be of interest to grad school or other employers. For instance, there will be some nice projects coming out the Honors ODEs class. Having a web site is getting to be a key way of communicating, and I think that this method of communicating is starting to reach down to the pool of grad school applicants.

As I write this, in the early months of 2003, I know that some of the web sites of our May and August 2003 graduates have been, and will bee, visited by grad school admissions committees. Now, these sites can be pretty easy to find--Google will turn up a Blair Dowling rather easily--even if you put your web site on some unusal hosting site, such as "" as Blair did. (Blair's site has some good material on home schooling and university applications. I would guess that several homeschooling web sites would have pointers to Blair's site, thus improving it's page ranking under the Google system.)

It will be even better if you put the site, or at least a pointer, at some reasonable web address. Any math undergrad can get a computer account on the math network, and then you can have your site at "" which will be much easier for some people to find.

Spring Term Freshman Year

Think about applying for the Goldwater Fellowship: You can apply in the Fall of Sophomore Year, and Fall of Junior year, for fellowship support for Undergrad Research in the Junior or Senior Year. Deadline falls in Feb 1, of each year, for support in the fall of that year. But, this is a highly competative process, so that applications materials have to be collected early, and the application officially goes through Georgia Tech, not individuals.

Spring Term, Junior Year. Take the GRE Subject Test.

You take two GRE tests, the general and the subject test. The general test is like an SAT for graduate school. The general test can be taken at as a computer based test, on a first come first served basis at two testing sites in Atlanta. The subject test comes tih this description:

MATHEMATICS (Rescaled)*. The test consists of about 66 questions and is intended to measure both knowledge of the content of undergraduate mathematics courses for mathematics majors and the mathematical abilities traditionally expected of anyone who intends to seek a graduate degree in mathematics. In addition to the usual sequence of elementary calculus courses, the examinee should have had the mathematics-major courses in abstract algebra, linear algebra, and real analysis that require students to demonstrate the ability to prove theorems and create counterexamples. About a quarter of the questions require knowledge in other areas, such as complex analysis, topology, combinatorics, graph theory, probability and statistics, number theory, and algorithmic processes.

By taking the test in the spring, you free up time that you will need in the Fall semester for preparing fellowship and grad school applications. (And, if you really bomb the exam, then you get a second chance.) The only subject that you may not have that could be covered on the Math Subject test, is a simple Calculus of Residues problem from Complex Analysis. This is something that is very easy to pick up.

Spring GRE Subject Test Date Generally Second Saturday in April

If you are applying to CS schools, they will generally take either the Math or the CS subject test.

David Skoog's Warning to Discrete Math Majors on the GRE Subject Test

The Math subject test can be heavily skewed towards analysis, with questions in Lagrange multipliers, complex variables, summation of geometric series, and the like. And possibly only a few questions on combinatorics, graph theory, and the like. A graph theory question may be only of the form "here is the definition of minimal spanning tree, how many are there in this graph on seven nodes."

On the other hand, the CS subject test has the reputation of not being that hard. About 8% of the test takers make a perfect score, so the test is really not differentiating that much at the top end. And the D-Math majors could be in a very good position to take that test. David felt like that would have been the case. He was taking the test in December of his senior year.

Either subject test is a standarized test. As such, you should be able to get a very good idea of what the test is like before taking it. Worst case is just to go buy one of the test books for sale, or borrow one off of your fellow test takers.

Fall, Senior Year: Lots to do!

Your Checklist of things to tend to in the spring semester are as follows:
GRE General Test
Any time in Fall
GRE Subject Test
Early December is last test date
Fellowship Applications
Early November is big deadline
Grad School Applications
Late in Fall Semester

GRE General Test

This is like the SAT for grad school. It is taken on a first come first served basis, at testing centers around Atlanta. The subject test was described above. And good little students will have taken it as juniors! If not, the last test date that can be used by grad schools for admission is the First Saturday in December. As usual, the registration deadline for these tests falls about 4 to 6 weeks in advance of the actual test date.

