I have a GPA ~3.2 because I did poorly on my courses during my freshman year. I am currently a junior. I did terribly during my freshman year because I was experiencing culture shock and I was burned out. At that point I was thinking of being CS major and I took a class that was more advanced than my skill set; that was a big mistake, and it not only affected my grade in that course but in other the courses I was taking as well, including calc 2 (I got C).

The thing is I knew calculus well enough – I self studied it when I was in sophomore highschool and I also took it my senior year high-school, and I got all As in my high-school math. But due to lack of time and being burnt out I didn't practice enough for the final. I also had spent most of the semester trying to manage my CS class.

The following semester I had very low confidence in myself, and so I also did poorly on multivariate calculus (got C+), but my gpa was slightly higher than the first. Again I didn't practice enough for the final although I knew the material from self studying.

After avoiding math for a semester, I decided to take linear algebra, abstract algebra, real analysis, vector calculus, and combinatorics, over two semesters. I got A/A- in all of them. I hope that since these are advanced classes than calculus that they demonstrate that math acumen is not terribly low.

Currently, I am thinking of applying to Math REUs and I am having doubts whether the programs that I apply to will consider me a viable candidate due to my grades in my freshman year also considering my calculus grades. What do guys think I should do?

  • I would also review this thread, since REUs and grad school applications have a lot in common.
    – cag51
    Jan 7, 2020 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


When were the C's? If there were early on in your undergraduate career, then it's less of a thing to worry about and it'll help that you had an upward trend afterwards. I got into an REU at a very top school in my field this past summer after a terrible junior year (2.8 GPA both semesters). At the REU, one of the guys on my project team noted they had one or two sub-2.5 semesters. Everyone understands that the transition from high school to college can be a rough one sometimes so there's more leeway than you think here (this also applies when applying to grad schools from that I've read).

The more important thing than your GPA at this point is getting strong letters of recommendations, as well as writing a great statement of purpose to really show that you are interested in the fields that your potential REUs will explore. Being a 4.0 student in this regard will matter a lot less than actually being passionate about the field you will explore in the potential REU program. You mentioned that you are a junior, so hopefully since you've been in your major a while, you will have an idea of what those potential fields of interest are.

Also, do note that REUs are competitive no matter who you are, so just apply to as many as you physically can that are of interest to you. I applied to ~15-17, and was accepted to 3 (and one other summer research program abroad, I was in the process of applying to one or two more when I got an offer letter from one of my top choices that I ended up going to). Especially if you're considering grad school and you want to REU's, I'd say give it your best shot and apply to all the REU's you can ... you'll have a 0% chance of getting in if you don't apply.

Hope this helped and best of luck with your applications!

  • The C's are from my freshman year. I have had a strong upward trend ever since. I just finished a semester (that went extremely well) with a heavy load of math classes.
    – asktksa
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:11
  • One thing that bothers me is that I am not sure what kind of math I am interested in. I only started being a math major in Sophomore year. Would not having a specific interest matter significantly?
    – asktksa
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:12
  • If you have done very well in math classes recently, including classes that had the ones where you got the C/C+ as prerequisites, that's very much in your favor. As for the second comment, note most REUs are in a specific field so you want to show that you are a fit for their program/field. Try to identify potential field(s) of interest, which could help identify which REUs are of particular interest/fit.
    – Daveguy
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:18
  • Hmm, I have an inclination to number theory. But I took a very advanced algebraic number theory course this semester and I'm afraid I might get B+. I truly enjoyed the course, and I did pretty well until the final. We had a take home final and two of the questions were extremely difficult. I wouldn't mind writing about this in my statement of purpose but I am afraid getting a B+ in an advanced course is not going to reflect well on my application. Should I choose a topic based on one of my other math courses then?
    – asktksa
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:32
  • If you truly think number theory is what you may want to research in the future, then go for it. Grades don't define success in a field, remember this. But I wouldn't count out considering other potential fields of interest either. I didn't major in (theoretical) math so as far as the topics themselves, I can't really hint.
    – Daveguy
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:36

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