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Background

I was ignorant as an undergraduate and didn't focus heavily in any specific area. I finally graduated with a single math/computer science degree that consisted of 5 math classes beyond multivariable calculus and a few relatively basic computer science classes (algorithm analysis, SQL database design, etc.). My only research experience is in economics.

Now, I work at a research institution in economics where I primarily write Stata/MATLAB code.

Question

I'd like to get more mathematics under my belt over the next few years in order to either enroll in a PhD program in economics/finance or a M.S. program in finance. What are my options for getting more math experience that I can use in graduate school admissions?

Options

These are the options I thought of so far, but I would like to know more if possible.

  1. Study enough courses through a system like Open CourseWare to gain enough experience to enroll in more advanced undergraduate classes part time, which my employer might pay for, and then ideally move into an M.S. program in applied math.

  2. Return to my alma mater for a M.S. degree in math that would at least give me a basis to either move into another math graduate program with higher rankings or a lower-ranked graduate program in the fields of my choice.

  3. Join the Air Force and hopefully take advantage of the GI bill to take more courses somewhere and gain entrance into an M.S. program in applied math.

  4. (Sadly) Forgo advanced mathematics and find a consulting job, which although unpleasant in the field of economics (in my opinion), wouldn't be difficult to obtain given my research background in the field.

Do I have any other options? I also plan to take the GRE subject test in mathematics to prove that I have at least minimal knowledge, regardless of what course I pursue (since many graduate programs will require it).

  • Just to clarify... It appears that you are in the US. Yes? – MikeP Aug 16 '16 at 15:30
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It sounds like your best bet would be to contact the graduate officers at the economics and finance programs you're interested in attending, and ask them what their minimum entrance requirements are. It's a much more efficient route than just deciding to take more math courses, and spending significant time, energy, and money on a quixotic goal.

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    Based on the experience of people at my current institution, I fall below the minimum mathematics requirements for entrance. I may be able to qualify for an MSF program, although I'm not sure, so contacting graduate officers might be a good idea. I wasn't aware that many graduate admissions personnel were open to that (since the websites often speak to the contrary). – John Bensin Feb 16 '13 at 4:09
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    Part of the job of the admissions personnel in a department is to field questions like yours. A few minutes' investment could bring them a very good candidate or help them rule out someone who won't really be competitive. On the other hand, if they can't be bothered to answer any questions before you apply, what do you think they'll be like afterward? – aeismail Feb 16 '13 at 10:50
  • To clarify for future folks, I doubt that economics departments will have stated minimum entrance requirements, beyond perhaps calculus, but asking them what successful applicants typically have may be helpful. (Economics and finance are about more than just math, and I've been told faculty like to have the option of enrolling "interesting" promising candidates who may not have extensive math preparation but have demonstrated skill there.) – cactus_pardner Mar 3 '18 at 0:15
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There are several schools that offer a post-baccalaureate or "postbac" program in mathematics. These are typically one-year programs intended for students in precisely your situation: interested in pursuing graduate study, but lacking sufficient preparation from their undergraduate degrees.

Here are the top few I saw when googling "math postbac":

  • Unfortunately, in my city, no such programs in math exist at the major universities, and I don't have the funds to move elsewhere at the moment (since my research institution will pay for my graduate courses if I stay here). – John Bensin Feb 18 '13 at 19:06
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    @JohnBensin: I see. Do note that financial aid is generally available for these programs. Also, don't just look at major universities; many of these programs are specialties of smaller institutions. – Nate Eldredge Feb 18 '13 at 19:11
  • You likely don't need a 'postbac' program. You likely can just take the pre-requisite courses as a non-degree student. Most 4-year public (and some private) colleges/universities with a Math major should be able to accommodate you. – MikeP Aug 16 '16 at 15:39
  • @MikeP: That's true, but the postbac is usually designed to meet the needs of this specific audience and give you everything you need in a short time. Taking classes a la carte, you might spend more time working through chains of prerequisites, classes scheduled on top of each other, etc. Also, many postbac programs include research experiences, mentoring, and other services valuable for those bound for grad school. – Nate Eldredge Aug 16 '16 at 16:47
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You could enter a mathematical finance masters or a financial engineering masters. There are also math masters designed for non-math majors, but I would find it hard to enter a straight math masters without a math major.

  • Until the moment I read your post, I was absolutely not aware that there was any attempt in the whole world to offer "math masters degrees" to anyone who did not have (some equivalent form of) an undergrad degree (thinking about the U.S. here) in mathematics. It's not that mathematics is "so special", morally (!?!), but that the live issues are not widely visible, nor appreciated, etc. For that matter, maybe a person wants a different thing, and not a math masters... depending. – paul garrett Aug 12 '16 at 22:40
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Perhaps you could study for the Math subject GRE and use that to support your admission.

I believe admission into Math Masters programs should be quite possible even for someone without a math major undergraduate background. PhD is possible too but harder.

Math masters (self-funded) usually have lower entry requirements than PhD. So you may want to look in that direction first. Possible route is self-funded Masters --> funded PhD.

Also see Math Major and Grad School -- Necessary? which is related to your question.

  • I have to take issue with the idea of studying for the math subject test GRE as a short-cut: it's crazy enough as it is, and only becomes less ridiculous if doing well on it is viewed as a side effect of a few years' prior preparation in broader mathematics... – paul garrett Aug 13 '16 at 23:21
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In my experience...
I needed a few business classes before I'd qualify to apply for the MBA. So, I simply took a few business classes, after my BS. Then, I had all of the undergrad requirements for the MBA program.

Figure out which advanced degree you want, find out the pre-requisites, and you should be able to take them, either at your undergrad college, where you want to go to grad school, or even somewhere else, or online.

  • Unfortunately, the possibility of this approach is simply unlikely in many geographical regions. Math grad school, though possibly less remunerative money-wise than "business school", requires (at the least) some advanced course-work which is definitely not typically available from community colleges, or even universally at four-year colleges. And, unfortunately, the on-line pretenses toward such courses are almost entirely misleading and worthless. And, besides, one needs letters of recommendation, which will not be forthcoming from many of these improvised approaches. – paul garrett Aug 12 '16 at 22:37

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