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I was considering writing Emails to professors in US universities regarding PhD opportunities at their departments, however I noticed there is a formal PhD application with deadlines in December to follow. So what is the point in contacting professors for placements in their team when there is already an application process similar to undergraduate programmes? Thank you

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In many departments, when it comes to accepting students, it's good to have a professor put their hand up and say that they would want to work with you and put you on their funding. By the time it gets to accepting students, because there are so many good applicants, the pool has become mostly indistinguishable. Having someone advocating for you at these meetings can make all the difference in the world.

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    Note that this is largely field and school dependent. From what I've heard, everything from having previously contacted a specific professor who will vouch for you being a soft requirement to actively discouraging contacting professors beforehand is represented. – Roger Fan Feb 11 '15 at 4:55
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    Agreed, thus "in many departments". – Bill Barth Feb 11 '15 at 15:14
  • Thank you for the reply, my specialty is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. If available, is there a list of known US universities who have all year long open applications for PhD? – Omar Feb 11 '15 at 23:02
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    @Omar The vast majority of PhD candidates apply during the standard cycle (apply around December/January, start school around August/September). I know that a few programs do off-cycle admissions, but it's very rare, often doesn't come with funding, and makes course scheduling difficult. You almost certainly want to go with the regular admissions cycle. – Roger Fan Feb 12 '15 at 22:18
  • @RogerFan, for the record, I applied in August-ish and was admitted for the following January since I was a December graduate (UT-Austin in both cases). There are plenty of schools that do summer applications for spring admits, but I don't know of any that do open admissions. – Bill Barth Feb 13 '15 at 0:06
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From my experience, it depends on the type of school that you want to go to. If you are attending a physical school in person they tend to follow the traditional schedule and have deadlines. However, online universities (of which there are many), often have less stringent application deadlines, or they accept applications all year long.

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