I would like to provide some information regarding the reality of getting admitted to top 5 ranked Canadian graduate schools in the Computer Science Program. I work in the field and it appears to me that many applicants are not aware of some of the basic requirements to be admitted that are not overtly stated but definitely required. Unfortunately, I am unable to reveal my university or position as I wish to remain anonymous.
Most of the time, you MUST have previous degree from a top school of your country, especially for students with a degree outside of Canada/USA/UK. This is extremely crucial for international students and unless you meet this requirement, it is extremely difficult to be admitted. For most countries, you will need to be in the top 5-10 universities in your country (excluding Canada/US/UK/India). For India, UK, and Canada you will generally need to be in the top 20 universities and for the US, top 50 may be considered, however, top 20 has a greater chance of being admitted. One of the first considerations of the reviewer is the school in which you graduated and how that school ranks in your country.
To elaborate, having a degree from a top university is important because this is the only sure way to prove that you are performing well academically because the teaching standard and research caliber of top schools are widely recognized and can easily be compared top Canadian universities. It is impossible for each top Canadian university to understand the teaching, grading and research standard of hundreds of thousands of universities in the world, including many in a foreign language with public and private systems and most reviewers will not dig around for information regarding unknown institutions.
For example, there are some universities that give a grade of 75% or above to only one in a few thousand students, whereas another university can have a graduating average of 3.7 GPA. With variations like these, unless you graduated from a top university in your country where the general grading trend and teaching quality is recognized by the Canadian school, your chances of admission are slim to none.
Furthermore, the other reason a top university is important is that reviewers want to see reference letters from colleagues or faculty they know and value the opinions of. Since most top researchers in Computer Science meet in major conferences, presentations and events around the world, they are aware of each other’s work, reputation and standards when writing and reading reference letters. Most of these outstanding members of the academic community are also positioned in top schools coinciding with the reviewer’s search applications from top schools.
The top Canadian graduate programs in Computer Science receive over 1000 and sometimes even over 2000 applications per year, with three reference letters per application this is an astronomical number of letters to read. Taking this number into account, while the content of reference letters matter, the respectability of the reference writer is arguably even more important.
For example, a reviewer reading 100 applications a day would have to read 300 reference letters, 100 of them may indicate that the student is in the top 10% of their program. In the end, being top 10% may not mean anything because there are too many top 10%s and it does not indicate the quality of the student or education. Moreover, there have been examples where the same reference writer indicated that three different students from the same year and class were the number one student in their class. In cases like these, reviewers go back to looking at the top universities, since the caliber of education is known, and they may know the reference writers, therefore, ensuring the letter is reliable.
If you believe that there are many exceptions to the rule, consider that the admission data from the previous year from one of the top Canadians schools: only TWO offers out of more than 100 offers made were outside of the guidelines above.
Of course, an excellent statement, GPA, reference letters, GRE, and English proficiency are also required even from a top university. Moreover, other factors such as publications, conference experience, research projects and work experience, other achievements are also considered, however, if you do not meet the top university requirement, you will likely need astounding achievements in the other factors to even be considered for admission.
The information provided refers to research Master’s and PhD programs in top Canadian universities and does not necessarily reflect industry targeted master’s programs in Computer Science.
I am happy to answer any questions or clarify any points, feel free to contact me or respond to this post.