GRE Subject Test

If you are to take the GRE Subject test in the Fall semester, your last possible date to take the exam is the first Saturday in December. And registration ends about 5 weeks before that!

Fellowship Deadlines Can Fall in October, with the heavy lifting in early November.

Get yourself over to this link, for an article, written by Michael Lacey and Evans Harrell, about the process of applying for fellowships. It has a companion FAQ.

Georgia Tech students have another very useful resource for help on applying for these things, especially for `prestige' fellowships, such as the Rhoades Scholarship. That is Amanda Gable , who helps prepare applications for all sorts of fellowships for GT students. And if you want to go the prestige route the sooner you talk to Amanda and Paul the better. Sophmore and Junior year is not necessarily too early!

It is important to view fellowship applications as a two year process. Some of these, such as the Defense Science, and Computational Science Fellowships, are more specifically geared towards more advanced students. And for the NSF, first year grad students are eligible to apply.

Don't expect to find out if you get the Fellowship until approximately end of the first week of April.

The NSF Grad Fellowship Competition will give you a little info about the strengths/weaknesses of your application, but you will have to ask for that info SOON after the awards are announced.

Partial List of Fellowships

GT's Extensive List of Fellowships
Program Intended Audience Approximate Deadline
NSF Grad Fellowship All areas of Sci, Eng Early November
Computational Science Anything computational January
Fulbright Fellowships Study in countries all over the world Late October
Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships for Minorities Also have doctoral fellowships Early December
GEM Minorities in Sci and Eng December 1
Paul and Daisy Soros New U.S. Citizens/Permanent Residents November 30, 2002
Lucent Graduate Research Fellowships Women Mid January
Dept of Homeland Security Fellowships US Citizens Late Spring
GT math majors have recently won Cambridge Gates (2000), NSF Grad (3 in 2003), Fulbright (2003), and Homeland Secruity (2003).

IGERTS: Interdisciplinary Grad Programs

New and emerging areas of emphasis across the sciences, engineering and even social sciences involve interdisciplinary viewpoints. These areas are promising areas for graduate study, at the masters as well as the PhD level. Topics include Atmospherics, Bioinformatics, Nanotechnology, Ecology, and Social Systems.

You can find some pointers to these programs at e.g. the National Science Foundation IGERT Program. There is a web site devoted to recruiting students for these programs, with lists availible by region of the country, and by discipline.

A final, interesting option: Ecole Normale Superieure, one of France's highest schools has an international division. It is a very competetive admission process, including a registration period that ends March 31, a short listing announced in May, and oral and written exams in July. Admission is announced immediately after the exams.

The Ecole Normale gives a fellowship for a three year program that prepares one for thesis work, or the French Cival Service exam. The ENS is located in Latin Quarter, in the heart of Paris.

Where to Apply for Grad School?

There is no correct answer to this question. A good bit depends upon what area of mathematics you want to study the most. And then a range of personal inclinations can play a role as well.

A problem that I have seen with students is that they are too narrow in the range of places they apply to. Lots of people apply to the Princetons, and MITs. Very few get in. In recent memory, we have placed students in Princeton (1997), MIT (2000) and Berkeley (2001). So go for it, if you think you have a chance. But, also put in options that are not as glamorous, but will still something that you will be excited about.

Relevant Lists of Math Departments

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3


Group 1 is the top tier, Group 2 the second tier, and so on.  But the very fine Rockafeller University appears in Group 3. These rankings, like most, are advisory.  The VIGRE link is to all departments that have received a VIGRE grant. That is, many of these will have graduate fellowships that you might want to apply for.

And if these codified lists aren't satisfactory, try out Penn State's Giant List.

Specialized Masters Degrees.

In recent years, a number of more specialized masters degrees have been formed. These are programs in bioinformatics, quantiative finance, climatalogy.  All of these programs can lead to interesting careers.

We have placed majors in Computational Finance programs, as well as Denistry programs, and Actuary Programs. (GSU has an excellent actuary program.)