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Do I have a shot at the top 20 schools - Phd or Ms? Other schools?


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To have a chance at a career in academia, a phd from a top 20 school/ amazing connections is pretty much required. My interests is in data science/ML, and to my knowledge the best professors are found in the top schools (would love other suggestions though). For an Phd applicant, my stats are pretty average, and wonder if I have a chance at been accepted at schools like Cornell for a Phd. If not, what are some Phd or Ms programs I have a shot at, which could feasible give me a shot at academia long term?

Bio: I was pretty undecided as an undergrad when in regards to my path - started out with an unrelated major, ended up double majoring in CS. Did some volunteering and leadership stuff in my 1st 2 year, before doing an REU my junior summer at an unknown school. Did an industry internship this summer at a local company and realized I vastly preferred research vs working for a company. Doing research again my senior year with a new faculty at my school.

GPA: 3.87

Gre: ?, but probably pretty high

Current school: Ranked 50-100 in CS

Recommendations: Average. 1 from a professor I TAed for (Tenured but completely unrelated), 1 from my REU supervisor (new associate professor) who works in a different field, 1 from my current adviser (new associate professor) who works in a mildly related field.

Research: REU paper (doesn't really count), mentioned on a conference paper by REU professor. 2 brief stints of research (3 months each)





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Likely not a great chance for the top 20 PhD straight out. Most top 20 schools only choose undergrads with extensive and perfectly aligned research experience - they can be picky like that.  Depending on your financial situation, you could certainly apply to a few and you could likely get into a lower tiered PhD. But if the goal is top 20 only, I suggest going for the MS first.

However, if those same top 20 schools have MS programs, I would start the search there.  That would be the best place for you to get both the research and strong recommendations you'll need moving forward.

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Thanks, I had a feeling that a top 20 phd degree is a reach for me. I think I'll still apply to 2 phd programs from the top twenty, 5 master programs from the top 20, 5 phd programs between 20-50 and my current school, which I'm pretty much guaranteed to be accepted to. 

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