I am a student willing to apply for top 10 universities(MIT, Stanford, etc). I have recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering field with GPA 4.5/5.

I have read about important factors for applying and I found out that these factors are the most important factors ( from most important to least important)

  1. GPA
  2. Recommendation Letters
  3. GRE Scores
  4. Research/Getting Papers Published
  5. Industry Internships
  6. Being a TA

(Main Question) I want to how much GPA is important for example a person with GPA 4.8 is far more likely to be accepted than me or not. for example, students with GPA above 4.5 are all the same.

and my second doubt is about the rank of papers. If you publish a paper in famous journals is it that much unimportant to them?

what about doing something extraordinary. I am developing an AI program that is really professional and I am writing a paper related to this program. I want to know how much these sorts of activities are important for them.

3 Answers 3

  1. You are not going to find some detailed regression equation with parameters for each of our six factors. Actually you have done a decent job to list these and I figure the order is roughly correct. (although some of them may function a bit more like a floor than just a linear factor).

  2. Given that, my impression is that the 4.5 (like a 3.5 for 4.0 normal grading schemes) is fine. The key thing to understand is that applying to top research grad schools is a bit different than applying to top undergrad programs. The odds are more in your favor, now. And they are more about getting good candidates to do the work than about perfect little cherubs trying to be Harvard undergrads. Of course higher is better. But I don't think 3.5 is an issue if you are good at science. I would let them know the class rank if you come from a school with tougher grading standards. Also the major GPA, if it helps you.

  3. Journal published at is not really so critical at all. After all we are at the 4th level factor. And I suspect much lower than first 3. It's nice that you published at all, but lots of good people haven't. Add onto that likely not being first author, or even if you were, probably significant support from others. All of it to mean that a fancy journal won't save you from bad records on first 3 (grades, letters, GRE) which will be seen as evidence of aptitude and conscientiousness.

P.s. Of course if you are concerned you are not as competitive, apply to several good schools (more than if you were competitive). Also, while I think you are right to target a top school--it does matter--it is maybe not quite as important the "ranking" as in MBA schools. I would consider to look at top 30 also and have a safety school or two, especially if you can find a reason for one that appeals to you (location, scientist, etc.)


I think it's useful for this question to step back and think about it from first principles.

What a top graduate program wants in a graduate student is high likelihood of becoming a leading researcher in the field. There are some exceptions, but for most applicants at most leading departments, this is the only consideration.

The problem with putting this forward as a criterion is that no one can predict the future. You really don't know whether you're going to become a leading researcher, and neither do the people reading your application. Everyone is trying to make their best guess based on the information available.

At this point, someone is going to ask for a data-based solution, but the problem is that there really isn't that much data. There aren't that many leading researchers, the factors that make leading researchers likely change quite a bit over time, so the kinds of people that did well twenty years ago might not do so well now, and the variables probably interact with each other in complicated, nonlinear ways that are hard to tease apart statistically without large amounts of data.

This means graduate admissions boils down to a committee of people reading applications and making their best judgement as to who is most likely to become a leading researcher. You can now ask the psychological (or maybe sociological) question about what factors professors on admissions committees think correlate with probability of becoming a leading researcher, but there seems to be quite high variability between individuals, and you don't know who is sitting on admissions committees that year.

Given how difficult it is to determine how all these proxy measures work, I think it's best to believe that admissions committees will get it right and look at what they're really trying to measure - your probability of becoming a leading researcher - with the caveats that you should consider the judgement of other people you trust to have an informed opinion (your current professors) and that your own judgement is highly likely to be biased by imposter syndrome and or the Dunning-Kruger effect.


I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that all of it is just as important as the rest of it and all is just as unimportant. I don't think that admissions committees work the way you may think. It isn't a matter of filling in numbers on some sort of spreadsheet.

Universities in general, and the best ones included, are looking holistically at a candidates record and other statements to look for evidence of success. They are also trying to balance, in an imperfect world, the credentials and statements of the large number of people in a very competitive applicant pool.

Everything you list will be considered and "more is better" here as you know. But, given that the pool is so competitive, it might be nothing more than a simple statement in a statement of purpose that puts one candidate over the top.

That said, negative evidence can work against you, but that is more to help the committee whittle the pool down to manageable size so that they spend time on those most likely to succeed at that institution.

Some parts of it are less "rational" than others. If one of your recommenders is well known to the committee, their words may carry more weight. If some previous student from your institution has done well at the institution that alone can be a big factor if the recommender makes comparisons between you.

Everyone need to make their own case for admission and for the likelihood of success. The competition is broad and deep. Make your case.

  • and could you please my last question? doing something extraordinary ( for example developing an industrial application is helpful or not)
    – jack.math
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 13:47
  • Certainly. Everything positive is helpful. But no single thing is a "slam dunk". Build a complete profile.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 13:51

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