I did a modest undergraduate in Information Systems (3/4) and good master's in CS (3.4/4). I've PhD acceptance from a good school in Canada. However, I still need to go to top school , or at least a well-known school, in US.

I am planning to apply to top schools in CS next year (since deadlines already passed). I have done some research and got some papers accepted at good conferences. Beside getting good scores in GRE, what should I do to be well-prepared for the next year?

I am fully sponsored student by my government, how will this affect the admit decision?

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    "I still need to go to top school , or at least well-known school, in US" — You do? Why? Something wrong with Canada? – JeffE Apr 6 '12 at 16:58
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    @JeffE OP is just worried our igloos won't be spacious enough for him, eh? – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 6 '12 at 23:49
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    This has nothing to do with the beautiful Canada. It's because many of the recruiting committees members in my home country prefer US just because they have been there!.. Yes it's not an academic behavior but this is the case i'm facing. – seteropere Apr 8 '12 at 18:22

Your approach is wrong and will be a hindrance in maximizing your chances for acceptance. No school wants to accept someone who only wants to go to their school because of its ranking. You need to tailor your application to demonstrate why you want to go to the particular school. Once you have identified some schools/supervisors, ideally one of your recommendation writers can introduce you. You then need to build on that relationship. Talk to them about how your work fits in with their past and current work. As your relationship with the potential supervisors builds, figure out how they fit into the department. They will likely have the inside knowledge needed for writing a really good application.

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Let's take inventory. To respond to your order of presentation, your grades are so-so, not bad enough to keep you "out," but by themselves, not good enough to be a strong recommendation.

The next thing is: "I've done some research and got some papers accepted at good conferences." That puts you "ahead of the class" and probably got you into the good Canadian university. That will probably get you into many a good American university. As an American, I'd like to see you come stateside.

Perhaps the most interesting thing you said was that you are a fully sponsored (paid) student by your government. That suggests "scholarship student" to me, perhaps the equivalent of America's "National Merit Scholar."

In your applications, to universities, talk about how their programs meet the needs of your government, and why you'd be an ideal research bridge between the two. Many American universities are looking to add geographical and cultural diversity to their mix of students. The fact that your government chose you as an "ambassador" is a factor in your favor.

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    It should be pointed out, however, that the core of the statement still needs to be about research, not about the funding. – aeismail Jul 24 '14 at 21:29
  • @aeismail: Strengthened my comment to "ideal research bridge." – Tom Au Jul 24 '14 at 21:34
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    Grades are never "good enough to get you in", at least for the top schools OP is aiming for. – JeffE Jul 25 '14 at 4:45
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    Many American universities are looking to broaden their contacts with key foreign governments. — Totally irrelevant. The university admins who are "looking to broaden their contacts" are not going to be on the graduate admissions committee. – JeffE Jul 25 '14 at 4:48
  • @JeffE: I'd be very surprised if "diversity" weren't a factor in admissions. As in, "Let's take the borderline student from Idaho because of what s/he adds geographically, whom we wouldn't give a second thought to if the applicant was from New York City." – Tom Au Jul 25 '14 at 13:42

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