This past fall/winter I applied to 16 of the pure math summer REU programs listed by the AMS here, and haven't been accepted by any so far. Five have rejected me, and the fact that none of the other 11 have sent me information tells me I'm probably on their waitlists.

I'm in my junior year and was hoping to apply to a PhD program next fall. I have a very high GPA, but I haven't taken a really competitive course load since I have been struggling with anxiety/depression for several years. It wasn't until my junior year began that I started the year-long abstract algebra and real analysis sequences. I'm planning to take grad math classes in my senior year, and ask some professors if I can get involved in research (haven't done any thus far).

I'm starting to worry about what I'm going to do this summer if I get rejected from all of the REU's... any advice? And, does this mean that I should look elsewhere instead of pursuing graduate school in pure math? I guess I'm feeling a bit discouraged about the prospects of a career in pure mathematics.

Mid-summer update: I actually did end up getting into an REU this summer, and I'm loving it here! At the same time, I'm really glad I asked this question, since it was important (both emotionally and logistically) to be prepared for the possibility of not getting into an REU. Interestingly, the professor who I'm working with told me that he never went to an REU as an undergrad; he didn't start doing research until his 3rd year of grad school. Somehow I had convinced myself that only students who do undergraduate research will become successful mathematicians. Now I understand that while doing undergraduate research can help students to delve deeper into specific topics, beef up their resumes, and prepare for graduate school, it's definitely not the "be-all and end-all" of a mathematician's career. Thank you for the advice, and good luck to all of the other students out there!

  • 3
    If it is any consolation, getting a high GRE math subject test score can be a plus for your application. The test is allegedly very hard, so maybe you can spend some time this summer to work on it?
    – Drecate
    Mar 16, 2015 at 21:15
  • Regarding your last point: you have to remember that the job market in academia is much more competitive than when the professor was young (unless they are straight out of postdoc). Mar 4, 2021 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


REUs are a nice way to start to get a sense of what mathematics research is about, and can certainly be helpful for graduate admissions. But they're not a prerequisite. You don't need to give up on grad school just because you didn't get accepted to an REU.

As for what to do with the summer, if you are interested in research, consider trying to work on a research project with one of the professors at your university. You say you want to do this next year, so it would be even better to start this summer, when you will have more time available and won't be distracted by coursework. Start asking them about it now.

I think it is definitely a good idea to have some sort of research experience before applying to grad school. Partly because it is helpful in admissions, but mostly because it will help you decide if it is actually something you want to do. Mathematics research is a very different experience than coursework, and before committing to doing it for several years, it would be wise to see if you like it.

  • +1, but what happens if he does this, but meanwhile he gets accepted to a REU?
    – o0'.
    Mar 17, 2015 at 10:16
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    @Lohoris, either he'll turn down the REU, and someone else on the waitlist will be offered a spot, or he'll tell the professor he's been accepted to the REU, and ask to start doing research after it's over. As long as he's polite and upfront, both are acceptable options.
    – Karen
    Mar 17, 2015 at 13:11

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