Carnegie Mellon University

Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question about our degree programs or courses?  Please see the list of frequently asked questions below for answers to the most common questions.  If your question is not answered below, please send email to Jason Howell, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

(For Students Outside of CMU) What is the admissions process to a degree program in the Department of Mathematical Sciences?
All external admissions are handled by the CMU Admissions Office.

(For Freshmen in MCS or SHS) How do I declare a major in Mathematical Sciences?
You can declare a major in mathematical sciences by contacting your current MCS or SHS advisor.

(For Current CMU Students) I would like to transfer to, add a major, or add a dual degree in mathematical sciences.  What are the requirements for admission?
The requirements for transferring to or adding a major or dual degree in Mathematical Sciences are:

  1. A final grade of B or better in both 21-127/21-128 and 21-241/21-242.
  2. An overall QPA of at least 3.50.

Transfer or additional major/dual degree students need to complete the MCS Transfer Form.  For more information about the transfer process, please contact Jason Howell.

I am a mathematical sciences major.  Who is my advisor?
It depends on your home college and your degree concentration:

  • If you are a freshman in MCS, your advisor is either Dr. Maggie Braun or Dr. Ken Hovis.  If you are a freshman in the SHS program, then your advisor is Dr. William Alba.
  • If you are a sophomore MSC major, your advisor is Dr. Jason Howell.
  • If you are a junior or senior MSC major with a degree in Mathematical Sciences or Discrete Mathematics and Logic, then your advisor is Dr. Greggo Johnson.
  • If you are a junior or senior MSC major with a degree in Operations Research and Statistics, Statistics, or Computational and Applied Mathematics, then your advisor is Dr. Daniela Mihai.
  • If you are a student in the Mathematics and Economics degree program, or the Bachelor of Sciences and Arts (BSA) program, your advisor is Dr. Jason Howell.
  • If you are an MCS student and you have been admitted to the Bachelor of Science in Computational Finance program, your advisor is Dr. David Handron
  • The MCS Core Advisor for Mathematical Sciences majors is Dr. Deborah Brandon.

Where do I find the courses I need to take in order to graduate?
You can see the requirements for each concentration in the Mathematical Sciences degree by visiting the Catalog for your year of entry.

What is the department's catalog policy?
Your degree program and concentration requirements are specified by the catalog for the year you entered CMU. For example, if your first semester at CMU was Fall 2017, then your degree requirements are specified in the 2017-2018 catalog.

I want to switch my concentration, how do I do that?
Simply email Prof. Howell or your major advisor with your desired concentration.

I want to substitute a different course for one of my degree requirements. How do I get that approved?
Any substitutions or deviations from the catalog description of your degree and concentration must be approved in advance by your advisor. Do not take a course and then ask if it can substitute later.

What is the honors program?
The honors program is intended for very able and highly motivated students. It consists of two main parts:

  • Honors versions of certain undergraduate courses in algebra and analysis.
  • The "graduate stage", which involves taking graduate courses and writing an honors thesis. Successful completion of this stage leads to the award of a masters degree in addition to the usual bachelors degree.

What are the undergraduate honors courses?

  • Matrix Theory (21-242) is an honors version of Matrices and Linear Transformations (21-241).
  • Vector Analysis (21-269) is an honors version of Multidimensional Calculus (21-268).
  • Mathematical Studies Analysis I (21-235) is an honors version of Principles of Real Analysis I (21-355).
  • Mathematical Studies Algebra I (21-237) is an honors version of Algebraic Structures (21-373).
  • Mathematical Studies Analysis II (21-236) is an honors version of Principles of Real Analysis II (21-356).
  • Mathematical Studies Algebra II (21-238) is an honors version of Linear Algebra (21-341).
  • Important note: To take Mathematical Studies Analysis II you require at least a B grade in Mathematical Studies Analysis I, and similarly for Mathematical Studies Algebra.

Do I have to start at the beginning with 242/269 in order to take the Mathematical Studies courses? Do I have to take the Mathematical Studies courses to proceed to the graduate stage?

No, you can apply for admission to the Mathematical Studies courses without having taken 242/269. Similarly you can apply for admission to the graduate stage without having taken the Mathematical Studies courses.

