Frequently Asked Questions
...about the application process
** FALL 2020 UPDATE **
The Mathematics Department at the University of Pennsylvania will be accepting applications for the PhD program for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. However, because of adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will have a smaller incoming class than usual. The program will also accept Masters and MPhil applicants during the 2020-21 admissions cycle. The GRE/Subject GRE will not be required for the applications this year.
The program begins in late August. There are events during the week prior to the start of classes for which new graduate students need to arrive early. Those who need to meet the English language requirement may be asked to arrive earlier in the summer. Back to top.
Applicants do not need to have received a university degree prior to applying for our graduate program. But they should have received at least a bachelors degree by the time they would enter the program (a masters degree is not necessary in order to apply to our Ph.D. program). Ordinarily, the previous degree is in mathematics. But a student with a different degree (e.g. in physics or computer science) who has sufficient mathematical background can also apply. Back to top.
Ideally, applicants to our Mathematics Ph.D. program should know the material that is on the syllabus of our Preliminary Exam, by the time that they would enter our program. This is similar to the material that is tested on the Mathematics Subject Test of the GRE. Those who know this material well will be able to begin with our Ph.D. level classes. Those who do not have sufficient mastery of this material will begin with masters level classes. It is also beneficial to have some experience in mathematical research, e.g. at an REU program, or other exposure to mathematics outside of the classroom. Back to top.
First, prepare for graduate school by strengthening your mathematical background. Next, talk with professors at your current school to get advice about places to apply to. Those applying to Ph.D. programs in the United States typically apply to about nine places. Then, find out more about the places you are interested in, by learning about the areas of mathematics that they cover, the faculty in the areas you find most interesting, the typical time to degree, funding and teaching, and outcomes of former graduate students. You should also take any required exams, which require advanced registration. You will also need to prepare the other material that needs to be submitted with your applications. Advance preparation will help. Back to top.
What exams should I take in order to apply?
Like most US mathematics graduate programs, we require applicants to take the Mathematics Subject Test of the GRE, which is given only a few times per year and for which it is necessary to sign up in advance (by early September). The purpose of this exam is to give us an idea of the mathematical preparation of our applicants. It is helpful to have a high score, though applicants with lower scores will still be considered if the rest of their application is strong. Applicants who took this exam in an earlier year can submit that score. In cases where it is impossible to take the exam in time, and where we are told of the problem in advance, it may be possible to consider the application without that, but in this case it is especially important for the applicant's mathematical knowledge and background to be clear from the rest of the application. Most non-native English speakers should also take the TOEFL exam, as explained below, concerning the English language requirement. Back to top.
We want to know that applicants to our graduate program have sufficient ability in spoken English in order to participate fully in our program. For that reason, applicants are required to submit a TOEFL score (or alternatively, a score on the IELTS) if their native language is not English (Institution code is 2926 and Department code is 0703), unless their undergraduate studies were undertaken entirely in a country whose primary language is English. On the TOEFL, we look for total scores of at least 100, and scores of at least 20 on the spoken English portion. Those who enter our Ph.D. program are required to pass a test of spoken English prior to the beginning of their second year at Penn, as are masters students who wish to serve as teaching assistants, if their native language is not English. This latter requirement can be met either by getting a score of at least 27 on the speaking part of the TOEFL, or by passing a special test that is given at Penn prior to the start of each semester (in August, December, and April). Incoming Ph.D. students who can gain from preparation for this exam are invited to participate in a summer International TA program that begins in June prior to the start of their graduate program, and they receive a stipend for doing so. Back to top.
There are three graduate mathematics programs offered at the University of Pennsylvania: masters (A.M.), M.Phil. (masters of philosophy), and Ph.D. The Ph.D. program is an academic research-oriented program, in which students write a dissertation ("Ph.D. thesis") that involves original mathematical research (see faculty research areas). Many of our Ph.D. graduates afterwards take faculty positions in mathematics departments at other universities, while others have taken research positions in areas such as computer vision, medical imaging, genomics, and mathematical finance. The M.Phil. degree is a professional degree, preparing students to work in non-academic settings in areas such as those mentioned above. The masters degree can be either an academic degree (for those who plan to enter a Ph.D. program afterwards) or a professional degree (for those who plan to work in industry afterwards). Concerning costs and funding, Ph.D. students are exempt from paying tuition or fees, and receive generous financial support for five years, provided that they make good progress toward their degree. Masters and M.Phil. students are required to pay tuition and fees, but they receive a modest stipend if they serve as teaching assistants. In addition to these Mathematics graduate programs, Penn also offers masters and Ph.D. programs in Applied Mathematics and Computational Science (AMCS) and a Ph.D. program in Statistics. The right program for you depends on your interests and career goals. Back to top.
