I'm a senior in mathematics at the University of Illinois (Urbana). I will be graduating sometimes in 2017, and I would like to go to grad school straight after graduation.

How many credit hours of mathematics does an average successful student take before applying to graduate school?

  • 3
    This question is probably too specific to stay open, but let me add a little perspective on it. The number of credit hours is quite variable, but "several honors and graduate courses" sounds pretty good. Math schools will not care very much about your grades in other subjects. Really abysmal grades in other subjects might make you worry about someone's "soft skills" but a few B's shouldn't be a problem. I would guess that this transcript will get you about as far as coursework can. Dec 29, 2016 at 3:22
  • For many reasonable programs (ours at UVA included) this should be enough if there isn't something worrisome in your letters or test scores. Whether you can get into a really top program will probably depend a lot more on your letters and other "extras" like research, rather than the details of your coursework. Dec 29, 2016 at 3:24
  • 1
    I hesitate to ask the obvious (I suppose I will nonetheless), but the University of Illinois has a fairly large graduate program, and if you took several graduate classes then you probably know several of the graduate students, not to mention those you would have otherwise already met at various departmental functions, the mathematics reading room (if there is one), the departmental library (if there is one), etc. This was certainly the case for me when I was an undergraduate, at a university with a smaller graduate program than Illinois. Dec 29, 2016 at 15:41
  • And I hope you realize that the deadlines for grad school apps are right now, or in some cases already past... Dec 29, 2016 at 23:55
  • 2
    This would be a fantastic question for Rick Laugesen, the director of graduate programs in your department. Nice guy.
    – JeffE
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:29

2 Answers 2


This tends to vary a lot, but here's what I'd consider reasonably good preparation for pure math graduate school in the United States:

  • Three semesters of calculus (possibly less if you've had calculus in high school)

  • A semester of linear algebra

  • Two semesters of abstract algebra

  • Two semesters of real analysis

  • One semester of complex analysis

  • One semester of topology

  • At least 2-3 more semesters of advanced electives. These can vary a lot, but it helps to have some expertise in a few different subfields of math before attending graduate school.

So it seems that I'm recommending at least 12-13 semesters of mathematics. Assuming 4 credit hours for a one semester course, this is 48-52 credit hours of college mathematics.


I can't say what the average is, but I'll provide some suggestions that should enable you to answer what I think is your underlying question:

How can I figure out how many more I should take?

Pick a couple of programs you're interested in applying to. Read the program of studies carefully, then check the courses you would be signing up for in your first year, to see what the prerequisites are. This will guide you in your course selection, and give you a fair view of how well prepared you are. Make sure to look at the textbooks used, to gauge the level of difficulty.

Something to keep in mind: if you can get a TAship, unless you have a fantastic scholarship for your undergrad, it would be financially advantageous to make the move to grad school earlier rather than later. (If you aren't accepted on the first try, you can always try again when you have more feathers in your cap.)

  • Answer is off topic. Mar 3, 2017 at 5:10
  • 3
    -1: This may be a good answer for physics, but I don't think it's a good answer for math. In physics, undergraduate students take most of the same courses in more or less the same order. In math, you need abstract algebra and real analysis to get into graduate school, but many graduate schools typically only accept students who have taken some more advanced courses. However, they won't have taken the same advanced courses, so the prerequisites for first-year graduate courses are basically real analysis and abstract algebra. Mar 4, 2017 at 17:04
  • 3
    Looking at UC Berkeley (an excellent math graduate school), the intro graduate courses only have prerequisites of one year of real analysis, one year of abstract algebra, and one semester of complex analysis. I suspect most entering UCB math grad students have had much more mathematics than that. Mar 4, 2017 at 17:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .