Where to Apply

Deciding which grad schools to apply to can be complicated. Below you'll find a few tips on how to choose, and things to keep in mind when evaluating programs.

The Basics

It seems to be generally agreed upon that the top six math graduate programs (in the US) are

  • MIT
  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • Stanford
  • UChicago
  • UC Berkeley
The second tier of schools depends on whether you are interested in pure or applied math and on what subfield of math you're interested in. For example, NYU is especially good at probbility, and Northwestern has a strong topology group. Universities mentioned in this range include
  • UCLA
  • Columbia
  • Yale
  • Brown
  • Northwestern
  • UMichigan
  • Caltech
  • NYU
  • UPenn
  • Cornell
  • Minnesota
  • UW Madison
    You might also consider applying to grad schools internationally. The application process varies country-to-country. Talk to a mentor for more information.

    When deciding to apply to a program, you should check the list of faculty and try to find potential advisors. You can and should mention these professors in the beginning of your personal statement, or on a cover letter. For example, you might say "I find the research areas of Professor Blah and Professor So-and-So to be very interesting." This gives the reviewers the indication that you have looked into their school, and that you could be successful there. Your application might also be handed over to one of the professors listed to get their opinion. This can be helpful if the admissions committee doesn't have anyone in your field that year. Your mentor can help you make a list of potential advisors.


    Like when you applied to undergraduate, you should try to apply for a few reach schools, mostly just-right schools, and at least one safety school.

    As an MIT undergraduate, you should apply to at least one of the top tier schools listed above.

    The number of programs applied to varies from person-to-person. Some people apply to ~15 schools, while others apply to just the top tier.

    If the grad program doesn't offer you a stipend and to cover tuition, you shouldn't accept.

    It's okay if you don't know exactly what you want to study. If you like geometry, but you'd be cool with algebraic geometry, or differential geometry, or topology, you can say that on your application. The potential advisors you list can include people in a variety of related fields. Within each application, try to focus yourself a bit. Saying you like probability and homotopy theory might not be the best idea. If you're really unsure, apply to a program with lots of faculty, covering a wide range of fields.

    Some universities have separate applied and pure math departments, while others are combined.