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I am currently a traditional sophomore math major at a large university in the southern USA. I'm interested in attending graduate school once I graduate, but my university has a weak math program, and I am afraid it will severely effect me in the future.

For example, the department only routinely offers the most basic undergraduate courses, such as a two semester sequence of real analysis, one complex analysis class, basic topology, and algebra. Starting my junior year, I will be running out of math classes to take, and it will be hard to construct a schedule that makes me a full time student. By my senior year, directed studies will be my only option for classes.

Some solutions I've thought of

  • Apply to math summer programs and other enrichment programs like REUs
  • Transfer to a different school
  • Get a relevant minor or double major

The problem with transferring is that my upper division math classes are not transferable to other schools in the state. I would have to retake every math class I've taken other than calculus, and it would take me at least 3 additional years at another school.

The only constructive advice I've received from faculty at my school is to graduate in three years. I do not like the idea of graduating early because I've simply exhausted the departments offerings. I also do not think a PhD admission committee would look favorably upon that.

What other courses of action should I look into?

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    Unfortunately, this is a situation where financial constraints matter. Could you give some indication of what you can afford? – Alexander Woo Dec 20 '15 at 21:29
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    Do you have some idea why your upper division math classes are not transferable? From the outside, I would be concerned that the reason is that the courses are weak and cover less material or operate at a lower level, so they are not truly equivalent. If that's the case, then they might not even prepare you adequately for a relatively low-ranked Master's program. If the reason is turf protection or a desire to suck more tuition money out of you, that's unfortunate but suggests different responses. – Alexander Woo Dec 20 '15 at 23:44
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    Transferring to UGA or Ga Tech would allow you tons of course selection and you would still be in state. I went to one of these for undergraduate math (UGA) and did fine. – T K Dec 21 '15 at 4:16
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    Wouldn't it be nice if there were something like a 3-2 program, such as one often finds in engineering, where a student does the basic courses in the home institution and then takes the more specialized courses in a partner institution? But if there is no partnership of this sort already set up, I think it would be tough to create one in time for your studies. I understand your reluctance to transfer, given that you might lose some of your credits in the transfer; but the longer you postpone transferring, the worse... – aparente001 Dec 22 '15 at 6:51
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    @Lsonic If you're seriously looking at GT (or UGA), talk to the undergraduate director there. A lot of times, there are supposed rules on the books which are actually easily bent, or even totally ignored. It's hard to know from the website which rules are really enforced and which are not. It might be you're worried about something which can easily be waived. – Ben Webster Dec 27 '15 at 2:10
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It sounds like you have a good start on the most important thing: take advantage of every opportunity at your current program and excel at all of them. Even from a weak undergraduate program, if you can come out with multiple letters saying that you are the strongest student they've seen in X years and have the credentials to back that up, you'll have a good chance at solid graduate programs.

Your situation means that standardized tests are also even more important. Math is nice because there actually exists a test (math subject GRE) that most schools put significant weight on, so make sure to take it very seriously. Doing well on the math GRE takes away a lot of the uncertainty that admissions committees will have about your application due to the institution.

Assuming that you don't transfer, some other options:

  • Get to know faculty and spend that extra time doing research. Proven research experience can make up for a lot of coursework, and you'll hopefully get a much stronger recommendation letter as well. This is important to do no matter what kind of institution you're at, but is probably extra important at weaker programs where your application can't rely on reputation and coursework.
  • Consider graduating early and getting a Master's degree at a strong program. This isn't always financially feasible, but if it is then it's an option to strengthen your coursework and resume. Availability of strong master's programs can depend on the field, but it's worth looking into.
  • Graduate early and get a job doing research. Again, availability may depend on field (I hear that these aren't common in math), but if you can get the right job it can be a great boon to a resume and help generate another good recommendation. Bonus points if you can find a job near a good university and take a couple classes on the side.
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Even if you can't transfer credit for your upper level courses, you almost certainly wouldn't need to retake them. Instead you could take different upper level courses until you have enough upper level courses to graduate. Typically prerequisites are at the discretion of the professor teaching the course, and mathematicians are typically quite flexible about them.

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"The problem with transferring is that my upper division math classes are not transferable to other schools in the state." Actually, this is often at the discretion of the new university's chair of undergraduate studies. If you ask for the classes to transfer and provide evidence of what you learned, such as copies of your exams, you may be granted credit.

Transferring to an institution with a history of successful placement in graduate programs would be a wise long term move. I cannot provide advice about the financial aid you might receive inside or outside Georgia without more information. Try it and you might get sufficient aid.

Graduating early is also good because it will allow you to finish school earlier and get the job you want. I think admissions committees would look favourably on early graduation because it shows discipline and organization. However, you should arrange to have evidence (such as subject GRE scores and letters of recommendation) that you have learned enough to be successful in the graduate program.

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