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I spent a year at a community college working in industry straight out of high school. I recently got into a top cs program and will be attending starting spring 2015. However, the school only gave me until spring 2017 to finish my degree, which means I will be at the 4-year university for 5 semesters. Will I be at a disadvantage when applying to top graduate schools in comparison to my peers, who have been at their university for 4 years? I am a CS major who will attend a top cs program.

Also, due to my transfer situation, I feel that I am severely disadvantaged in terms of research opportunities. This is because for most of the labs at my school, professors have formal requirements which often entail good grades in high-level electives specific to the research. Unfortunately, I probably won't have time to complete many of these electives, and even if I do, it will most likely be during my last year. I want to get started in research as soon as possible, but I also know that I don't have much specific experience for my fields of interest (which include AI, NLP, machine learning, and data mining). How should I reconcile these gaps, and what tips do you have for a new student getting engaged in research?

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    Tip: Ask persistently but politely to participate in research. I think the overall answer is no. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 7 '14 at 4:31
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Simply having attended a community college earlier in your academic career is not going to hurt you if you have a degree, good grades, good letters of recommendation, etc. from a top program as well as all the other stuff that matters like good tests scores and research experience. Having attended a lower status school is not a permanent black mark and simply will not matter if your subsequent work proves that you are top-notch student and researcher.

Having less research experience than your peers who are applying for the same graduate positions will put you at a disadvantage. Ben Bitdiddle's answer on how you might go about getting that given your relatively shorter period of time at a research university is good as are the answers to many other related questions on this site about getting research experience as an undergraduate.

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Some things you might consider:

1) Doing a master's degree at a good CS program before applying for a PhD. This will give you an extra year or two to participate in research.

2) Contacting professors outside your university for research opportunities.

3) Doing unpaid independent studies with professors and later graduating to paid, formal research opportunities. (Many professors won't have time for this, but it's worth a try I think.)

The usual advice for contacting professors holds (be enthusiastic and demonstrate a sincere interest in their work).

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