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I graduated last year from my university which is located in a developing country. It is the top university in the country but relatively unknown to the outside world. I graduated from CS at the top of my class. Additionally, I was able to get an internship at a very well known research "company" in Silicon Valley for a couple months. Currently, I am working as an RA at my university.

After saying this, I would like to apply to US/UK universities for Masters and then PhD but got very depressed after browsing these websites gre math profiles and gre physics profiles since international students seem to get rejected from the top universities relatively easy.

I would like to know if there is any advice that will enhance my application so that I can have a better chance to be accepted at both US/UK universities as an international student.

N.B I did not do the GRE's as yet - will complete them later this year.

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    I think the US and UK systems are sufficiently different, that this should be two questions. – StrongBad Mar 7 '15 at 17:58
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When applying to the UK, if you hold the equivalent of a bachelors degree with honours, at first or upper second class, you usually do not need to take a masters degree. I know this as I didn't have a masters, and I was actually advised by my now-advisor that it was not necessary to have one, since a PhD supersedes it.

Having held an internship with a major research company in Silicon Valley, you should be in a great position to apply for a PhD. With your awards and ranking in the class, I'm relatively confident you would do very well in applying for a PhD in the UK. I can't speak for the USA as I'm not familiar with that system, but their PhD program includes what amounts to a taught masters as well.

I can't concur that international students are rejected hugely often. Certainly not ones of your ranking in the class, with awards and significant internships. Even the fact you had a scholarship to study your undergraduate degree is positive in the eyes of admissions teams.

While the process of applying for a PhD differs across countries, if you have a contact at a university you're interested in (or perhaps an idea of a prospective advisor), you should reach out to them. Many universities place the incoming applications into a "pool" on an internal portal, where academics can browse through candidates. I'm sure this isn't the case everywhere, but it's definitely the case at some institutions. If you are able to apply with a specific advisor in mind (who you have communicated with), you have very good chances.

As a small personal anecdote which hopefully shouldn't be irrelevant to this answer, I applied to a named supervisor, with their knowledge, having previously discussed the idea (and actually having met them and discussed it). Having done this, I then understood I was guaranteed to be accepted, given how the opinion of the academic was so significant in their application system.

While this won't be the case everywhere, if you were to apply with the credentials you stated, and it was in a relevant field, I'd be calling you back ASAP. Funding for an international student is sometimes slightly more difficult to organise, but that's not a barrier - actually the majority of our current PhD students are international. This university, while not one of the immediately named top universities, is actually top within a couple of fields. Don't overlook a university without checking where the appropriate department lies on the REF scale (research excellence framework, used to rate the quality of research output).

I'd therefore recommend you look into how the application process works, and plan your submission for any personal statement or case-for-support questions. Having some interesting and well-written answers should be enough. You have industrial experience which you should focus on, as well as your academic performance, and current research experience. That's a lot more than most (accepted) applicants have!

  • Thank you so much for this detailed explanation for UK universities! You have given me more confidence to apply to some of these universities (while taking into consideration where they lie on the REF scale). I will wait to see if anyone has any info for the US side of things. – Kiel Rob Mar 7 '15 at 17:30
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    -1 I think I disagree with almost everything you say. My department rarely accepts students without an MSc, funding international students is a huge barrier since they cannot be funded by research council grants or studentships, we require students to apply to a specific supervisor, and I think the REF is a pointless excercise. – StrongBad Mar 7 '15 at 17:57
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    As I suspected, it seems this varies a lot by institution. We do accept many students without the MSc, and generally will accept good candidates with a 2:1 or above. International funding is difficult from RCUK funding, but there's really been no difficulty getting funding from companies (much of our work is industrially relevant). I don't agree with the REF either due to its limited scope, but it's something we're currently stuck with sadly. – gdp Mar 7 '15 at 19:25
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    You may want to add that OP is unlikely to be FUNDED for a PhD in the UK, but pretty likely to be accepted for a self-funded one. This is due to international student tuition being how most universities make money, and the very very small number of very competitive scholarships available for international students. – la femme cosmique Jul 18 '16 at 7:00

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