Having missed the registration deadline for the GRE math subject test, I've been looking into the option of working for a year and then applying to math PhD programs once I have my test results. While I could try applying to the top programs I'm interested in this year, they generally say that my application will either be at a disadvantage or it will be disregarded entirely without a subject test score.

Since there are some (less competitive) US graduate programs that don't require the GRE, I was wondering if it would be a bad idea to attend one of them for a year and then try to transfer out? I thought it'd be a cost-effective way to take more math classes, but I read in this answer that:

It's difficult to transfer to a substantially more prestigious department. [...] No matter why you say you want to transfer, there will be some suspicion that your goal is to end up in a stronger department or a more desirable location. If you have another reason, you'll have to make a powerful argument for it.

So, I'm trying to figure out which idea is better: apply to a second-tier PhD program with the intent of transferring to a first-tier program, or find a job and just apply to schools after I take the subject test?

(Note: I recently asked a more general question about my options if I choose to take a gap year.)

  • 5
    You can try to take the October test on standby. There is information on how to do this on the ets website.
    – Bamboo
    Oct 15, 2015 at 15:45
  • @Rori Thank you! I did not know about that! I just called ETS and they told me to call again the Monday before the test, and they'll tell me which centers will be offering standby testing.
    – justin
    Oct 15, 2015 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


Although not a direct answer to the question, there is a third option:

Take the October test on standby

From the ETS website:

Standby testing may be available if sufficient space, test materials and staff are available at the test center. If you'd like to attempt to test as a standby, report to the test center by 8:15 a.m. with:

a completed Registration Form for the GRE Subject Tests (PDF) payment (including the registration and standby testing fee) acceptable photo ID Standby registration is not available for Monday testing, testing in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, India, or Iran, or those requesting disability or health-related testing accommodations.

I don't know how many standby seats are generally available, but it seems worth a shot rather than delaying your studies by a year.

  • 4
    For others reading this - after speaking with ETS, they advised me that standby test-takers should call ETS the Monday before the test date and check which centers will be available for standby testing, since not all centers may offer it.
    – justin
    Oct 15, 2015 at 20:13
  • @justin - Go for it! // If that doesn't work out, please apply for a master's program rather than a doctoral degree program. Oct 17, 2015 at 3:55

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