Before I get into it, I'd like to say that I'd greatly appreciate any thoughts or advice, especially if you have any experience with EE or CS graduate admissions.

I have just completed my third year as an undergraduate electrical engineering student at a top 20 engineering school, and I am interested in applying to a Masters in CS or EE. Starting in the last year of high school, I went through an intense mental health struggle related to a medical condition; psychologists warned me when I was a kid that this might happen at some point and would take years for me to overcome. My parents and I have kept the medical condition and my lifelong experience with it secret from the rest of the family. I intend to keep it private from admissions officers too. The situation was worsened by my parents' "ineffective" and "damaging" (in my psychologist's words) way of dealing with my mental health struggle while applying high academic pressure on me. My major-field GPA could have been considerably higher if I hadn't gone through the major struggle to find meaning in life. It became hard for me to care as much about outperforming my peers as I used to, and I focused more on my mental and physical health. I earned a C in my first year during the semester when my parents threatened to disown me after discovering that I'd secretly reached out to a mental health professional (they don't trust them). I think I might've earned an F in an EE class this past semester. I am convinced that if I hadn't gone through this process, the risk of self-harm or potentially even suicide would be high later on in life. So the good news is: I'm not worried about that any more. The bad news is: I had perfect academics until the end of high school, and now I feel like I've undone all my past hard work. My parents refuse to let me graduate one semester late so all four years of grades can be considered.

My current summer internship is for software engineering at a startup, and I have been in a computer science research lab since January (although I didn't do much this past semester because I was too busy). I am resuming my research work this week, but I'm not sure if I've done enough to ask my professor for a reference letter. I also have great recommendation letters from computer science professors given that I've done considerably better in CS than in EE. Grades put aside, I want to work a job involving both EE and CS (so probably firmware/embedded software). So an MS in CS would probably be best, all things considered, but CS MS is usually harder to get into than MSEE. If I apply at the end of fall semester this year, that means I have just one semester to really turn this ship around. I will also apply for full-time jobs at the same time, but I don't know how that will go.

Does anyone have advice on what I can say to graduate school admissions officers to explain the low grades? Do I have much of a chance at top 20 MS CS programs? Along the same vein, are there any suggestions for what I can do to maximize my chances of admission? There's a summer online CS course (not crucial to CS jobs though) that I dropped to devote more time to my remote internship, but I'm considering enrolling just to strengthen my CS background and boost my GPA.

  • 3
    Questions asking for answers work best if they actually contain ... a question. What specifically would you like to know? Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 4:20
  • Hi! I just updated my post with questions. Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 4:26
  • "it became hard for me to care as much about outperforming my peers as I used to" I do not know, but you have to outperform yourself, not the others. You do not do better than the others, you do your best. Being with others best will bring out the best of you, but you still do not outperform them, you have to express your potential. And then, when you express fully your potential, you see where you stand. There is already so much competition in life, no need to create some more out of thin air ...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


First of all, you should be commended for your extraordinary resilience in the face of all the hardships you had to overcome. I know how it feels, because years ago I had to finish my degree (PhD) in a foreign country, barely surviving on a miserable scholarship, and having a persistent physical health issue.

Not knowing all your circumstances in detail, my recommendation will be of a general nature: whatever choice you are faced with, put your health first -- especially your mental health.

You are enquiring: "Do I have much of a chance at top 20 MS CS programs?"

Wrong question.

The right question should be: "Shall I be able to continue living under the same pressure for another couple of yours, doing MS right after finishing my bachelors degree?" The ability to survive two more years of study is infinitely more important than getting admitted to the top 20, or top 200, or whatever.

If, suppose, you find a job after graduation, and work for a year or two before applying to graduate school -- would that lessen the pressure on your mental health? Would you feel less stressed or more stressed? In my opinion, an answer to this question should be the key to your decision.

Also, a year or two of work experience is a good addition to one's CV, provided this experience is more or less relevant to the planned area of graduate studies.


Let's start with the hard reality of academia: there are very few people that can afford to get a Ms/PhD (and let's not talk about a tenure position), without strong family support (both financial and mental).

Usually these people are less than 1% of the academic population, they are extremely overtalented and additionally at birth they luckily picked all the genes without any possible trigger for mental coditions, plus sometime even genes that make them resilient to things like war, plague, famine, sexual violence and other triggers of mental conditions.

For the remaining 99% of the academic population, if they are relying on themselves only, it means temporary job, underpaid and involving a lot of overworking so the mental health and financial stability are always in peril.

In your question you made clear that you have neither mental nor financial granted support from your family.

Please do not forget that it is written nowhere that you must do a PhD straight out of your master.

Do your best, find a decent working position, so you can ignore the future financial threats from your family, then you can get back in the research world with a solid financial basis you built yourself. You may look for working for companies that are at the edge of the R&D world, there are not many, but they exist.

You will be the salmon going upstream from the ocean of research applications to the source of innovation, instead of being the fat catfish profiting(scavenging) the bottom for the rest of predigested research expelled from the others ...

Good luck and be strong.

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