Jump to content

What schools am I qualified for?


Recommended Posts

I am currently looking at grad schools to earn a PhD and I am having trouble determining what schools I would easily qualify for. I am a CS major at a small liberal arts college with a very small computer science department. However, I have had research experience with a professor and wrote an academic paper (in process of being published). I am currently working at a summer research job and will be conducting a research project for a year and a half which I will be writing a paper, presenting at a conference and presenting/defending my work at my college.

My GPA statistics are a 3.7 overall, 3.95 in computer science and 3.95 in math (minor). I have yet to take the GRE but I tend to do poorly on standardized verbal testing in general. I am considering studying AI or theory.

The schools I am looking at are any of the schools in the University of California system, Tufts, UMass - Amherst, WPI, University of Maryland - College Park and Baltimore County, University of Chicago, and UI - Chicago. If any graduate students who were in the same situation has any input or anyone who might have an idea, I would greatly appreciate it. I couldn't seem to find anything online that would help.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you're qualified for all those schools that you have mentioned and you could even consider a couple top 10 schools as well. The trick is to make your application 'stand out' since there will likely be hundreds of qualified applicants. You do this by showing that you have the experience and potential to be successful doing the research that grad school will require of you. So having research experience and having a paper published (the more recognized the venue, the better) will help your application. The strength of your SoP (how you show that your research experience has prepared you to pursue the research you want to do in grad school), your letters of recommendation and how well your interests 'fit' with the research being done at the schools you are applying to will be important in helping you get admitted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a similar profile to yours though I was a masters applicant. I went to small non-research, non-prestigious southern state university and had a final GPA of 3.71, a 3.95 in Computer Science (math minor), one sole author publication, GRE (Q:770/V: 520/ AW:4.5) and am going to study AI (NLP in particular). For comparison, I applied to the masters programs at MIT, Stanford, UIUC, Brown, and UT Austin and was accepted at Brown and UT Austin. Again, this is for a masters applicant so the requirements aren't quite as intense compared to Phd admissions but I hopefully this could be informative in some way. It sounds like you will probably have more research experience than I did too which will probably help.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unfortunately you have not given enough information for me to give any opinion on your chances.

- Was your paper published in a strong conference or a weak conference? What author were you? Was it your idea? What role did you have in the work being done?

- Are your recommenders well known?

- What do your recommenders have to say about you and your research? Are you the strongest student in 10 years, or just another kid who did summer research with them?

- Your GPA is fine, but nobody cares... don't hype it up on your statement of purpose.

- A number of your schools are *very* weak overall. Tufts? WPI? UMBC? UIC? What research are you trying to get into? Where do you want to be after graduation? If you want to be a professor, I wouldn't recommend attending these institutions... stay within the top 20 (or top 30 if you are daring).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1) My first paper is still in process of being published though I am not sure what journals my professor was looking at. I am the first author on the paper. My professor provided the initial idea but I did all the research for it independently and built a lot on that initial idea. For my research project, I will be writing the paper late fall semester, early spring semester so that will not be finished by the time I fill out applications. I will definitely be presenting that project at the Southeastern International Conference on Combinatorics, Graph Theory and Computing which I believe is a pretty strong conference for the field.

2) My recomenders are not well known. They are about 5 years out of graduate school.

3) However, my recomenders know me very well and would probably give a solid letter about my research and PhD potential. I wouldn't say I am the strongest student but I am probably up there. I have showed more initiative than the other students and I am more independent in my research.

4) I read somewhere not to flaunt statistics on the SoP that they can read on your transcript so I don't plan on doing that.

5) I was unaware those institutions were so weak. I saw them on the top 100 list of US news and figured they were some what respectable. Their websites wouldn't necessarily indicate that their program was week either (unless they have very few professors). I would like to do research in algorithm design for AI or graph theory but not really sure exactly. After graduation I would be happy with a professor position or doing research for a company/government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tufts isn't that weak. It used to be, but it's on the way up - they brought in a whole bunch of new blood several years back. Like a lot of mid-rank departments, it's uneven rather than uniformly mediocre...you get profs who are well-funded and well-regarded and doing top-flight stuff, but also profs who can't even fund their own grad students because they don't bring in any grant money. And if your advisor is one of the very strong ones, and you want to go into academia, your advisor may be able to place you in a postdoc in a higher-ranked program, which will add some blue blood to your pedigree and give you a better shot at a tenure-track position.

geh_cs, the problem is that it depends on where you draw the line for "weak". You're right, all those programs are in the top 100. But some people think anything outside of the top 20, 40, or 50, is weak. If you want to be in academia, it does seem to help quite a bit to be in a well-ranked program. The CRA (Computing Research Association), when they do faculty salary surveys and such, makes a distinction between top-40 programs and others, so that might be a guideline that you could use, but it's not the only one out there. And some schools are a lot stronger or weaker in a certain subfield than they are overall.

Going back to the point about uneven mid-rank schools in my first paragraph, I think the key, if you are interested in one (or can't get into and/or attend a higher-ranked one), is to do due diligence on prospective advisors, and make sure that you end up with an advisor who is one of the awesome, well-funded, people. If they post their CVs (or at least their publication list) online, which many profs do, it's not too hard to figure out which ones are in that category.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was also a CS major / math minor at a tiny LAC.. I had a worse GPA than you, no publication record (but 2 research summers), and pretty unknown recommenders.

I was accepted by Wisc, GA Tech, CU Boulder .. all PhD

I was rejected by MIT, Brown, Illinois

I definitely think you're aiming too low. I don't think you'd make it to a T4 (unless you pub at a well-known conference), but you have a chance at most T20 schools, maybe aside from those smaller departments that get a disproportionately large number of applicants (i.e, the Ivies and Caltech).

If there's anything that will hold you back it's a lack of focus in your SoP. If you just write "I want to study algorithms for AI" nobody will really understand what you're trying to say because it's very vague, whereas if you say something like Machine Learning, Data Mining, Computer Vision or Control Theory then people will know exactly what you're talking about, and you can target the right professors. (Also, AI as a term/field is kind of out of fashion in the US, in favor of branches like Machine Learning or HCI)

Also, "graph theory" is a very vague (unless you're in pure math). Computer Scientists are more likely to understand you if you frame it more-- examples include high performance graph analysis, graph clustering for machine learning / spectral graph theory, games on graphs, ...

Edited by herring
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for your responses. I should be able to narrow down what programs I will be applying to.

@herring - Thanks for the suggestion. I am still a bit uncertain exactly what I want to study but I will find something a bit more specific.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use