I applied in Master's programmes in Europe / Asia (mostly Germany) this year and most of them were rejected or are still pending. My GPA in the Bachelor's is 7.19 / 10 while my TOELF iBT score is 100 / 120. Most of the Universities stated on their websites that the GRE (General or Subject) is optional, so I did not take the GRE.

After getting so many rejections and still being unable to figure out why, I am now thinking of strengthening my application to apply again in fall 2014. I have mailed universities / professors inquiring about reasons for rejection / shortcomings of my application, but none have replied. The only reply I get is that there were a lot of applications and mine just failed to compete with them.

I wish to know more about why my applications failed and how to improve? Also, as I don't know anyone around, I prepared my Statement of Purpose, Letter of Recommendations, Research Proposal, etc by going through the internet and information on website of universities (I did not copy-paste, but used the tips on how to write and stuff). I have no idea if the reason for my failed applications were because of low GPA / no GRE score or ill-prepared statement / research plan. Also, where can I get these checked and get suggestions on improving them?

I am very passionate about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Ubiquitous Computing. I am planning on quitting my job at Oracle Financial Services (where I'm working as as Associate Consultant, writing code since SEP 2011 after my Bachelor's) to prepare for my application and dedicate full time and energy. I am aiming for admission in top 20 universities for Computer Science of the world and also aiming for a good scholarship. I want to appear for GRE later this year and get very good scores to try to compensate for my low GPA. But, when I checked few top universities (like MIT), it was mentioned they don't accept GRE scores. How can I try and get into such universities?

My goal is to complete my Master's, PhD and then continue researching on my areas of interest. Furthermore, the Subject GRE for Computer Science has been discontinued as per the ETS website!

Is there any hope of getting in top universities with a Bachelor's degree from an unknown university which is practically nowhere in the rankings? What to do now and how to do it, I am pretty confused and hope that someone here can help me.

Thanks for your time.


  • 3
    Maybe you are aiming too unrealistically high. There are still great universities in the top 100. May 8, 2013 at 11:20
  • 1
    Yes, maybe, but is it not possible? Why is so unrealistic to aim for top 20? May 8, 2013 at 11:30
  • 6
    I prepared my...Letter of Recommendations — This might be your problem. You aren't supposed to write your letters of recommendation; your recommenders are.
    – JeffE
    May 8, 2013 at 13:38
  • 12
    The fact that you have been rejected many times might be evidence that you are aiming too high, along with the not super high GPA. May 8, 2013 at 14:05
  • 3
    That is kind of low. Anyways, I got into the University of HK a year back. Thanks. Mar 14, 2015 at 21:31

4 Answers 4


Focusing on test scores will not get you into MIT.

You need research experience — real, world-class, publication-quality, independent research experience. A paper at a recognizable (from MIT) conference or workshop would be a big plus. The top students from the various IITs have such experience.

You need a statement that clearly and compellingly describes your research interests, experience, and vision, with enough specific technical detail to be credible. As an example: Describe a recent result (not just a paper title!) of your potential advisor, and suggest a credible strategy for applying or improving it. Also, your statement should frame your ambition in terms of "doing great research", not in terms of "getting into MIT". The top students from the various IITs write such statements.

You need recommendation letters from well-known (at MIT) academics that praise your research potential in personal, specific, and credible detail, with positive comparisons against other students from your home institution who have gone on to a top-10 PhD program. Your recommenders must write the letters themselves; you should never even see them. In particular, you should explicitly waive your right to see the letters later, if such a waiver is possible; most US schools offer such a waiver in their recommendation forms. The top students from the various IITs have letters like this.

You need contacts. Or more accurately, your recommenders need contacts. Coming from "an unknown university" with a "low GPA", there is a serious risk that nobody will even open your application. If one of your recommenders knows someone at MIT, either personally or professionally, ask them to send a quick email (or have a hallway conversation at a conference) saying "Hey, we have this great student Rahul Thakur who's applying to your department; you should take a look!" Sending such an email yourself is unlikely to help. CS professors get tons of emails from random students at unknown universities; we call it "spam". The top students from the various IITs have these contacts.

You need some strategy. All else being equal, it is harder to gain admission to top CS PhD programs to study AI than to study other areas. AI seems to be the default areas for really smart, talented, qualified students who really have no idea what they want to do. Machine learning is either a subset or a superset of AI, depending on your religion. (Theory suffers from the same effect, to a smaller extent.) In your case, you're probably better off emphasizing your interest in ubiquitous computing in your statement. But remember, you need specific and credible technical detail.

