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I am a little curious as to how mathematics graduate programs in the United States view subject GRE scores. Does a low score in the range of 60th percentile rule one out of top 20 programs?

I am quite slow and I probably got 35-38 (attempted 38) out of 66 questions right in the subject test which will probably put me somewhere between 55th and 65th percentile. As an international student, I have no idea how terrible such a score is and I am considering stopping the application process to US universities since I doubt if I stand a chance.

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Does a low score in the range of 60th percentile rule one out of top 20 programs?

I am already confused by "a low score in the range of the 60th percentile." A score in the 60th percentile is, by definition, high rather than low. A math PhD student should know that. :)

In terms of whether that score would "rule you out": again, every program and even every member of every admissions committee has to decide how to weigh the various factors. But that is why you apply to more than one program. I think that if your application is otherwise magnificent, you are a very likely admit at several top 20 programs.

As an international student, I have no idea how terrible such a score is and I am considering stopping the application process to US universities since I doubt if I stand a chance.

Yes, you stand a chance, so please don't stop your application for this reason. The smart thing to do is to divide the programs of interest to you into tiers and apply to a few schools in each tier. For instance, my program (at UGA) is about the 50th best in the US, and for us a 60th percentile score would in all likelihood not hurt your application at all. So it would be smart to apply to some schools in the UGA tier. (Perhaps even UGA itself...)

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    Relatively speaking, 60th percentile is low. "Low" is not defined as "lower than average." It's low for someone aspiring to get a PhD. – Matt Samuel Oct 30 '16 at 23:01
  • Also, a top 20 school has a miniscule acceptance rate. It's true that the math GRE matters little, but to get in you otherwise have to be truly stellar. Best at your school, depending on the school. – Matt Samuel Oct 30 '16 at 23:03
  • @Matt: "Relatively speaking, 60th percentile is low." No, I disagree: the students who take the math subject exam are virtually all aspiring to get a PHD. Conversely, not all students who want to get a PhD in math in the US take the math subject exam: PhD programs below a certain level do not require it. So getting a 60th percentile really does indicate an above average performance among the OP's cohort: i.e., PhD seekers. – Pete L. Clark Oct 30 '16 at 23:46
  • "Also, a top 20 school has a miniscule acceptance rate." They are certainly competitive, but I think you may be overstating things a bit: a top 20 department will routinely send several students per year to other top 20 departments. In my department (about number 50) it is often the case that more than one student per year is admitted to a top 20 department. Your description sounds more accurate for the top five departments than the top 20. – Pete L. Clark Oct 30 '16 at 23:52
  • @PeteL.Clark, while I understand a 60th percentile will mean I have a better score than most test-takers, I was asking if 60 is a red-flag for a graduate admission committee at top 20 US institutions. (In addition, my GPA isn't stellar but I think my letter writers are experts in their fields who were happy with my during my summer internship.) – user340001 Oct 31 '16 at 12:43
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I didn't do well on the math GRE. That may have been a factor in a rejection I received from a math department.

However, I was accepted by a very good comp sci department. In my statement of purpose I indicated a strong interest in the mathematical side of things. I was able to do a lot of math in my CS coursework.

So, that might be an option for you too. Also, don't forget about the option of taking courses as a non-matriculated student.

I don't remember what specific number I got. Maybe your result is fine, viewed in the context of the whole student. (Which hopefully is the approach the departments you applied to will take.)

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