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Sorry in advance if this is not an appropriate thread for this site, but I have seen some similar posts in the past that have garnered quite a bit of discussion.

So my question is pretty simple. I transferred to my school from a community college and was quickly able to complete my BS requirements for applied mathematics, including a "specialization" in computation. Since that time I have been taking graduate courses (my school has a program that allows "advanced" undergraduates who complete the terminal MA requirements before graduation to simultaneously obtain their BS/MA degrees), and have really been enjoying them so far.

The graduate courses I am taking constitute the core sequences in analysis, differential equations, and numerics/computation. Each sequence has an associated qualifying exam (there are others, like algebra and geometry of course, but I am not so interested in these). The qualifying exams have a reputation of being extremely difficult, especially the analysis qual where there have been several instances in which no graduate students passed on a given exam opportunity. Despite this, the exams are archived, and it is possible (with the proper time investment) to adequately prepare for them. If I was to take the time to do so, I would sacrifice much of my summer, but I feel strongly motivated to do so. Particularly because I will be applying to graduate school only a couple of months after taking (and hopefully passing) them.

Long question put succinctly: Is the time investment required to prepare for various qual exams in one's field of interest worth it (as an undergrad) in terms of the payoff of impressing adcoms to various graduate schools? Or will they in general simply not give a damn?

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What artifact of your effort will you have to show to the committees? It seems like you'd be better off trying to get a publication or other research experience that you can demonstrate concretely. –  Austin Mohr Apr 12 '13 at 4:03
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2 Answers 2

This would be a good matter to discuss with your professors and/or advisor. And it very much depends on whether you will have completed the sequences of "core courses" on which the qualifying exams are based, prior to your taking them. And perhaps you might set your sites on one, at most two of the qualifying exams, rather than all of them, if you are determined to do so, and your advisor/professors suggest it might be in your interest to do so.

I would consider, in lieu of studying like a demon to prepare for the qualifying exam, that you also discuss what other options you have for spending your summer, and until graduation, in order to best prepare for graduate school and prepare an impressive dossier to work with when you apply to graduate programs. This might be working closely with a professor in a reading course, with the objective to complete research: a project and/or thesis, e.g.

I would also suggest that you ensure you have time over summer and subsequently to adequately research graduate programs of interest, contact faculty at some of them, and begin preparing for the application process - honing in on what it is that you are most passionate about, what your goals are (academia, industry?), and why, so set your applications and the duration of your studies are a good fit for your aims and for reaching your goals.

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Very good advice +1 –  Amzoti Apr 12 '13 at 16:43
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I'd rather just research my interests if I were you. Maybe ask a professor to do a reading course.

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