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I see a lot of questions about grad school prospects with poor grades and/or gre but what about the prospects of getting into a funded PhD program with no research experience or professor connections but good grades and gre quant (3.9 and 165 respectively)?

I graduate in December (BS CompEng from 2nd tier US college) and don't really have time to get interested in undergrad research (though i'd love to but I can't afford to quit my job). If I just blanket applied to the top 20 CS PhD programs do I have a good chance at picking up decent funding (say $18k+)?

Also is there an online resource to profile what kind of applicants get accepted to which schools?

Edit: I received some good advice but no one has responded to my original question: can I get into a decent funded cs PhD program with good grades and gre while lacking research experience. I can certainly ask my professors to write letters of recommendation and 'top 20' is a somewhat arbitrary number. I would really be happy in any school that is actively outputting interesting machine learning or combinatorial optimization research.

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    A 365 GRE score doesn't make sense. Do you mean Q = 165? And were you working part-time or full-time? – aeismail Aug 23 '13 at 3:05
  • Yes Q:165. I've been working at an IT internship 16 hr/wk for a 1 1/2 years. – anthonybell Aug 23 '13 at 3:08
  • "No professor connections"? What about your professors from college? – Nate Eldredge Aug 23 '13 at 3:59
  • what I meant is I don't really know my professors beyond the classroom since I haven't done any kind of research. – anthonybell Aug 23 '13 at 4:12
  • @anthonybell you could always approach three professors in whose classes you performed exceptionally well. You could even ask for a letter from your internship manager, as they can speak of your work ethic. – Jonathan Landrum Aug 23 '13 at 17:32
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Your big challenge—and this would be true regardless of the field—is that you have no "professor connections." This is a major challenge for you, because one of the most important parts of a graduate application is the letters of recommendation. If you don't have people who know you and can vouch for your capability to be a successful graduate student, you're going to have a tough time getting admitted to a graduate school, and especially top-20 programs.

The good news is that in most science and engineering graduate programs, if you do get into a reputable program, you should be able to get a guarantee of funding (either as an RA or TA) for the length of your graduate career (assuming you make "normal progress" and are a good departmental citizen, etc.). I would be leery of accepting an offer from a school that doesn't make such a commitment!

  • Do you think it is better than to enter into a masters degree part-time and foster research experience and connections then to try to jump straight into a phD program? – anthonybell Aug 23 '13 at 3:49
  • I don't think I can give you an informed answer on the wisdom of a part-time CS master's; I come from a field (engineering) where it's pretty much full-time or not at all. I hope one of the CS people on the board can pitch in on this. – aeismail Aug 23 '13 at 6:52
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    At least in the CS departments I'm familiar with, there's no such thing as a part-time research masters degree. There are part-time professional masters programs, but those won't help you get into a strong PhD program. – JeffE Aug 23 '13 at 20:59
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Can I get into a decent funded CS PhD program with good grades and GRE while lacking research experience.

Yes

Will I get into a decent funded CS PhD program with good grades and GRE while lacking research experience.

Apply and find out.

Graduate school applications at the highest level are strongly biased random processes. For the good programs, there are always many more qualified applicants than available positions. Many times it boils down to which professors are looking for candidates who are strong in certain subfields, and that changes on a yearly basis.

If you want to go to graduate school in your field, put together the best application package you can (great letters of recommendation, well-written research statement, etc.), and apply to a range of schools that meet your criteria for "school[s] that [are] actively outputting interesting machine learning or combinatorial optimization research." Don't be silly and apply to only the top schools (no one is guaranteed acceptance), but don't feel shy about applying with excellent grades, scores, and letters.

If you're concerned that you'll be throwing money away by applying, there are times in life where you do have to take risks in order to proceed, and spending application money may be one of those times. However, this: "If I just blanket applied to the top 20 CS PhD programs" is a bad idea and almost certainly a waste of money.

If your concern is more "should I spend another semester/year getting some research experience to be more competitive," well, that's a bit more nuanced. It can't hurt, especially if you do well in that research (either publish something, and/or demonstrate to a professor that you have good research potential). Are you the perfect candidate now? No. Will you be competing against other students who don't have research experience? Yes. Do students with quality research experience have a better chance of being accepted? Yes.

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