I am a junior majoring in math and I am thinking about doing PhD in pure math, but my transcript got low grades (two Cs) from the two CS courses in hardware systems and programming languages.

How much will these two courses affect my application chances? My general GPA at this point is 3.5, while my math GPA is 3.8. Also, I have research experience with letters of recommendation from my professors.

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    Some would say real men don't eat quiche -- and pure mathematicians don't write computer programs. This won't be a problem (other than the slight effect on the gpa). Plus, look at the specific CS classes you took! Not theory of computing, not numerical analysis, not integer programming -- you took hardware systems and programming languages! What would be farther from pure math? Only databases -- maybe. Dec 19, 2016 at 6:40
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    @aparente001 Some would be wrong. In my experience, the only difference between a mathematician and a theoretical computer scientist is that one of them writes code, and the other calls himself a computer scientist.
    – JeffE
    Dec 19, 2016 at 13:41
  • @JeffE - Good one! // But do you agree, OP need not panic about these particular C's? Dec 20, 2016 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


Other than lowering your GPA, I don't think these two grades will matter much in a pure math PhD application. After all, many pure math applicants take no CS courses at all, so it is certainly not the case that admissions committees are systematically screening for CS skill. Moreover, not everyone in pure math values programming ability, skill or experience (not as much as we should, probably) and those who do are probably math-centric enough to believe that an applicant who is mathematically strong could become a good programmer if they put their mind to it.

Anyway, what's done is done. I wouldn't worry much about it, and in particular I would not feel the need to try to spin / justify these grades in your personal statement.

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    If I were on the admissions committee, I wouldn't look twice at the hardware grade, but I would see if the programming languages grade was related to B grades in some math courses or weaknesses hinted at in letters. Programming languages is a more mathematical subject than many people (including computer scientists) realize. If you can't twist your mind to think about programming from different points of view, this indicates you may have trouble twisting your mind to think about mathematical topics from different points of view. Dec 19, 2016 at 14:20

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