Applying to Graduate School in the Mathematical Sciences

Applying to graduate school in the mathematical sciences is much like applying to college, only you don't need to apply for financial aid since almost all graduate programs admit students with full support (tuition and a modest stipend) in the form of a teaching assistantship or research assistantship. The steps in the process, with suggested months to initiate them, are enumerated below:

In September, register to take the GRE General Test and the Mathematics Subject Test.

In October, find graduate programs well matched to your talents and interests.

In November, ask 3-4 professors for letters of recommendation and apply for fellowships.

In December/January, send applications to 5-7 graduate programs including a safe school.

In March, visit your two favorites of the graduate programs that offer you admission.


General Test: The GRE General Test plays a similar but less important role in graduate admissions than the SAT I plays in undergraduate admissions. Information about the test is available online at

Subject Test: The test that matters at many graduate programs is the Subject Test in Mathematics. Information about this GRE Subject Test is available online at You must register by September 4 to take the Subject Test on October 10, and by October 2 to take the Subject Test on November 7. Calculus is 50% of the test, algebra is 25%, and other topics (real analysis, discrete math, general topology, geometry, complex variables, probability and statistics, and numerical analysis) are 25%. Try the practice test!


Relative Rankings of Programs: The last time that the National Research Council and National Academy of Science ranked graduate programs was in 1993, so the NRC/NAS math rankings of graduate programs in mathematics is overdue for an update. The NRC/NAS stat rankings of graduate programs in statistics also date from 1993. (The 93Q ranking is in order of "scholarly quality of program faculty", and the 93E ranking is in order of "program effectiveness in educating research scholars and scientists".) A less reliable ranking is published annually by U.S. News and World Report in the print and online editions of Best Graduate Schools. Ask Lynne if you wish to borrow a print copy of the 2003 edition. The more highly ranked programs generally have more selective admissions, and their graduates tend to get better job offers. However, if you know the area of mathematics research that most interests you, it is better to attend a graduate program that is strong in that area rather than a more highly ranked program that is weak in that area. The quality of your work in graduate school matters most!

Strengths of Individual Programs: The American Mathematical Society surveys graduate programs in the mathematical sciences annually. The number of graduate students, the number of faculty, the number of degrees awarded broken down by research area, and the number of faculty who have published in the last three years are some of the statistics published annually in Assistantships and Graduate Fellowships in the Mathematical Sciences. If you want to know which graduate programs have a high level of activity in your areas of interest or which graduate programs have a high Ph.D. completion rate, this publication is the place to start. But ultimately, you will want to write to about a dozen programs to request detailed information that is current. Links to the web sites of all U.S. mathematics departments are listed alphabetically on a page at Penn State recommended by Curtis.


Teaching and Research Assistantships: When admitted to a Ph.D. program in the mathematical sciences, prospective graduate students are offered a teaching or research assistantship. The quality and quantity of teaching assisgnments varies considerably from institution to institution. A good program's faculty will closely mentor all teaching assistants and limit the number of hours per week they are expected to devote to teaching duties. Support in the form of a teaching or research assistantship should be guaranteed for at least four years.

National Fellowships: Fellowships offered by government organizations for graduate study in the mathematical sciences include National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, and National Physical Sciences Consortium Graduate Fellowships. The application deadline for NSF graduate fellowships is in early November; the application deadline for NDSEG graduate fellowships is in early January; and the application deadline for NPSC graduate fellowships is November 5 annually.

Return to the home page of the Department of Mathematics at Haverford College.

This page was created by It was first posted 9/19/02 and most recently updated 6/22/09.