If I am taking honors algebra courses do I have to take honors analysis courses (or vice versa)?

No, the honors algebra courses are independent of the honors analysis courses.

How does the graduate stage work?

You have to take five graduate courses and write an honors thesis. The graduate courses must satisfy the following distributive requirement: at least one from each of the three groups

  1. Analysis
  2. Algebra, Logic, Geometry, Topology
  3. Applied Mathematics

Since we don't offer all graduate courses every semester, you should plan ahead.

Does the honors thesis have to be based on original research?

No. It can either be research-based or expository. Expository theses are expected to be at a high mathematical level, typically at least that of an advanced graduate course, and to be structured like survey articles. Research-based theses should be structured like research articles. They don't need to be published (though a number have been).

Roughly what is the timeline for the honors thesis?

  • Spring of junior year: Explore your interests, and seek an advisor. By the end of the spring semester you should have an advisor and an area of mathematics chosen.
  • Summer between junior and senior years: You should do the required background reading, and discuss possible research topics with your advisor.
  • Fall of senior year: You should have a definite topic by early in this semester. You should plan on doing the bulk of your research during the semester.
  • Spring of senior year: Early in this semester you should have a detailed outline of your thesis, and should put together a committee (your advisor plus two others approved by the advisor, including at least one math faculty member). Your thesis should be written in close contact with your committee and delivered to them by mid-April. You should plan on defending by the end of the last week of classes. The defense is public, as soon as you have set a date you should contact the Department so that a room can be booked and your defense can be publicized.

What is the format of the honors thesis defense?

A 50 minute talk about your thesis project, followed by questions from the auidence and the committee.

I just can't get my honors thesis defended by the last week of classes. What do I do?

By special arrangement with the director of the honors program, you can get a few weeks of grace. If your thesis is not approved by your committee by a date shortly after the last day of classes, you may not be able to collect your masters degree certificate at Commencement (it will be mailed later).

Sounds great. How do I get in?

Admission is a selective process. Placement into 21-242 in the Fall of your Freshman year is accomplished via satisfactory performance on the Mathematical Maturity Survey given during Orientation week. Placement into 21-269 (Spring of Freshman year) is based on the student's performance in 21-128 and 21-241/21-242. For the Mathematical Studies courses and the graduate stage you apply to the director of the honors program (currently Prof. James Cummings). Typically you apply for admission to the Mathematical Studies courses at the end of your freshman year, and for admission to the graduate stage during your junior year.

I am taking one of the undergraduate honors courses and find it is not for me. How do I get out?

It is generally possible to switch to the corresponding non-honors course within the first three weeks of the semester. Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (currently Professor Howell). Waiting until mid-semester is too late!

What are the rules about "double counting" courses towards the requirements of the graduate stage and the bachelors degree?

This is discouraged. At most one course may be double counted in exceptional cases, by special permission of the department head. You should definitely not assume any double counting while planning which courses to take.

I want to take a mathematics graduate course in another department or at another institution, and count it towards the five courses for the graduate stage. Is this OK?

Possibly. Check with the director of the honors program to find out whether the course can be counted, and if so which category it falls under for the distributive requirement.

I want to take a course but it is full, what do I do?

Add yourself to the waitlist for the course. Students are moved from the waitlist into the course based on availability of seats.

The course I want to take is full but the instructor said that I can sit in the course. Can I get put on the roster?

No, you must go through the waitlist procedure that all students wishing to take the course have to go through. You will not be added to the roster of a course that has students waiting for open seats without permission of the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

I want to take/already took a math course at another institution.  Can I transfer this course to CMU?

All requests for transfer credit should initially go through your home department, usually by contacting your academic advisor.  Once they determine if the course may be transferred in, they will contact the Department of Mathematical Sciences to determine if the course will transfer in as a CMU Mathematical Sciences course.  General inquiries about transfer courses can be directed to credittransfer@math.cmu.edu.

Important Note: The Department of Mathematical Sciences does not accept online or distance education courses for transfer credit, regardless of the status of exam proctoring.  All courses accepted for transfer must be taught by college or university faculty in person at an accredited higher education institution.