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I'm an 3rd year undergraduate student graduating this year studying computer science at a top 20 (read 10-20) school. I'm not sure how to even begin evaluating where I am compared to other students so that I can compile my "reach, target, safety" list, because I'm not sure what exactly admissions committees care about and most of the stuff online seems to be from seemingly disreputable sources. How do I determine what is cared about?

  1. Letters of recommendation - obviously matter a lot
  2. GPA - seems to matter, but I'm not sure where the cutoff is for Top 10 CS programs. I can find equivalence tables, but am not sure how widely used these are used or what the cutoff is for the standardized GPA
  3. GRE - very confounding. Many institutions don't require it, seemingly due to COVID. However, given that the schools will take the scores if you choose to provide them, they must consider it to some level. I'm not sure if/how helpful it would be to take or if I misunderstand about the GRE being an unsaid requirement.
  4. Statement of purpose - seems to matter a lot, but I'm not sure exactly how much. In terms of actually writing it, it seems like there's a lot of information but it should me somewhat tailored to each school
  5. Internships - doesn't seem to matter, but this doesn't seem to make sense. I've done almost exclusively research-based internships that were more grueling/productive than the undergraduate level of research done at university and feel like the quality of these internships speak more towards my level as a researcher than the couple labs
  6. Years in university - doesn't seem to matter. I'm a 3rd year student that will likely graduate early, so the opportunities for research were at least 25% lesser (although I suspect more because it's easiest to get good research later).

This is a somewhat broad question, but to summarize - I have a little idea of where I am compared to my peers on each of these metrics. I'm not sure how these metrics are weighted and how I would go about choosing which selection of colleges to apply to

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  • @GoodDeeds - not particularly. It seems to discuss the relative importance of some aspects (points 1-4 in particular), but doesn't address what a good GPA actually is. This probably varies school to school, but, for example, I was told that having the highest GPA possible matters for all jobs; it turns out even the best jobs just take anything >3.75/4.0. It also doesn't really touch on point 3, 5, or 6, which are more COVID related
    – yjx78903
    Oct 11 '21 at 18:15
  • That's the point of the duplicate, though - there is no formula. No one thing matters "most". The GPA you need isn't a "good GPA", your GPA is going to be weighted with all the other information supporting your application by the human beings looking at your application and all the others in front of them.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 11 '21 at 19:04
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    This question comes up pretty often, and I regret we still haven't found a great way to answer it. I know that a formula (even a very rough, buyer beware) formula would be super helpful to applicants, but there really isn't one. Some programs do give guidelines about what it takes to be competitive; looking for these on their websites (or even contacting the schools to request these) is probably the best way to get a sense of where you stand.
    – cag51
    Oct 11 '21 at 19:06
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The way to learn this is to "get in the game". Make some applications. Make a fairly broad search, not just top ten institutions.

But asking the question this way is like standing on the edge of the pool going through a list of things that contribute to good swimming and wondering how you do even before you get wet.

Your ideas about the importance of things seems about right. Get good letters, do well in the courses you are now taking and don't fret about the past. Take the GRE if needed. Write a good future-focused SoP. Have a prof or two review it.

Get wet.

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  • How would I get wet in this example? I can't exactly throw away 1 year by just writing applications, seeing what sticks, and trying again next year
    – yjx78903
    Oct 11 '21 at 18:16
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    @yjx78903 Why not? Oct 11 '21 at 18:18
  • The industry I'd like to go into requires MS/PhD degrees. I don't fancy sitting around for a year doing something I'd rather not be doing; I would much rather finish out the degrees and be doing work I like
    – yjx78903
    Oct 14 '21 at 23:42
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You should ask your professors for advice, and ask in particular the professors from whom you are requesting letters of recommendation. Considering that you are in a program that regularly sends undergraduates to a variety of graduate programs, they should have a good idea of what programs are more or less likely to accept you. You may have to fill them in on parts of your application they are not familiar with.

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