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Applying for Graduate School
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Jan 6, 2016
• Why Pursue A Ph.D.? Three Practical Reasons [Link]
• by Philip Guo (University of Rochester)
• Why You, Too, Can PhD? [Link]
• by Ross Tate (Cornell University)
• Applying to Ph.D. Programs in Computer Science [PDF]
• by Mor Harchol-Balter (CMU)
• HOWTO: Get into grad school for STEM [Link]
• by Matt Might (University of Utah)
• A Guide for Applying to Graduate Schools in USA [Link]
• by Jia-Bin Huang (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
• PTT – studyabroad
•What is a PhD?
•Why Pursue a PhD?
•Why NOT to Pursue a PhD?
•How to Apply for Graduate school?
What is a PhD?
Ph.D. = producing new knowledge
• It is a job!
• Duration: 5-7 years
• Salary: 1,800 – 2,500 USD
• Course: 8 - 12 courses
• Research: ~3 papers
• Summer: internships at industry or research labs, salary: 6,000 –
As a new STEM grad
In grad school, you have the freedom to
• make a name for yourselves,
• fail in a safe environment,
• choose from more jobs later.
Make a name for yourselves
Senior engineers + You
find important problems to solve
Writing research papers,
publish code, systems,
presentation in conferences
Project managers, sales,
All by yourself!
• Freedom to choose whom you want to work with
Freedom to fail
Fail in a safe environment
Choose from more types of jobs
Bachelor’s / Master’s
• Development engineering
• Test engineering
• Product/project manager
• Investment banker
• Financial analyst
• K-12 teacher
• R&D engineering
• Corporate/gov’t researcher
• Management consultant
• Financial quant
• Research scientist
• Assistant professor
• College-level teacher
Why NOT to Pursue a PhD?
• Short-term pay-off
• 3x to 5x salary boost
Image credits: https://www.facebook.com/MobileGirlMiM/
Graduate school application
• Transcript – grades and classes
• Research Experience
• Statement of purpose
• GRE and TOEFL
• May – Sept:
• Prepare GRE and TOEFL
• Researching potential schools
• Request official transcripts
• Draft personal statement
• Request reference letters
(with supplementary materials)
• Finalize the list of schools
• Revise personal statement
• Contact professors of interests
• Complete and submit all applications
• Make sure the applications are
successfully sent (official transcript,
GRE/TOEFL scores, reference letters)
• Feb – April:
• Receiving interview requests,
• April 15: decision
• May – July:
• Getting ready
• Starting graduate school
Transcript – Classes and Grades
• GPA 3.5 – 4.0 are roughly the same
• A GPA of 4.0 alone with no research experience will NOT get you into
any top program
• Low GPA?
• If Major GPA or upper-division GPA is higher, call that out
• Research experiences help
• GPAs are evaluated in the context of undergraduate program
• A GPA of 3.4 in CMU may count as 3.8 or 3.9 in other less well-known programs
• Extra (graduate) classes help?
• Only if these extra courses lead you to work on an interesting research problem
The single question for evaluating a student:
“Does this person have the potential
to conduct scientific research?”
Where you might get research experience?
• Do research with a professor.
• Summer internship at a research lab or another school.
• Getting a job as a research assistant.
• Master thesis if you are a master student.
• Work alone or with friends, ask professors for advices.
• Avoid D.W.I.C. (Do Well In Class) letters. => Count for ZERO.
• Ask someone who can comment on your potential to do solid research
with specific examples.
• You would like to have these words in your letters
• Self-motivated, strong research potential, own initiative, independent, and driven
• A letter counts more if admissions committee knows the recommender
• The credibility of the recommender counts
• Prof. X: student A is the best student I have seen for my entire career.
• Might count for ZERO as the Prof. X always sends such letters
• Prof. Y: student B is among the top 20% of the students I worked with.
• Might be very strong as demonstrated by the performance from Prof. Y’s research group.
Statement of Purpose (SOP)
• Or personal statement
• Actually, a “research” statement.
• What research you have done? What research you hope to do? Why
you like research?
• A writing sample. Show how well you can write.
A Personal Statement Template
• First paragraph
• Describe the general areas of research that interest you and why. (Helpful for
a committee to determine which professors should read your application.)
• Second paragraph, Third, and Fourth paragraph
• Describe some research projects that you worked on. What was the problem
you were trying to solve? Why was it important? What approaches did you
try? What did you learn? It’s fine to say that you were unable to fully solve
• Fifth paragraph
• Tell us why you feel you need a Ph.D.
• Sixth paragraph
• Tell us why you want to come to a specific school. Whom might you like to
work with? What papers have you looked at that you enjoyed reading? Why is
the school the right place for you?
A Simplified Admission Model
1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0
Maximizing your chances
• Research, research, and research
• If possible, publish in internationally recognized conferences/journals
• Apply broadly
• Say 5% acceptance rate for top schools and 10% for regular schools
• Applying 10 top schools,
Prob[getting an admission] = (1-0.9510) = 40.2%
• Applying 10 top schools and 10 regular schools,
Prob[getting an admission] = (1-0.9510 0.9010 ) = 79.2%
• Don’t show weakness: GRE/TOEFL, references, SOP, curriculum vitae
• Ask for feedback