I am a math undergraduate student from India, from one of the IITs. I have an opportunity to go for a semester exchange at some Universities in Germany, France and Switzerland, for a single semester. I am interested in pursuing further studies in pure mathematics at a top university abroad. I wanted to ask how much would a semester at an excellent university help me in getting into the masters or Phd program of the same University, or for that matter even other top universities.

How much of an impact would a semester at an excellent university have on the chances of acceptance for masters and Phd programs at top universities?

Edit: Recent development and further information

I have been accepted as an exchange student at EPFL.(The question still remains)

Some background as to why I am asking the question - While the University is not taking any semester fees, the cost involved is significantly high, and would stretch my finances quite a bit. I want to evaluate what I would get out of, what would be a very significant monetary investment for me. Basically "Is it worth it?".

  • It depends on what you do with the opportunity. If you just take classes, the effect will likely be negligible.
    – JeffE
    Oct 13, 2014 at 11:44
  • @JeffE Do you have some suggestions as to how I can make good use of this opportunity?
    – user13987
    Oct 13, 2014 at 16:57
  • I would guess that it would if you take courses that you've never taken before and achieve significant results. For example if you go to ETH Zurich or Paris 6 or Bonn University and you are on top of the class. You can also ask for a reccomendation by the professor, especially if you plan on returning there for graduate studies. Mar 29, 2015 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


As JeffE says: It does not really matter whether you went somewhere and where did you go; it matters much more what have you done there. In general, having an Erasmus (or similar) semester abroad is not seen much as an advantage. Having a semester abroad accompanied by a publication with a professor there -- that's a different story, because it shows that you went there and really got some experience there.

However, if you spend the semester at a university at which you later apply for studies (which seems to be your case), you can get something from solely being there: the contacts and the knowledge of the environment. For instance: There are many PhD positions funded by various projects rather than by some general scholarships. It's mostly the project leaders who decide who gets the funding, and knowing them in person etc. can help. Still, you need to do more than just sit there at the lectures for 15 weeks.

  • A further development that has taken place in relation the question is that I received an acceptance letter for a semester exchange at EPFL just a few hours ago. My hope is that I would be able to do a semester long research project under a professor whose work I am interested in, preferably as part of the curriculum itself(though I still need to confirm whether such a thing is possible or not). Can you give me some suggestions as to what I can do to make the most of the opportunity?
    – user13987
    Oct 13, 2014 at 16:31
  • 2
    Well, I'm not a pure mathematician, so I can't really help you. Even if I could, I wouldn't be so bold to say that a university is or is not excellent. I'm not sure how to approach it. Certainly you can try and write to one of the good people there something like: "I'll spend one semester at your university and I'm interested in topics X & Y. I would like to make my stay valuable and do some research while I am in Lausanne. I would like to ask you whether you know of somebody whom I could work with." Of course, take a good care to write it politely, but showing a true interest.
    – yo'
    Oct 13, 2014 at 17:41
  • 3
    I wouldn't say directly that you only want to work under his supervision, because he might be busy and simply refuse you. This way, he can give you another ideas. Usually, all the people around a top professor are worth working with, so don't be afraid to accept supervision of someone else. As well, if any member of your school that you know had any contacts there, it would be a perfect starting point.
    – yo'
    Oct 13, 2014 at 17:43

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