Frequently Asked Questions on Applying to Graduate School in Mathematics

What will be on the GRE General Test, and how do I study for it?
Popular GRE study mediums and their descriptions can be found at the following sites:

What will be on the GRE Subject Test, and how do I study for it?
Helpful descriptions can be found at any of the four sites listed in the previous question, as well as at the GRE site:

What should my statement of purpose (also known as a personal statement) say?
In general, your statement of purpose should be more personal than other parts of you application. This is your opportunity to let the admissions committee know what about yourself makes you an excellent candidate for admittance. You have some freedom in what you say here, however, information such as your reasons for attending graduate school, and what you plan to do with your graduate education are standard and important. These two major points often constitute a paragraph each in a statement of purpose. Also, while including all important details, you should be concise in writing your statement; admissions committees read many statements, and a detailed but concise statement will ensure the reader's full attention through all of the points you wish to convey.

Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?
In mathematics, it is best to ask your mathematics professors. The purpose of the letter is to give a professional opinion of your ability and enthusiasm to study and do novel work in mathematics. Your mathematics professors are likely to be the only source of that!

How should I ask for letters of recommendation?
To ask for letters of recommendation there are three basic steps:

  1. Get to know some of your professors. You should start this well before the semester in which you are planning to apply, but it is never too late. Starting this early will not only make it easier to ask for letters of recommendation, but also you'll likely get some good advice about school and life.
  2. Ask your professors. Most professors that are still active in research probably write letters of recommendation regularly, and will likely be happy to write one for you. However, be sure ask well before your application deadlines, at least 4 weeks, so they are not rushed.
  3. After asking for letters, provide your letter writers with the follwing:
    • background information
    • your statement of purpose (as it will appear in your applications)
    • a current resume
    • a letter of recommendation form for each institution to which you are applying
    • stamped, addressed envelopes to each of the institutions to which you are applying
    The extra information will help your letter writers to correlate your past experiences with their experiences with you; the evelopes make sending the letters convenient.

How do I decide where to apply?
Here is a list of ways to help you decide:

  1. Ask your professors!
  2. Visit websites at institutions you'd consider.
  3. Contact graduate students at those institutions and ask their opinion. (A list of graduate students and their contact information is usually provided at department websites.)
  4. Contact faculty at those institutions and ask about their research. (A list of faculty and their contact information is almost always provided at department websites.)
How do I decide where to go to graduate school?
In general, the answer to this question should follow from answering the following question:
Where will I be most happy living and studying in the coming years?

Here is a list of things to consider, which may help you decide:

  1. Visit the institutions (you have applied to or been accepted to)
  2. Faculty research, style, and personality.
  3. Academic environment
  4. Social environment
  5. Institution/Department ranking
  6. Financial compensation
  7. Location

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Prepared by Jassem Shahrani, 02/01/2002