I am a student from India and I have been trying to apply for PhD positions in pure mathematics for a few months now. After having many unsuccessful applications and discussing with a lot of my peers, I think the competition is an all time high. Here are some of the statistics for the places where I applied :

  1. 87 applicants for 1 position at University of Gothenburg
  2. 75 applications for 4 positions at Vienna School of Mathematics
  3. A number of applications for 4 positions at University of York (where I got interviewed but eventually rejected)

and many more....

It feels like the acceptance rate everywhere is less than 5 to 10 %. If this is the situation for these universities, I wonder how is it for places like Bonn, Oxford, Cambridge, ETH Zurich etc.

Is there a particular reason why PhD positions in pure maths have become crazy competitive in past couple of years?

P.S. The situation for US universities is similar as well.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, theoretical research is increasingly less valued, except in obviously hot topics. There is not much you can do, except for keeping improving and open your mind to other but the top schools. Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 20:51
  • 8
    I don't think your numbers are any kind of proof that the competition is at an all-time high. Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


It's not a sudden thing. Numbers have slowly been going up year after year.

With a quick internet search, I found some statistics from Duke University (USA) showing the number of applicants growing from about 220 per year in 2013 to over 400 per year in 2023. The number admitted is pretty consistent at about 30 each year.

The most likely explanation that I can see, is that there is a similar growth pattern for the number of undergraduate applicants. The COVID-19 pandemic has some effects too such as hiring freezes for faculty and people delaying graduation. However, the steady growth in applicants can be observed before the pandemic too. (You can see about a 50% increase in the number of applicants at Duke from 2013 to 2019.)

Number of applicants to Duke University for the Mathematics PhD program over the past 10 years.

  • 3
    I just want to note that just from the increase in the number of applications one cannot conclude whether more people in total are applying relative to the number of spots or whether a roughly stable number of people is just sending out more applications per person than in the past.
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .