I'm a student at a small LAC, and I'm considering to apply to both math and physics PhD programs. In my school, which is top 15 but do not have large (20 students in each dep.) or well-known departments for either of these fields, students did significantly better on physics PhD admission than on math PhD admission. For math, many students go instead to master's, and only one or two students can make top 40~70 PhD program per year. For physics, some students went to Caltech, Columbia, UCSB, and other high ranked programs in the last year, which was just as usual. A similar phenomena seem to happen not only in my school. Mathgre.com and Physicsgre.com list applicant profiles and admission results for each PhD program, and they show a similar tendency. For example, students accepted to top pure math PhD programs are exclusively those who got nearly 4.0 GPA, took many grad-level courses, had a significant amount of research experience and come from an undergrad institution with a renowned PhD program. On the other hand, students accepted to top physics PhD programs have more diversity in GPA, their undergrad institution, number of grad-level courses taken and amount of research experience.
What causes this difference? Or is my view wrong? If this difference actually exists, I think the following factors are among the causes:
- Physics PhDs are funded more, and therefore more students can be afforded.
- Physics PhDs have both theoretical and applied subdivisions, while many applied math programs exist as master's programs.
- Math PhDs demand its applicants to take a significant number of grad-level courses, while physics ones don't.
Also, how about the situation when it comes to pure math vs. hep-th in the U.S.?