I am interested in applying to some applied math graduate programs but I have some deficiencies in a few math courses. However, I have reached out to a potential supervisor and our conversations are going well. So my question is, if a prospective supervisor wants to take on a particular student, but students have to enter a common pool of applicants, how much influence on An individuals admissions does a prospective advisor have in the process.

  • 4
    In which country?
    – GoodDeeds
    Jul 27, 2020 at 17:47
  • 1
    Canada/U.S is the context Jul 27, 2020 at 18:17
  • Do you already have an MS in something? A BS in math? Other?
    – Buffy
    Jul 27, 2020 at 18:22
  • @Buffy I did some coursework in physics, got a minor in math, and ended up doing a BA in economics and will be defending for a MSc in Natural Resource Economics shortly. Two issues that exist are that 1) some of my math grades are sporadic (D in ODE’s, A- in PDE’s; why that’s the case I can save for the Statement of Purpose) and 2) I am missing some components such as real analysis. Generally though the reason for sporadic undergraduate grades is a lack of consistent discipline and hard work (for whatever that’s worth). Jul 27, 2020 at 21:51
  • 1
    Actually don't dwell on the past in the SoP. Make it forward looking.
    – Buffy
    Jul 27, 2020 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


"Soft" influence

It's hard to judge how much soft influence a professor has. Every professor will have a different level of influence, and also a different approach in how they wield it. There is no way to answer this definitively. The most influential professors in departments that allow them to wield influence will have as much power as they want to choose students. Professors in other departments may have little to no influence at all.

"Hard" influence

In my experience, the more powerful control over admissions that professors have is money. For many programs, there are more qualified applicants than there are slots available for funding. That means that many qualified applicants miss the cut despite being qualified: there are simply too many other prospective students that either have better resumes or have a better fit to the program. However, the program still wants those students!

If a professor has resources to fund a student and offers to do so, that student can possibly skip the queue a bit, because they are no longer competing for the at large funding slots. In the grad program I attended, these students were referred to as "direct admit" students: they joined a lab immediately that offered to support them. Other students had a year to rotate and choose a supervisor.


I have no idea which of these categories your program and professor is more likely to fall into, if either. If you want to be a student, apply. It's better to apply and fail to be accepted than to not apply and guarantee you will not be accepted.


The answer to this question depends a lot on the university and the seniority of the prospective supervisor. I did not apply for a Math program but for computer science and though the prospective supervisor was keen the committee rejected my application. I believe there should not be a huge difference in the Math department.

Academia is ripe with politics and resources are limited. So there is never going to be one answer to this question. The influence of the prospective supervisor depends a lot on how good a politician he is. And that will determine how good he is in getting his prospective students into the programme. If the supervisor is junior then his senior colleagues will dictate terms. I have known prospective supervisors to write a personal note of recommendation for some students on the application who they think are more suited to work 'for' them.

In an ideal world, the supervisor should not be a member of the committee which shortlists the application. But even then I have seen senior academicians ensuring their colleagues who are close to them professionally being put into the committee to ensure they get what they want and vice versa.

If I were a prospective student I would care little about all this as none of this is in my hands.

  • I don't mind being downvoted but just curious on on knowing reason(s).
    – kosmos
    Jul 28, 2020 at 9:34

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