I know many people have asked similar questions and admissions can sometimes be a crapshoot. But, I am currently a sophomore mathematics major at a non-target top 25 public school. If I can maintain a 3.8+ GPA and major GPA, is that a respectable range for a top grad program? I know GRE scores are a factor too, but have not taken them yet. But I am currently doing undergrad research with a professor (maybe will get my name on a paper) and plan to do departmental honors, which requires me to write a thesis by the time I graduate. Struggling with trying to decide if I want to do industry or grad school. My advisor of course is pushing me towards grad school and tells me if I maintain my grades I will have a good shot. I also plan to take hopefully 2-3 grad courses by the time I graduate. What realistically are my chances? I know it is hard to say without GRE's and no answer is definite, but is it even worth me looking at top tier programs?


  • If industry is a consideration for you, then I would advise against grad school. You might be able to get into a top tier grad school and even get a decent postdoc, but what next? The job market in mathematics (outside of data science related stuff) is bad right now and worse than 5 years ago. It might be even worse 10 years from now, as universities discover that they can cover all their calculus classes with adjuncts paid $3000 per course (just as they discovered 30 years ago they could cover first year writing this way). (continued) Jan 28, 2018 at 3:33
  • Outside of top research universities and top liberal arts colleges, many colleges/universities will never hire another tenure-track mathematics professor. The top research universities and liberal arts colleges don't have enough jobs to absorb all the Berkeley PhDs, never mind all the other top departments. Now, if you can't stand (the thought of) working in industry, or gambling that you can get a permanent position is fine with you (you probably won't go into debt or serious financial trouble, though you might forego $500K in lost earnings), then grad school is a reasonable choice. Jan 28, 2018 at 3:39
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    @AlexanderWoo "Outside of top research universities and top liberal arts colleges, many colleges/universities will never hire another tenure-track mathematics professor. " Do you have any evidence for this claim? I won't be surprised if we hit this point not too far into the future (what I tend to describe as us "pulling up the ladder"), but I didn't really think we had gotten there yet. MathJobs has well over 200 TT ads up right now, and certainly not all of them are places I would describe as "top research universities and SLACs." Apr 11, 2018 at 15:54

2 Answers 2


It depends on the definition of "a top grad program".

I think your GPA is good. GRE is usually not a (big) factor. I would expect most applicants to have >85/90%. If you are worried take the test as soon as possible. You can choose to send only your best result at the end.

Graduate courses are good only if you get good grades from them.

Try to make sure you get at least 3 strong recommendation letters by the time of the application. You want them to be from your field of interest. At least one should be from a more experienced faculty.

Also if it is possible try to get some undergraduate research experience. It helps, but it is not necessary.


Your chances are likely pretty good if you can keep up the grades and the rest of your application is strong. Here at UMich in the computer science and engineering department where I teach, for example, it takes about a 3.8 GPA to be a competitive applicant for our PhD program.

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