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recommendations for phd program


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I am a recent graduate of a top 20 private institution.  I am a graduate of a five year bachelors/masters program.  I had tried in the last year of my undergrad to get into phd programs (for signal processing/control theory) yet I was unsuccessful due to a poor application my gpa was 3.25 with no publications.  In my masters program, my gpa was a bit higher at a 3.53.  I still have no publications to my credit but I have spent a year and managed to produce a research project as part of my masters.  I have two questions at this point:


1.) Are there institutions at which I would be considered a competitive applicant?

2.) If I am not planning on applying to graduate school right away for phd programs, what possible steps can I take to improve my application ability to phd programs.  A bit more information, the types of programs I would like to apply to would have a focus on the theoretical aspects of control (lyapunov functions/ nonlinear dynamics / optimal control).  





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