Upward trend, masters vs. phd, fellowships, and general advice

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Hey guys! Tell me if there's any other info I should add.


I started off as a pre-med psychology major and ended up switching to computer science and psychology my sophomore year. I'm hoping to go to graduate school in a human-computer interaction field (end goal PhD). Some schools have this as a concentration while others just have general CS. I have a decent amount of research experience. Prior to sophomore year, I had some research assistantships, but they were unrelated to what I want to do today as they were more related to my prior pre-med interests. Also, I'm currently a junior.


I have had an ongoing project at my school this past year and a half that I just finished. I presented my research at a research symposium at my school (with a poster). I also worked as a research assistant last summer at a top HCI school. I have yet to be published, but I have another research assistantship this upcoming summer that should hopefully result in one. I plan to use each of these research assistantships as LORs for when I apply.


My freshman year is my anchor with my GPA. Right now I have a 3.57, though it should hopefully rise above a 3.6 by the end of this semester. 

F14: 2.96

S15: 3.67

F15: 3.711

S16: 3.80

F16: 3.70

S17: Expecting around a 3.8

Other possibly relevant info:

I go to a top 15 school overall for undergrad and a top 20 school for CS grad.

I am an URM female, so I don't know exactly how that affects my chances.


Even without my freshman year, my GPA isn't THE best, but I'm curious whether my upward trend will be positively noted, especially since I wasn't studying my main focus during that year. I was taking many pre-med classes (general chemistry and physics).

I'm considering doing a masters in the case that I don't get into preferred grad schools and possibly to add more research and better grades under my belt. Do you think it's worth applying or should I focus on PhD apps? 

How much should I worry about the GRE? I obviously want to make a good score and I'm pretty sure I can get one, but if I get a decent score, should I leave it at that or try again. I've heard it's relatively unimportant compared to other criteria.

Overall, how do you think I will be perceived by grad schools? Obviously, you can't tell me whether I'll get in or not, but I just want to know whether it appears that I can be a competitive applicant to top schools. I haven't been able to get much feedback yet, and with the semester over, I probably won't get to talk to anyone at my school until fall.

Lastly, how do you think I'd be perceived by fellowships for both master's and PhD?

Edited by eighty8keys

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Sure, totally reasonable!

tl;dr My questions:

  • Feedback in regards to GPA (esp. upward trend; also GPA listed above) 
  • Masters worth it to bump up GPA (and possible additional research) or should I just focus on PhD?
  • Study for GRE just enough to get decent score or really try to ace it (heard it's not SUPER important and doing research this summer)?
  • Overall competitiveness (if you have time to comb through my background)??


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tl;dr Background:

  • Junior double major CS/Psychology; was pre-med psych but switched sophomore year
  • Bad first semester (2.96), but 3.7-3.8ish ever since (3.57 overall up to last semester)
  • Doing 3rd research assistant gig this summer, good chance of being published (but haven't been yet)
  • Top 20 school for CS, top 15 school for undergrad
  • URM Female
Edited by eighty8keys

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Apply to schools that match your research interests. You should be fine. Apply directly to PhD programs as there is little program for MS programs in computer science. The better you do on the GRE, the more opportunities you'll have for funding (in terms of university-wide fellowships, national fellowship competitions, etc.). There's really nothing you can do to change your past GPA so keep doing well in the classes you're taking now.

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Hi eighty8keys,

I am actually in the same position as you. My freshman year GPA was pretty bad but I exponentially increased it over the following years. Thus, my cumulative GPA is a tad lower than many other applicants but if you look at my transcript it was just my first semester weighing me down. I think your upward trend is the best thing going for you. It shows that you addressed your weakenesses and pushed through to the end of your schooling. The reverse situation (high GPA to lower) is definitely worse.

I think your GPA only matters if your programs have an average applicant GPA that is significantly higher than what you have. If this is the case, I would suggest three things:

  1. Try your best to get a high score on the GRE. Not only will this squash any doubt the program will have, but it will demonstrate your academic capability.
  2. Get solid LOR's. Even though your assistantships are brief, I would work really hard (at your work and also networking with your boss) to get strong LOR's. I think these matter the most.
  3. Apply to Master's programs/research positions. I think you can apply if 1) you like the program/position 2) if you want to have a back up. If you have the time and money to do so, it doesn't hurt to have a second option in case you don't get into the Ph.D. programs of your choice.

Overall, I've been told countless times to stop worrying about my GPA. I have heard that as long as your GPA isn't abysmal, programs will likely not worry about it; instead they highly value LOR's and experience/publications/presentations. (Granted, if you have a 3.0 and you apply to programs that usually accept applicants with a 3.8 - that may be a bit of a stretch and you would have to compensate in other areas of your application.) Or at least that is what I think!

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Hey guys! Thanks for the feedback!

Just for an update, my semester GPA was a 3.83 and my overall is now a 3.63, which is great news because Stanford requires a 3.6 to apply for a CS PhD. Definitely not counting on getting in, but it's nice that I can at least apply! :lol: Also, happy because it's my best semester so far!

Also, one of the master's that I was thinking of applying to was at a school in the UK, partially because there's a great lab there that I'd like to work at, and partially because I wanted to study abroad in undergrad, but switching majors made that impossible. If I did a one-year master's, would that help at all (considering, any publications I did would likely not be finished if I applied in the fall)?


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Also, update:

I've been narrowing down schools I want to apply to. Right now, I'm thinking my top choices would be CMU, USC, and Georgia Tech. Would anyone be able to give me any advice specifically related to schools like these?

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