You will need to fill out the online application form, and submit Transcripts (which can be unofficial at this stage), a personal statement (describing your mathematical interests and experience, saying what you're looking for in graduate school, and possibly indicating professors with whom you might want to work and research projects that you are interested in), and a CV/resume. You will also need to arrange for at least three professors to submit letters of recommendation through the system. (The online system can accept up to five letters.) These should be professors who can comment meaningfully about your mathematical knowledge, interest, and abilities. Typically, these would be professors from whom you had an advanced mathematics course (with proofs), or who supervised a mathematical project or activity in which you were engaged. You will also submit exam scores through the online application system. Back to top.
Admissions decisions are made by the Mathematics Graduate Admissions Committee, and not by individual professors. Therefore, requests for admission should not be sent to individual members of the faculty, and instead should be submitted through our online system. Nevertheless, applicants may wish to contact specific professors with whom they may have a particular interest in working, in order to discuss the possibility of applying and in doing research in their area (but should not send mass emails to professors). In addition, if there are specific professors with whom you would be interested in working, it is helpful to mention this in the statement of purpose in your application. See here for the research interests of our faculty, which include algebra, algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, analysis, applied topology, combinatorics, differential equations, differential geometry, logic, mathematical physics, number theory and probability. Back to top.
Decisions about applications are made on a rolling basis during the winter and spring, and applicants will hear from the Mathematics Department and from our dean's office as decisions are made. All decisions will be made by the US uniform reply date of April 15. Back to top.
All Ph.D. program offers have a due date of April 15, to decide about whether or not you will be accepting the offer. After that, the offer expires. This is the uniform reply date established by graduate schools in the United States. Applicants should be aware that they do not have to reply to offers from other US Ph.D. programs until that date. But for the sake of other applicants, it is best to inform us, as well as any other programs to which you have been admitted, once you have made a decision about whether you will accept that offer. That way, another applicant can be offered your spot if you decline. Masters applicants who need an extension beyond April 15 can request that by email. Back to top.
Ph.D. students are offered a five-year support package including a full tuition scholarship, coverage of fees (including for health care), and a generous stipend. They are given at least two academic years and three summers with no teaching responsibilities. More information is available here. In addition, there are a number of projects funded by faculty research grants on which Ph.D. students can be supported, in areas such as algebra, geometry, mathematical physics, cryptography, and applied topology. Masters and M.Phil. students can apply to be teaching assistants, and those who serve as TA's receive modest stipends. Back to top.
Ph.D. students are exempt from paying tuition and fees for five years (which is the usual length of the program), in addition to receiving a generous stipend during that time period. Those who are making good progress toward the Ph.D. but who need a sixth year to complete their dissertation will be permitted to stay an extra year, beyond the expiration of their support package. Sixth year students are required to pay tuition and fees, but the tuition level drops dramatically in the sixth year. (Sixth year students can also apply to be teaching assistants, for a modest stipend.) Students in the masters and M.Phil. programs are required to pay tuition and fees, which are substantial (though there is the possibility to be a TA). Back to top.
Ph.D. students, who are fully funded for five years, are required to teach for at least two academic years, but will also have at least two academic years with no teaching responsibilities (one of which is the first year in the program). They also receive funding for three summers with no teaching responsibilities; those who wish to teach during the remaining summer can do so for an additional stipend. Masters and M.Phil. students can apply to TA. In order to be a TA, it is first necessary to successfully complete our two-day TA training program, which is held shortly before the start of August classes. In addition, those who are not native speakers of English must first pass a test of spoken English. Each semester we have many more TA positions than we have Ph.D. students, and so others are hired as TAs. We give priority to our graduate students for these positions, before hiring others. Back to top.