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Everything You Wanted to Know about Graduate Study in Mathematics
Questions and Answers for those who are Considering Graduate School


Q. Why go to graduate school in mathematics?


  • To learn more mathematics.
  • To get a better job.
  • "I think I'd like to teach math."
  • "I don't know what to do, so I think I'll try grad school."
  • "My parent/advisor/teacher/friend thinks I ought to."

None of these is necessarily a bad reason (though you want to be careful about the last one). One all-purpose piece of advice is "Don't go to graduate school in mathematics unless you really like mathematics."

Q. What courses should I take to get ready for graduate school?

  • Advanced Calculus/Introduction to Analysis. A theory course in limits, continuity, and "epsilon-delta" proofs.
  • Matrices and Linear Algebra.
  • Courses that stress construction of proofs by the student (Analysis/Abstract Algebra/Topology).
  • Independent reading or undergraduate research courses or projects.

Q. Do I have to have an undergraduate major in mathematics?

  • No, not if you've taken the key courses (described above) and have good grades. Many mathematicians have undergraduate degrees in areas of science or engineering.

Q. How do I get information about graduate study?

  • Ask your advisor and your mathematics teachers about where to apply. They can usually suggest half-a-dozen programs that are appropriate to your interests and level of preparation.
  • Visit the departmental websites of programs you are interested in. You can find information about the application process, admissions requirements, research interests of the faculty, and more.
  • Visit the American Mathematical Society's very helpful website on Graduate Programs in the Mathematical Sciences
  • Consult Peterson's Graduate Programs in the Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Agricultural Sciences, Environment & Natural Resources which appears annually in December. Copies are usually found in college libraries, career placement centers, and bookstores.
  • Attend a Graduate School Fair at conferences hosted by the American Mathematical Society or the Mathematical Association of America or other organizations in mathematics.

Q. How do I apply to graduate school?

  • There are several things you need to do: 1.) Complete some forms, obtained from the program (usually, one for admission and another for financial aid). Many programs, including ours, have a fully online application process. 2.) Many programs (but not the University of Kentucky program!) require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General exam and have the scores reported to the schools where you're applying. Some programs will ask you to take the GRE Subject Test in mathematics. 3.) Get three letters of recommendation, preferably from teachers of your advanced mathematics courses. 4.) Have transcripts of all previous university courses sent to the university.

Q. When should I apply?

  • Ideally, you'd like to make requests of others (for letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc) before winter vacation and have completed your application forms by January 1. Formal deadlines vary by department; only a few have cut-off dates earlier than January 15.

Q. How do I pay for graduate school?

  • In many cases, you don't pay - they pay you! Most mathematics graduate students are supported as Teaching Assistants (TA's), Fellowship holders, or as Research Assistants (RA's). Of these supported students, the overwhelming majority are TA's. Fellowships (which have no assigned duties) are usually held by the most outstanding students. RA's are ordinarily advanced students; the money usually comes from research grants awarded to their major professor. All these awards are competitive; not every applicant gets one.

Q. How much money will I get?

  • Enough to live on - frugally. TA's also have the opportunity to earn additional pay in the summer. Tuition scholarships and a graduate student health insurance plan are usually included as well.

Q. What duties do TA's have?

  • Beginners usually assist a faculty member who is lecturing to a large freshman class. Ordinarily, TA's conduct three or four discussion sections per week, provide assistance to students as needed, and perhaps grade homework or examinations. A few TA's will receive assignments as graders.
  • Later, TA's have more responsiblity. They may teach their own classes and will have opportunities for greater responsibility as they gain experience. 

Q. How does a graduate program choose me?

  • Graduate programs in mathematics want students with a solid background in mathematics and the personal qualities needed for success in a demanding field - qualities such as commitment, willingness to work, and intellectual curiosity. Letters of recommendation, from those who have taught the student advanced mathematics, are very important indicators of probable success. This is because these teachers can compare the applicant with other students who have gone on to graduate study. Grades are important - especially grades in advanced math courses. Extracurricular experiences related to mathematics research or leadership are also viewed positively, for example working in a tutoring center, being an office of a student math club, participating in summer research experiences, participating in study abroad experiences, etc.

Q. Once I have narrowed my choices, how do I decide where to go?

  • Visit the school, sit in on some classes, talk to the faculty, and, most important, talk privately to several graduate students. Some of the things you'd like to know:
    • Are the faculty really interested in students and committed to their success?
    • Do students like the department?
    • What jobs do their graduates get?
    • How much student/faculty and student/student mathematical contact is there?

Q. What does UK offer?

  • The University of Kentucky offers Master's and Ph.D degrees in mathematics. Our program emphasizes frequent informal mathematical contact between students and faculty.
  • Lexington is a city of over 300,000 located in the center of a region which is world-famous for its thoroughbred horse farms and natural beauty, and supports a vibrant cultural life.
  • Visit our Graduate Program Introduction page to learn more.
  • If you will be in Lexington, please feel free to visit the department and learn about our program. Contact the Director of Graduate Studies to arrange an appointment.

    Director of Graduate Studies
    Department of Mathematics
    715 Patterson Office Tower
    Lexington, KY 40506-0027
    859 257 6810  [Professor Ben Braun Director of Graduate Studies]
    859 257 4078 [FAX]

Q. I have a full-time job. Do you admit part-time students?

  • We welcome those with a full-time job to enroll as a part-time student, but to pursue a PhD degree, one should be prepared to devote to full-time studies at some point. This is typically most important during the first year of study. If you would like to know more about the part-time status, here is a write-up of a former part-time student that may be helpful.

Q. I'm interested in applying to the graduate programs at UK, what do I need to do next?

  • Go to Application Check List Page and submit the application to the Graduate School. Submit all documents required.