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Hey everybody,

I am an older student (early 40's) who had a successful career in computer hardware installation and then went back to school at 37 to get a B.S. in computer science just for the challenge of it (earlier degree--economics, 3.0 GPA, partied a lot). I completed my B.S. in C.S. with a 3.6 GPA and then went on in an integrated B.S./M.S. program to get the master's where I'll finish with a 3.85 GPA. I haven't graduated from the B.S. yet, so I think I am going to take courses to add a math minor and retake one course where I got a low grade (I kind of 'got into it' with one professor when I first started--I've since learned not to--and he downgraded me at the end), so I'll probably have a 3.7 undergrad with a math minor and a 3.85 grad gpa at the end of things. I really like academia and am going to stay on to get a Ph.D. from the best place possible. I am looking to enter a Ph.D. program in the fall of 2014.

My interest is information retrieval/text mining, especially in a distributed framework (i.e. MapReduce), and also social media mining (i.e. graph mining to find communities/cliques etc.). I haven't published yet but I will have at least two papers submitted to major conferences by the end of this year. My main academic advisor has published a lot in text mining, and I am working with another professor in large-scale network mining, and anticipate publishing with this professor as well. So, by the time I want to apply rolls around (fall of 2013), I should have 3-4 papers, a master's thesis, a REU that I did for my main thesis advisor, plus three years of internships as a software developer (including rebuilding the CS department website) and two years as an RA. In addition my previous experience as a network tech. I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I have taken plenty of practice tests, and my quant score is coming in ~164 and my verbal ~166 (average over several tests from Princeton Review and ETS). I have strong writing skills, so I'm sure I'll get at least a 5 on the writing portion, probably higher.

I think I will be a strong applicant to some of the better programs, but I wanted to get some feedback on some things.

--When I first started, I got a little overwhelmed with work and school and withrew from a few classes over the course of a few semesters. How bad are 'W' marks on the transcript?

--I did badly in one math class, which I retook, and again I plan on retaking another class. Do retakes look bad?

--Quality of undergrad institution. My undergrad institution--University of Nebraska at Omaha--is listed as a second tier national university (i.e. in the bottom 25% of national universities). UNO is definitely on the move in terms of improving its image (last year it was a regional university, now it's national) but is still less known. How much does this matter?

Finally, what kind of programs are realistic with my background? Top 20? Also if anyone can give suggestions on other steps to take over the next year and a half that might help my chances that would be great.

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