Q&A

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?

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.) Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and have the scores reported to the schools where you're applying. Almost all programs will require the GRE General Examination (Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytic parts); some will ask you to take the Subject Test in mathematics. You should take it no later than December for enrollment the following Fall. 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, and GRE scores) before Christmas 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 are usually included.

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 strong mathematical talent and the personal qualities needed for success in a demanding field - qualities such as commitment, willingness to work, 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. Finally, GRE scores allow some comparison of applicants from different colleges.

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. The 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 5637  [Professor Peter Hislop, Director of Graduate Studies]
    800 357 1113 [Director of Graduate Studies]
    859 257 4078 [FAX]
    DGSMath@uky.edu

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. 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.
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