I graduated with a Mathematics degree from a top-20 program in Mathematics. I have a good math background (I took many honors and some graduate level courses in my university with good grades with a 3.8+ mathematics GPA, and some researches and reading courses as well).

I applied for the PhD program in math at several universities (none of them is top-10). However, I got a terrible math GRE score (I took it once and only got 30% tile). Even though I believe that test is not a reflection of my math skills and knowledge, I think that test will bar me from going to any PhD program I applied to.

What are some options with my pure mathematics degree? I know some of you would suggest for me to go to some Master's program, but I cannot afford to pay anymore since I am an international student, and I know that I should not go to graduate school if I have to pay myself anyway.

At this point I am pretty much hopeless about my applications, and I think it would be wise to find a new path for my career.

  • Are you applying to the universities in the US? Or elsewhere? – scaaahu Feb 4 '18 at 4:22
  • In the U.S. only – zozo123 Feb 4 '18 at 4:29
  • Please read academia.stackexchange.com/q/38237/546 – scaaahu Feb 4 '18 at 4:32
  • @scaaahu: I have read that one, and I do not think I will spend another $200 to retake that test and another $500 to send the results. These expenses are too much for me, and I would rather spend my time and effort to start something new instead of doing that exam anyway. I am prepared for the worst situation, and I think that if all schools reject me, then it means that I am not able to do mathematics at higher level, so I would like to find a new path for myself. – zozo123 Feb 4 '18 at 4:41
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    @bbq123: I disagree with your logic. Based on what you are saying, if schools reject you, it won't be primarily because of your "inability" to do mathematics at a high level, but because of your low GRE scores. That is something which is easy to fix, by studying. I do not think that rejection would be evidence of inability to succeed, in your case. – Nate Eldredge Feb 4 '18 at 19:47

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that you'll be rejected. Many programs use a GRE cutoff, but not all. Wait and see.

If you don't get into any program that you like, I would suggest that you find something else to do for a year, perhaps back in your home country. Retake the GRE (study more this time), and apply to PhD programs again next year. It sounds like you'll be a very strong candidate if you can get past the GRE cutoff. I see no reason to give up.

(Also, are your undergrad professors aware of your situation? They may have contacts at the graduate programs where you applied, and could suggest to them that they not overlook your application.)

  • All of my letter writers are big names people, and they do not even care about the GRE scores at all. I have this one Professor said that he did not even know what is GRE since he did not take it (he did his PhD in the U.S., and I thought it was interesting, and yes, he is a full tenured professor at my university). I think I got caught surprised by this GRE subject test since none of my Professors care about it, and during my undergrad years I only learned new math in my free time instead of practicing for this test, which maybe I should have done so. – zozo123 Feb 4 '18 at 4:04
  • Also, I would like to know some of the alternative ways around my situation. I fear that being rejected from all of the programs I applied to this year will cut my interest in mathematics, and I will have to find a new path for my life. I would like to know what should I do with a pure mathematics degree if I do not go to graduate school at all. – zozo123 Feb 4 '18 at 4:09
  • It's still "a world of connections." If a student's advisor(s) is well connected, that trumps the bad GRE score. Also, if the OP had a good showing on the Putnam, he might get recruited anyway. – B. Goddard Feb 4 '18 at 13:37
  • I would suggest you go to the career counseling office at your university. It's customary in the US (especially at top universities) for people to go on to jobs that have nothing to do with the subjects they studied at university, except that studying at university made them more generally educated and smarter. – Alexander Woo Feb 4 '18 at 18:40

You might want to put in a couple of applied math applications along with the pure math departments you had already identified. It could be helpful to choose applied math programs that have applied and pure tracks within one department. This would make switching tracks easier once you've established yourself in the department.

Another possibility would be a computer science department with some math-heavy tracks.

You could submit a short letter stating that you feel that your GRE result is not an accurate reflection of your actual level.

The difference between getting in somewhere and not getting in somewhere is huge. $200, on the other hand, is not a huge amount of money. (If it is for you, request a fee waiver.) This would argue for studying for the test and taking it again, ASAP, and letting the schools know that you will be submitting a new GRE result on x date. In fact it would probably be a good idea to pay extra if needed, to get as early a new test date as possible.

Admissions decisions are hard to predict exactly.

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