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I am applying for CS graduate school in the US this fall. I have a moderate 3.6 GPA in a public ivy university that is about top 60 nationwide. I do not have much research experience (I regretted starting late!) but recently I joined a research lab to have some experience for application. I am overall less competitive than those GPA 3.8, 3.9 folks who stand out academically. As a result I expect to be hard to get into some top MSCS programs like MIT, Stanford, CMU, etc. Even less top tier program like Cornell and UCSD are challenging.

After careful research, I found out connections to some great professors and research resources are crucial to PhD application. As a result, getting into a high-ranked master school is crucial. I came up with the following strategy:

Apply for some renowned/top cs programs but less competitive tracks like Information Science even course-based one. Then I am a member of the university/department and eligible to reach out to the professors and labs to join. Put effort on the research and earn a strong LoR.

Could this work?

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I suspect that your record implies you will be successful in application to many very good doctoral programs without spending time (wasting time?) getting a masters first. Maybe not CMU or MIT, but anywhere in the top 60 or so US universities. Faculty at your own institution can give you good advice on your chances at similar universities.

Research experience is seldom necessary for those with only bachelors degrees. The program is designed to give you that experience. The first couple of years of a doctoral program isn't much different from a masters program in any case, and one might be awarded along the way.

And, decisions are seldom made on the basis of GPA alone. Get good letters of recommendation, honestly predicting your success. And, if the upper division course grades are better, the 3.6 overall isn't actually bad.

And, if you wan't to study CS, don't lower your sights if that is how you perceive other programs. Think long term about the career.


Note that some very top programs are very competitive not just because they are very good, but, also, some of them are quite small. And they get a lot of applications.

Also note that if you apply to only very similar schools then getting rejected by one might imply getting rejected by others, as they have similar criteria. Cast a broad net.

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  • Getting into a program Top 50 School with a professor whose research interest and directions aligns with me, and has a good lab working culture is fine, not necessary a top dream program(but I still wish I can!)
    – Yang Xu
    Jan 9 at 17:52

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