Graduate School: Considering & Choosing

Are you considering a mathematics graduate program? Explore these frequently asked questions and useful resources.

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Did you know that the median annual salary of mathematical scientists in May 2018 was \$86,700, with 10% earning more than $145,790?

MobiusWhat is graduate school?

Graduate school is an advanced program of study, where you can earn a specialized degree in a variety of mathematical sciences disciplines, including theoretical and applied mathematics, statistics, data science, and computer science.

These disciplines are sometimes in the same academic department, sometimes in separate departments. With a graduate degree, you will develop deeper expertise which will qualify you for a variety of careers, including jobs in business, government, research, non-profit institutions, and teaching.

We have lots of information and tools to help you choose a program that's a great fit for you.

What kinds of jobs does a graduate degree lead to?

A graduate degree in mathematics can lead you to a variety of interesting careers, including jobs in business, government, research, non-profit institutions, and teaching.

Some students apply to graduate school because they like math and want to learn more, or even because they aren't ready to look for a job or don't know what else they want to do.

Regardless of why you apply, we have lots of information and tools to help you choose a program that's a great fit for you:

AMS Employment Services | What do Mathematicians Do? | BIG Careers: Jobs in Business, Industry, and Government

American Statistical Association | Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM)

Data Science Association | Mathematical Association of America

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

Bureau of Labor Statistics | "You can do anything with a math degree"

Mathematical Moments | BIG Math Network

101 Careers in Mathematics

Which area of math is right for you?

Good news: You don't need to choose your focus before you choose a path.

Master's? PhD?

Some master's degrees prepare you to enter a PhD program, while others are professional degrees, which prepare you to enter a specific career outside of research, such as teaching. Some are a combination of both.

Some students enter doctoral programs as soon as they finish a bachelor's degree, while others get a master's first. A master's degree usually requires 2 years of full-time coursework, and sometimes a research-based thesis or other capstone project. With a master's you can still continue on to more advanced study.

Doctoral degrees usually prepare you for mathematics research in academic, government, or business institutions. They can also give you the background needed to work with complex mathematical applications in any of these settings. A PhD typically requires 2-3 years of coursework, exams, and independent research to create new knowledge, guided by your advisor. This research, written as your PhD thesis, is called your dissertation. Your PhD degree may take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete.

Did you know that getting a PhD is usually free?!
Many doctoral students work as teaching or research assistants, which earns them full tuition and a stipend.

Paying for graduate school

Financial aid is available for graduate school, and many graduate students don't pay any tuition at all! Most graduate students finance their education through a combination of funding sources. Financial aid is available for graduate school, often in forms of grants or jobs. As a PhD student in the mathematical sciences, you will typically work as a teaching or research assistant, which pays a stipend and covers all or most of your tuition.

Assistantships are usually campus-affiliated work assignments (e.g. graduate teaching assistant or research associate) that provide you a stipend and often waive tuition and/or matriculation fees. Assistantships are a great way to gain professional experience and to network with other students and faculty.

Fellowships are typically granted to individuals to cover their living expenses and tuition while they carry out research or work on a project. Awards are usually based on an individual's merit as measured by grades, GRE scores, publications, and letters of recommendation.

Grants are most often awarded to cover expenses associated with carrying out research or other specific projects, such as travel, materials, or computers.

You can explore funding opportunities at these resource sites:


Once you have a general idea of where you want this journey to take you, do some research to identify the academic programs that are the best fit for you. A grad school that is highly specialized or has a strong reputation in an area you're interested in might be the best fit for you, but it might not be. Keep in mind that you are choosing where you will spend the next several years of your life, and you'll be most successful where you can thrive as both a student and as an individual.

Admission requirements

Is the GRE subject test required? What coursework do you need? What resources are available to students who need to fill some gaps in their background? If you don't meet all of the requirements, you can still apply. There might be something else in your application that makes you stand out. On the other hand, be realistic about whether you feel prepared for what the program will require of you.


