I want to go to graduate school in mathematics, completed my undergraduate degree in mathematics with 3.6/4 gpa (11 graduate level courses in maths and related courses, only 3 were A- rest A, 25+ courses in mathematics). I took way too many courses every semester (about 6) and got bad grade in one or two classes usually, which resulted in my gpa. To compensate this I did my masters, got 3.97/4 gpa with 9 classes (only one A-). However, I was not given a thesis question, the only thing that I had was that my advisor told me a result he found in X, and I should try to expand that to Y and Z. The extensions were trivial, and then he told me to find application for it. Everything I could think of were completely trivial, so I ended with potentially a subpar thesis (everywhere that I applied in Europe rejected my application after giving a short presentation on this thesis so I'm almost surely positive that it is a really bad thesis).

I've spent majority of my research experience (about 3-4) years with one professor and nothing came out of it aside from the minor extensions that I've mentioned above. I think the letter of recommendation he gave to me early in my education was "strong" (one professor in Europe told me this) but after getting rejected from all the PhD programs that I've applied to I got emotional and to certain degree might've burned the bridge (does not seem to return to my emails anymore) unintentionally by "hurting" his feeling that the projects doesn't seem to get anywhere and overstudied. So I'm not sure if I can get a good recommendation letter from him anymore, and I don't think there are others that can give me a letter of recommendation that will amount to anything, as I did not do research with anyone else.

I still want to go to graduate school in mathematics, but I think my chances are even worse now. What are the routes that I can take at this point? If any.

  • 1
    I wonder if your doctoral applications were to too narrow a set of places. If you only apply to "top ten" institutions and get rejected by one, you are just about as likely to get rejected by the others. Is this the case? If so, I can give a bit of advice.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 13:58
  • @Buffy Hi, first of all thank you for your response. My research are was close to financial mathematics (stochastic analysis), so I've applied to Operations Research programs as well as Mathematics programs. I've actually tried to apply last year, but those were the schools in between top10-20 rather than 10, as I did not think I had chance at top 10s due to my undergrad performance + lack of publication. This year I applied to some safeties and also applied to somewhat "lower" ranked programs. Only a program below 100 gave me "shortlist" (i'm not in first round offers, might not get one).
    – Motun
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 14:05
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    And where are you? A US answer would be very different from one for Germany/Austria. From a US standpoint I'd think your grades are fine.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 14:10
  • Turkey. Most instutions in UK counts my 3.6 in undergraduate as equivalent to 70/100 (first class) in UK for instance. ( For the record i've applied to US and European schools)
    – Motun
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


I don't know anything about the system in Turkey and the following is only addressing the situation for US applications. US institutions are pretty good at evaluating GPA between systems, so I'll leave that, but a 3.6 undergrad in the US is within the bounds for doctoral applications, though maybe not in top 20 schools where there will be lots of folks (well) above 3.8.

But two things.

In the US, GPA isn't the main driver for admissions (and a masters isn't usually required). Letters of recommendation are very important, especially when the writer knows your capabilities and can confidently and honestly express a prediction of success.

See our canonical question about doctoral admissions for some details.

Second, any of the top 100 or so schools in the US (we have a lot of institutions) should be fine. My degree was from somewhere around 50 and the faculty was pretty fantastic with many of them known internationally. It was also a pretty big place with lots of options for advisors in most fields. Lots of different seminars for specialists.

So, for the US and probably elsewhere, cast a broad net. In the US get three great letters of recommendation, even if some are from undergrad days.

In parts of Europe it is very different and you need to appeal to an individual PI to get accepted. Nothing like that in US, though, where admissions is by committee. But the "broad net" idea is probably valid even in Europe. Good luck.

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