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I would like to know if it is possible to get into top 10 engineering schools for MS/Phd program without any publications?

  • I am not sure, but answers for masters admissions may differ from the PhD admissions. – Enthusiastic Engineer Oct 13 '14 at 11:52
  • Yes, I can tell you for a fact that I have witnessed this happen. – user541686 Oct 14 '14 at 0:28
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    I was admitted to a top-10 PhD engineering program (per us news) without ever having published (nor any formal technical writing for that matter). My GRE's weren't top 20 percentile either. My industry experience and side projects related well to my advisor's interests. I spent 30+ hours on my one-page personal statement. Easily another 80 hours in visiting professors, requesting recommendations, reading publications from profs I might like to work with. I think my experience is rare, but give your absolute best in the application process, then give some more and you might be surprised: Yes – y3sh Oct 14 '14 at 17:19
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In my experience, most undergraduates, even excellent ones with strong research potential, do not publish. The reason is simple: undergraduates usually have to spend a lot of time on classes and don't have much time available for research, even if they're very good at it. The likelihood of both producing a significant publishable result and seeing it in print before applying to grad school is simply not very large. Even if you do get a publication, it's not obvious whether it's due to your research talent or due to your supervisor placing you on exactly the right project.

That said, getting involved in research as an undergraduate is the best thing that you can do if you have interest in graduate school. Not only will it put you in a position where a professor can give you a good recommendation for your research work, but it will also help you figure out if you actually want to subject yourself to the grueling realities of a Ph.D. program. And who knows, you might even get some publications!

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The admissions process for graduate school is complicated. I am not aware of any admissions committee that requires prior publications to be accepted. Admissions decisions are not so much based on the presence/absence of publications but on the extent to which the application demonstrates an ability to conduct research. Prior publications can demonstrate an ability to conduct research, but do not necessarily guarantee it. The lack of publications does not mean you cannot conduct research, but does mean you need to demonstrate research potential in another way (e.g., letters of recommendation).

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  • Is there such approach in assessing students for scholarships? – Enthusiastic Engineer Oct 13 '14 at 11:48
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    @EnthusiasticStudent it wouldn't surprise me if some societies offered scholarships that required students to have previously published in their journal, but in general at the beginning of graduate school, prior publications are not the best indicator of future success. – StrongBad Oct 13 '14 at 12:07
  • In my experience, it mostly depends on GPA -- mine was 3.5. I really think you need close to a 4.0. I had plenty of capability to conduct research (a variety of side projects expressed on my résumé plus D1 athletics), but got rejected at all the big schools, so I'm at the #50 in my field. Well surprise, surprise, two years in and I'm almost already done with my PhD and I have the most publications out of all grad students in my class. GPA matters a crapload. – James Oct 13 '14 at 23:18
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Faculty on the admissions panel for a department typically assume that undergraduates did not do any of the "heavy lifting" on any paper they are on. Rather, they assume the PI/grad student/etc. had the idea, did most of the experiments, wrote the paper, and that the undergraduate may have assisted in parts of the experiments that were routine. This may not be the case, and if so is hopefully said in the letter of rec. But it is what is generally assumed (and honestly, what is typically true).

So to answer your question: no, publications are typically not required for admission to a good PhD program.

Some fellowships (NSF, Hertz, etc.) do have a bias towards published undergraduates however, although it's also not a requirement.

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Faculty in those institutions have their own research agendas, and yes, there are very awesome undergraduates who do not have any publications who land the dream of the Ph D. And this is a top institution I have observed my friends get into without the publications. This said, the work performed in undergrad is your CV. The projects that you chose to undertake for grades, the extracurricular activities you chose to participate in--- everything about you that you choose to present in the application process determines how persuasive you are to the potential faculty member.

The more that your interests and skills match the needs and research agendas of the professors, the better chance of convincing them that you're worth their time and money.

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