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How to determine which universities are within your range?


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I've read through a bunch of the result information, and it seems some people will say that got accepted with nothing but a good GPA and then the next will say they've been rejected even though they're probably qualified to teach in the university they're applying to. So how do you determine what's a major reach vs something difficult but obtainable?


I'm planning on applying to PhD programs this coming September. but I'm still not sure which universities are in my range. I graduated in 2014 with my bachelors degree from a relatively known liberal arts university. The professors and students speak highly of the program, and they tend to win a lot of international competitions, but I imagine any university will speak highly of themselves. I had a 3.8 GPA, and was enrolled in a BS/MS degree program that allowed me to take three masters courses. I was a teaching assistant for my last two quarters, and a research assistant for one. Upon graduation, I was offered a research position in the summer with the same research team. Since then, I've been employed full time as a research assistant. During this time, I've been included as an author for one accepted publication (third author), and an author (second author) on another paper that we are currently waiting to hear if it was accepted or not. My team includes two professors, and both are highly supportive of my plan for a PhD. One professor is a well known Software Engineering professor who sits on many national and international committees. My other professor is a Brown graduate who is two years into his tenure track. Both of them are highly likely to write me good letters of recommendations because I do major work for our team.


One professor believes it's better to go for a masters degree before applying for the PhD. My professor from Brown says I should apply to Brown, because he didn't have a masters either when he was accepted. Will not having a masters really hurt my application? Also, most of my research is in the area of Software Engineering. I would like to explore what DIstributed Systems research entails, or Programming Languages. However, I'm not necessarily opposed to sticking with Software Engineering. Will wanting to try these new areas outside of my experience hurt me as well?


Thanks for taking the time to read through this and give your input, it's highly appreciated!


Summary of qualifications:

GPA: 3.8 (Bachelors degree + 3 masters courses)

GRE: Still have to take!

Research from April 2014 - September 2015

One accepted publication, one pending (major SE conference), possible tool demo and two additional publications before Fall

Two strong letters of recommendation

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Try to score well on the quantitative section of the GRE, like 164+ and verbal only needs to be around 156-160. You should also get 1-2 more letters of recommendation. With those stats, you have a chance at the top 10 programs like Berkely and Carnegie Mellon but it's more realistic to look for top 20-30 schools. I would recommend applying to UCLA, NYU Courant, Columbia, and USC. These are great schools just below that super elite top 5 and I wouldn't be surprised if you got accepte to at least 2 of them. Also make sure to have a great statement of purpose essay, that means a lot to your application.

Edited by Matrix21
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  • 2 weeks later...

I didn't have a masters degree either when I applied. I think it's worth applying to a wide range of schools, but do make sure that your SOP is as specific about your research interests as possible. Try to stick to one program, and list a small number of professors who you'd be specifically interested in working with.

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