Admission predictors for success in a mathematics graduate program
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Admission predictors for success in a mathematics graduate program

  • Author(s): Ma, Timmy
  • Wood, Karen E
  • Xu, Di
  • Guidotti, Patrick
  • Pantano, Alessandra
  • Komarova, Natalia L
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

There are many factors that can influence the outcome for students in a mathematics PhD program: bachelor's GPA (BGPA), bachelor's major, GRE scores, gender, Under-Represented Minority (URM) status, institution tier, etc. Are these variables equally important predictors of a student's likelihood of succeeding in a math PhD program? In this paper, we present and analyze admission data of students from different groups entering a math PhD program at a southern California university. We observe that some factors correlate with success in the PhD program (defined as obtaining a PhD degree within a time-limit). According to our analysis, GRE scores correlate with success, but interestingly, the verbal part of the GRE score has a higher predictive power compared to the quantitative part. Further, we observe that undergraduate student GPA does not correlate with success (there is even a slight negative slope in the relationship between GPA and the probability of success). This counterintuitive observation is explained once undergraduate institutions are separated by tiers: students from "higher tiers" have undergone a more rigorous training program; they on average have a slightly lower GPA but run a slightly higher probability to succeed. Finally, a gender gap is observed in the probability to succeed with female students having a lower probability to finish with a PhD despite the same undergraduate performance, compared to males. This gap is reversed if we only consider foreign graduate students. It is our hope that this study will encourage other universities to perform similar analyses, in order to design better admission and retention strategies for Math PhD programs.

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