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Question that is really bothering me is what are the important factors for admission to top five engineering graduate school? I searched in different forums and saw people got accepted to PhD program at prestigious school with GPA 3.40 GRE Quantitative of 165 and no publication. However I also saw people could not get in to even master program with 4.0 GPA ,good GRE score. I am starting to think that GPA ,GRE and even research experience are not determining factor. Can anyone please clarify this for me?

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    searched in different forums and saw people got accepted to PhD, Do you personally know them? How do you know those are true stories? Here say, there say. Use whatever you see online as reference, not evidence. Do your best and get good recommendation letters. That's what you can do. – scaaahu Jan 17 '15 at 7:05
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To get into a top graduate program, you typically need:

  1. No red flags that will cause your application to be discarded.
  2. Something that causes you to stand out from the vast crowd of good applicants with no red flags.

A lot of people seem to think that having an extremely high GPA, GRE, class rank, etc. will help, but it does not. The problem is that such standardized evaluations address only category #1. There are a lot of good students out there, and graduate programs aren't really interested in whether you are the best student. Instead, they are interested in whether you have problems as a student that would prevent you from succeeding in graduate school.

The honest truth is that there is a huge amount of unpredictability in satisfying criteria #2. and you can only do so much to control it. There are many useful things you can do to help make yourself stand out, like participating in research projects, but ultimately there are no guarantees, because you never know how many other excellent candidates might also be applying to that program in that year, and what exactly it is that will make one person's application resonate with the particular faculty member who reads it.

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I applied to, and was accepted at well know university after attending a small regional state school. While I have no proof of this, I sincerely believe the quality of the letters of recommendation is what made the difference.

I had a 3.5 GPA and good, but not great GRE scores, and no papers. I was heavily involved in the ACM (computer science professional organization), and signed up for several grad level classes. I made sure my letter writers would have more to say then "is a good student." Show that you are truly passionate about your field of study. That will be reflected in recommendations.

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An important factor is where the student did their undergraduate work. The admissions committee will be familiar with many undergraduate institutions that have good reputations and some that have bad reputations. If you come from an undergraduate college that has a bad reputation or that the committee is simply unfamiliar with, then this will make admitting you a risky choice. If there are plenty of strong applicants from well known good undergraduate programs, then the easiest thing to do is to select from those students.

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Is it usual that an undergraduate student in USA has published by the time he gets his degree BSc.? I really doubt it. 3 - 4 years is quite a short time for a student to equip himself enough to write anything meaningful. In Europa, a 5-year Master program (3 + 2 years) may probably last 6 - 7 years, because the Master thesis is a relative heavy project. People may even need a year to plan, set up and conduct experiments in the laboratories. After that they could spend several months on writing thesis, rarely one has publication.

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