Contact Us
Department of Mathematics
Bryn Mawr College
Park Science Building

101 North Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899

Phone: 610-526-5348
FAX: 610-526-6575

General Advice on Applying to Graduate School

Congratulations on your plans to obtain a graduate degree in mathematics!  We realize that the process of applying to graduate school is exciting but can be overwhelming at times.  Below are some frequently asked questions as students undertake the application process, and some responses that members of our department have given while we are advising students.  Hope you find this helpful!  

How do I choose which schools to apply to?

 There are lots of different ways to choose a graduate school.  Your interests,  the location of the school, and the atmosphere of the program are all good criteria to start and then narrow a list.

If you have a firm idea of the area of math (such as “topology” or “algebra”) that you want to pursue, a good idea might be to talk to a professor who has taught you this subject and ask for recommendations.   A number of schools have graduate programs that specialize in certain areas; some schools have one or two professors that are well known in a particular area.  At the graduate level, who advises your Ph.D. research is often much more important than where you went to school. 

It is quite common for students to not know what area of math they want to pursue. If you fall in this category, don’t worry!  Instead, you may want to focus on the location of the school or on the size of the program.  Some students choose to live in a part of the country they have always wanted to explore, while others want to stay close to their family; some students want a large program to have opportunities for exposure to lots of different areas, while others want a smaller program so they can receive more individualized attention.  These are good ways to start a list.  Ask around and do some web surfing to find some programs that appeal to you. 

About Bryn Mawr’s program:  Bryn Mawr’s graduate program is unique since it offers university-quality research training that lead to M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the supportive environment of a liberal arts college. We offer well-rounded training in pure mathematics (Algebra, Analysis, Topology) and our faculty members are active experts in their fields.  Our faculty and students place serious attention on teaching as well as research.  Bryn Mawr is located in a beautiful western suburb of Philadelphia.  We are about 20 minutes via train from center city Philadelphia.  Philadelphia is renowned for its music, museums, and sports.   

How many schools should I apply to?

We often urge students to apply to between 6 and 9 graduate schools.  Once you start to get a list of potential schools, talk with your current or former professors to get a sense of which schools you are “safe bets” for acceptance, which might be “good matches”, and which might be “long shots”.  Sometimes schools will list criteria they look for in candidates.  The fewer schools you apply to, the more effort you can put into you applications.  But don’t get your heart set on one school.  Sometimes budget considerations enter and a program will enroll many fewer students than it normally does.  Sometimes certain advisors in a program are at their capacity and they will only be looking for students with focused interests in particular areas.   

The cost of applying to graduate school can also be a determining factor.   There is a cost for the GRE exams, official transcripts, and there is usually an application fee.   

At Bryn Mawr, your ability to pay should never be a barrier to the application process.  Requests for application fee waivers due to financial hardship can be made by writing to Bryn Mawr’s Graduate Dean of Arts and Sciences,

How can I afford graduate school?

Most students in a PhD program have their tuition covered and are supported through assistantships and research fellowships.  Students are not rich, but usually have enough to cover food, housing, and simple entertainment.  Each year, the AMS compiles a directory of Assistantships and Graduate Fellowships

This is a good place to get a quick overview of aid offered.

Bryn Mawr’s Financial Aid:  Information on our teaching assistant and research fellowship opportunities can be found at LINK.

What is usually required in an application?

An application usually includes,

  • letters or recommendation;
  • personal statement;
  • GRE test scores;
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (when native language is not English);
  • transcript.   

Different schools will put different weights on these portions of the applications. 

Get letter writers who know your mathematics abilities well.  Your current or former mathematics professors usually write some if not all of the letters.  If you have done a summer research program or undertaken a thesis or independent research project, it is great to have someone who oversaw your activities write a letter.  Be sure to follow up with your letter writers to make sure your letters have been submitted.  Many schools will not consider your application until all letters have been received.

The personal statement is a way to convince faculty members on the admissions committee that you are interested and deeply motivated to pursue graduate level mathematics and interested in pursuing mathematics at their institution.

Usually schools will require the GRE general test, many require the math GRE subject test.  See Do I need to take the GREs?  below for more information about the GREs.

Usually you will also have to submit an official transcript.  Since it is often hard to wade through a transcript, schools will often request a separate list of the mathematics courses you have taken and a list of the texts used.  This often helps members of the admissions gauge the level of the course.  

About Bryn Mawr’s Application:

At Bryn Mawr, your application will include:

  • an application form (available at
  • At least 3 letters of recommendation;
  • A personal statement;
  • Official general GRE test scores;
  • Official scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) if your native language is not English;
  • Official transcripts of all work done in other academic institutions;
  • A list of mathematics courses taken previously at the college level and above with course titles, and textbook names and authors.

Do I need to take the GREs?

You should plan to take both the general and math subject GRE tests.  Some schools will not put much weight on the general test but will use the subject test as a first cut of applicants.  Other schools do not require the Math Subject test but will examine the general test. 

The general test is given quite frequently;

Many sample problems and study books are available for this test.

The math subject test is only given 3 times a year (in April, October, and November).  If you are interested in schools that do put a great deal of weight on the Math Subject test, it is a good idea to take the test in April of your junior year.  This allows a retake in the Fall to improve the score. 

Bryn Mawr’s Policy: We do not require the GRE Math Subject test since we do not find a good correlation between these scores and a student’s abilities.  We do require the GRE general test. 

How do I find a department where I’ll be happy? 

Sometimes you can get a set of the atmosphere of a department from the web page.  If you have found some schools and are trying to narrow your list, it is a good idea to contact some of the graduate students to get an “insider’s perspective” on the school.  Usually the e-mail addresses of current students are listed on a web page.  Most current students would be happy to help answer a few questions of a prospective student.  Some good things to ask include:

Do many students leave without completing a degree?

How much time each week is required for teaching assignment duties?

Are students happy in the program?

Where to graduate students live?

How do you find the classes?  The preliminary exam structure?

Do students get jobs when they finish their degree?

Bryn Mawr’s Atmosphere:  We have posted some Q & A’s with Bryn Mawr’s current graduate students.    Feel free to contact our students to get additional information. 

Should I plan to visit schools?

 Most schools do not have travel funds for prospective students, but often there are funds for students who have been admitted.  Some schools have Open House dates for students who have been accepted.  

Visiting Bryn Mawr:  We encourage you to visit Bryn Mawr.  We usually do not have travel funds for prospective students, but if you are within an easy commute of Philadelphia or plan to be in the Philadelphia region, we encourage you to visit Bryn Mawr.