Do they work on mathematical topics that interest you? Look at faculty websites to see the kinds of courses they teach and research they do. If you are not sure about your interests, then you may want to find a department that is larger and more varied, so that you have more options to explore.

Quality of the program

It's tempting to look at online graduate school rankings, but keep in mind that the rankings may be based on criteria that are different from yours. Many deans and advisors question the validity of some of the rankings. Look for information about the faculty:student ratio, the acceptance rate, average time to degree, and the percent of students who complete their intended degree. How big is the program, and how many students complete degrees each year? If you can't find that information online, you can ask the department's graduate director.

Did you know that in the 2018 midterm elections, 13 congressional representatives and one senator who were elected are STEM professionals, including 9 with graduate degrees? In all, 22 Representatives and 2 Senators have doctoral degrees, one in Mathematics!


Doctoral students often work as teaching assistants (TAs) or research assistants. As a TA, you might lead discussion sections, grade papers, or do other teaching-related work. In exchange, part or all of your tuition is waived and you receive a regular paycheck, called a stipend. There are also fellowships and scholarships you can apply for. What will you have to pay for tuition? Is health insurance included? How much do TAs earn, and for how many years would you be guaranteed a stipend?

Research training

How do students learn to do research? Do students gain experience making research presentations or writing research papers? How many graduate students attend conferences? Does the department provide funding for travel to conferences?

Did you know that summer and postbaccalaureate programs can help you prepare for graduate school if you're not quite ready? Check out the Math Alliance and the AMS Opportunities database.

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Student life

Investigate the diversity of students, student organizations, housing, and campus support services. Is childcare available and what does it cost? Is there a religious or cultural community on campus or in the broader community?

Program requirements

What are the requirements to get a degree? Ask about courses, qualifying exams, and any other requirements you need to meet. How many courses are offered in the areas that interest you? Will the courses help you meet your professional or educational goals?

Did you know that the job market for mathematical scientists is projected to grow 30% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations?


Where are graduates of the program working? Are they going into careers that fit with your goals? What resources are available to help you connect with jobs in academia, business, or government?


What is the quality of on-site facilities such as libraries and computer labs? What computer resources will you have access to?

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Do you want to be in a specific geographical region to be near (or far from) home? Will studying in a particular location help you meet personal or professional goals? Will you enjoy living in an urban or suburban environment?

Speaking of community…

What kind of student community is there? Do students work together or individually? Can you find a community of peers in the department, or elsewhere on campus? Is there an AMS Graduate Student Chapter?Students who feel like they are part of a community are more successful in graduate school.

Not quite ready?

If your interest is piqued but you're not sure you're ready for graduate school, consider strengthening your background by applying to a postbaccalaureate program. These programs allow students to fill in gaps in their coursework before applying to graduate school, typically through one year of coursework following the bachelor's degree. This is a partial list and others can be found through internet searching. Some students who want to earn a PhD start with a master's degree first.

Where you can find this information

A good starting point is Find a Graduate Program in Mathematical Sciences which provides brief data about many of the advanced degree-granting departments in the United States. Some graduate programs place display ads to better explain their programs to prospective students.

Also look at the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering from the National Science Foundation.

From there, look at the websites of any programs you are interested in. The websites for the university itself can have some helpful information on it as well.

Contact the department's Graduate Program Director (or someone with a similar title) by phone or email to ask more questions.

Talk with current students. Do they like the program? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Are they content with their choice of grad program? You might be able to find student contact info on the department website, or you can ask the Graduate Program Director for some students to connect with.

If you're able to visit the school, sit in on a few classes and attend some seminars. Spend some informal time with the grad students. How do the students interact with each other? How do students and faculty interact? Spend time exploring the department and get a feel for the people and the local professional culture.

The annual Grad School Fair at the Joint Mathematics Meetings gives meeting participants the opportunity to speak with representatives from 40-50 U.S. graduate programs.

Discussions of graduate student life - by and for graduate students - can be found on the AMS Grad Student Blog.

There is no such thing as the "best" graduate program. You are looking for the program that is best for you.

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