Is it possible to enrol in a mathematics PhD program with a bachelor degree in Business Administration? Have you heard of someone doing something similar and if yes, how did they do it?

I am a BBA student. I found that I love mathematics after taking some analysis courses and want to keep on studying mathematics and doing research. However, since I didn't really enjoy studying BBA, I have a poor a GPA and I suspect I won't be able to enrol in a competitive mathematics PhD program.

I currently have some background in analysis, including metric space topology, some basic differential manifold, functional analysis, real analysis and of course some other basic math courses.

What is the best way to continue my academic career in mathematics coming from an unrelated field?

  • 9
    Have you considered preparing for/ applying for a master's degree in mathematics first? I suspect PhD programs might be a bit leery, but you could "prove yourself" in a master's program, and gain some more sophistication in math (though it sounds like you're off to a good start with what you've already taken).
    – amWhy
    May 20, 2013 at 3:36
  • I believe Ed Witten was a history major as an undergraduate. Preparation is more important than your major. If you do well on the GREs and have a solid foundation in undergraduate mathematics you should do fine.
    – user69810
    May 20, 2013 at 3:58
  • @amWhy I wonder if the university will admit someone with low gpa to their master programme.
    – johnny
    May 20, 2013 at 4:03
  • 2
    Low GPA can be explained. A low math GPA is a lot harder to explain. The mathematics subject GRE (if you're in the States) and a good recommendation, preferably from a well-respected professor, are key.
    – proximal
    May 20, 2013 at 4:14
  • 1
    I'm starting to think we need a reference question "Is it possible to get into grad school in X with an undergraduate degree in Y?" See these other similar questions.
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2013 at 15:37

1 Answer 1


The short answer is: "yes, but it won't automatically be easy"

First, every department of every school in every major has a set of preferences - things they like to see in an applicant. This list includes GPA, GRE, sometimes subject-specific GRE, specific coursework, specific reference letters, and the rarely-ever-listed undergraduate research/term papers that lots of people here give great advice about but that I didn't previously know was a 'thing'.

Looking over the admittance pages of prospective programs can give you an idea of this at times. In your case, I looked at a few schools math departments I'm familiar with, and using this one as an example because its not terribly atypical (but you should research your own preferred institutions): University of Wisconsin Mathematics

1) A GPA of at least 3.0 overall and substantially higher in mathematics courses.

2) 18 or more credits of mathematics beyond calculus. The 18 credits should include at least one semester of both rigorous analysis (sometimes called advanced calculus) and abstract algebra, and preferably two semesters. Advanced undergraduate courses in other topics further strengthen your application.

6) A “Supplemental Application Form” is required after submitting your online Graduate School application. It is important that you include all advanced mathematics courses you have completed, are currently enrolled in, or intend to take...

7) Three letters that address the question of mathematical promise. These letters should be from mathematics faculty, or other faculty familiar with the demands of graduate work in mathematics...

Now keep in mind that any published outlines are a "wishlist", and they don't automatically toss anyone. But every area you don't fit requires explanation or some other counter-balancing factor. Some programs give a list of x requirements, then say they'll waive 1-2 of them without further explanation needed, etc.

If you are missing all of these, then you need to look at a different program, but you might find no program that's a fit. If this happens, that doesn't mean you can't do something, just that you might have to go about it sideways or backtrack a bit.

If you are missing just a few things, like a course or two, some programs have probation where they'll tentatively admit you on the demand you complete X courses on your first semester and get at least Y GPA, etc.

Alternatively, you might need to make arrangements to take advanced math courses at an undergrad/graduate level. It's harder to get financial aid for this sort of thing (you can't qualify for a Pell grant anymore, etc), but you can still get loans or pay for it outright. If you need this route, you need to talk personally with professors in advance to discuss what your goals are and make any possible arrangement to do extra work, write an academic research paper, etc. You need to find people you can have enough contact with to be willing to go to bat for you in writing strong reference letters if you don't already have math professors who are familiar with your past work. Join math clubs, go to math study labs, volunteer, whatever you can manage.

Before you go running off and doing any of this, however, you should make contact with math faculty at your present school and/or at a target school, and get an opportunity to talk with them about what you want to do and get their advice. Sometimes just showing "mathematical promise" can get a magic wand waived over your application, which maybe you already have - but only someone familiar with what you've done can tell you that. If you have a piece of mathematical "best work" from your most advanced class, bring it with you to such a meeting.

Once you've gotten a few honest appraisals of where you stand, be kind to yourself in looking for programs that will fit YOU, not some imaginary ideal program for someone else.

Finally, one last piece of advice. Keep your mind open to hybrid possibilities. There are whole fields of study you might really like that you aren't aware of, including applied mathematics study offered by business schools, economic fields that emphasize mathematical theory and/or application, etc.

Sometimes we have to try to mold ourselves to fit an existing mold a little better, but sometimes its trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Talk to people and investigate the possibilities, get a clearer understanding of your relative shape, and seek out openings with geometry congruent to yours. Good luck in your journey!