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I have the following dilemma: I am finishing my Master's degree in pure mathematics this academic year (summer 2015) and I hoped to apply to a PhD program (US schools) starting from September 2015. Therefore, I have to apply this fall (till December 2014 in most places).

However, I have the following problem - my first article has just been completed and I have to go through a painful publication process which will not be finished in time (surely not till December). Second problem is that I have not particularly high GRE Math results (around 750 I guess, still waiting for results); the exam can be retaken only in April 2015.

Therefore, the only strengths I have are high GPA and solid letters of recommendation. I guess I could send the article to Arxiv.org, but I am not sure if that is acceptable to admissions committee and I am not familiar with the process of placing the article there.

So my questions are:

Is it OK to apply this fall and in case I am not accepted to the desired program, reapply next year, in the fall of 2015?

Or there is some kind of cooldown like the one you have in industry jobs and it is wiser to skip this year's admissions and apply in 2015 with a solid application profile?

  • If the paper is accepted in December, I'd call that pretty painless! (I'm not in the field, but I've always heard that math papers can takea very long time to be published) – Moriarty Sep 29 '14 at 6:14
  • @Moriarty, I meant that the process won't be finished in December. I would say if it gets published around summer 2015 that would be pretty good. – Bananeen Sep 29 '14 at 6:18
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A solid GPA and letters of recommendation is nothing to sneeze at—particularly if one of the people who wrote your letter of recommendation is a co-author on the publication.

You don't need to publish the paper on arXiv if you and your co-authors don't feel it is appropriate; however, you can mention that you have a manuscript available, and submit it along with your application (if the department to which you're applying permits it!).

However, I wouldn't wait an extra year just to "improve your odds." Apply this year—if you don't like the results, try again next year.

  • Thank you for your opinion! So I understand there are no obstacles to applying to the same grad school in two consecutive years? – Bananeen Sep 28 '14 at 15:05
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    @Bananeen: I'm not aware of any with such restrictions. (An undergraduate at my university recently did exactly that.) – aeismail Sep 28 '14 at 15:16
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From context, I'm going to assume your field is mathematics and you are applying in the US.

I don't see any reason why you shouldn't apply this year. In particular, don't worry about your paper not being accepted in time. Just having a paper submitted is already pretty good for a PhD applicant. People in mathematics are well aware that the peer review process takes a long time, and will not fault you for the fact that it isn't finished. And many applicants are accepted without any completed papers at all.

However, it would be a good idea to make sure at least one of your letter writers is familiar with your paper and can give a credible assessment of its quality.

Posting to arXiv is really orthogonal to the publication proces. Most people post to arXiv at the same time as they submit to a journal (not "instead of"). It's a convenient way to distribute a paper that has not yet been published, but it isn't at all the same as publication itself, because arXiv doesn't do any peer review. So it's perfectly fine to upload your paper to arXiv. I think an admissions committee will see that as a sign that you (and your coauthors, if any) are sufficiently satisfied with the paper that you are willing to share it with the public, but in itself it doesn't signify much more than that.

And to answer your title question: yes, if you do not get accepted to any place you like this year, you can certainly reapply next year, typically without prejudice. Of course, it will help if your application next year is significantly stronger, so the committee can think "Wow, look at all the progress this person has made since applying last year."

But often a better alternative is to apply to a variety of places this year, so that you have a better chance of being accepted at somewhere that's reasonably good. If you are rejected by your first choice but accepted somewhere that's decent, it's probably a better idea to go to the decent place rather than waiting another year to try again. The grad school process is long enough without delaying it by a year to try to go to a slightly more prestigious place (which you might not get next year into anyway).

  • @NateElredge: Thank you for clarifying the relation between publication in a journal and arXiv. I would definitely discuss this opportunity with my thesis advisor. Wouldn't you say that having same article, but already published, and a GRE subject score of 850 instead 750 will make my application "significantly stronger"? – Bananeen Sep 29 '14 at 6:21
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    @Bananeen: Somewhat stronger. Much better would be to do something in that intervening year that clearly demonstrates your research abilities, such as writing and submitting another paper (even if it won't be accepted in time). Having the paper accepted gives them only a slightly stronger signal as to its quality (but your letter writers should have already done that), and a good GRE score doesn't really say much at all about research potential, except as a general indication that your preparation isn't completely inadequate. – Nate Eldredge Sep 29 '14 at 6:39
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As long as you meet the minimum requirements otherwise, go ahead an apply as often as you want. You may be able to have your application put forward to the next review cycle if it is rejected in the first. In all cases, acceptance of your application would be helped when you have a faculty member who knows of you and wants to take you as their graduate student.

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