Finally, you need luck. Graduate admissions is an inherently random process; no one should apply to MIT expecting to be admitted. Coming from an unknown university, your chances of admission are smaller than someone with exactly the same application coming from a highly-ranked school. Aiming only for MIT is foolish; limiting yourself to top-20 departments may be foolish as well. Don't rob yourself of opportunities!

After all, your real goal is to do great research, not to get into a top-20 program. Right?

  • 5
    +1 for such a great answer. I also wanted to point out that usually, the best CS students from India are from the top 6 IITs and IISc. From my brief experience as a member on the graduate admissions committee in my school, I realized that school "pedigree" matters quite a bit.
    – Shion
    May 8, 2013 at 14:38
  • 2
    Ask your recommenders to read your statement(s) and give you detailed feedback. Listen to them. (Also: For applications to PhD programs in North America, there is no separate "research proposal". Your "statement of purpose" should be a description of your research experience, interests, and goals.)
    – JeffE
    May 8, 2013 at 15:52
  • 19
    Yes, you are setting unrealistic goals. Passion about research is not enough. Speaking from personal experience, I suggest taking smaller steps. Instead of aiming straight for the MIT PhD program, set a more modest goal of admission to a mid-tier master's program, or even a non-degree program. Stop thinking of "top 20" as the only synonym for "good university". Get your ego out of the way. Apply broadly. Get your foot in the door. Then prove yourself. Meanwhile, don't forget to eat.
    – JeffE
    May 9, 2013 at 5:07
  • 2
    +1 for the above. Excellent advice. Loved the last sentence.
    – Shion
    May 9, 2013 at 7:40
  • 2
    Best thing: Send mails to professors asking to collaborate. Especially if you think you can improve on their work. Professors generally would appreciate solid ideas for improvement on their current research work.
    – Naresh
    May 9, 2013 at 9:01

Getting into a top-20 university with a GPA of 7.1 from WBUT is an unrealistic goal. Instead of trying to get into a phd directly you should think getting a M tech degree first in India. I'll suggest that you should sit for the GATE examination and take admission for M tech in old IITs or IISc. Once you're in IITs or IISc, maintain a very good gpa and try to do some very good research.

To just give you a hint how difficult it is, even students from IISc (which is the best institute in India) with GPA of 6.5/8 with publications don't get easy admissions in top-10 programs.

After getting your Mtech from IITs or IISc you will be in a much much better position to apply for Top-20 phd programs in Computer Science. Many faculty members of IITs and IISc have got their phds from top-20 universities. So, they can give you very good letters of recommendation as well.

  • What is your basis for these observations? In my experience admission committees struggle with comparing GPAs across universities.
    – StrongBad
    May 20, 2013 at 8:30
  • 5
    I know several students of WBUT with gpa above 8.2 and excellent general GRE score who applied to Top-20 MS programs in computer science but none of them were successful in getting admission. Also, there are over 30 colleges in WBUT. The best ones are considered average in India and while those at middle and bottom of the list are not considered good at all even in India.
    – user774025
    May 20, 2013 at 8:47
  • 1
    I agree with you on this. I have passed from WBUT with GPA of 8.5, which is certainly not the best possible. It is possible to get somewhere close to 9.0 if you take the examinations very seriously. And things being in WBUT as they are, it will be very difficult for any professor to write a recommendation letter stating that he had done good research, since very little research is actually conducted there. Your best bet is to get into a Masters at top Indian universities and then look for opportunities abroad.
    – Arani
    Jul 21, 2013 at 20:55
  • In WBUT, like majority of the Indian universities marks have absolutely nothing to do with what students write in the exams. That's why none of the good universities in India like IITs and IISc select students on the basis of GPA scores but on the basis of GATE score and interview. Unfortunately, most US universities are completely unaware of this fact.
    – user774025
    Jul 22, 2013 at 15:58
  • 3
    Update, I am currently doing my postgrad from HKU (Computer Science). Oct 9, 2013 at 16:55

I will share my story, it is somehow related. I got my BSc and MSc from a very average university in the Middle East (my GPA in BSc was below 2.7!!). So, of course I was conditionally admitted into the MSc program and by the time I graduated (2.5 years later), I had to work REALLY HARD and by then I was co-author of couple of journal and conference articles. When I started applying for PhD, I contacted many professors and applied in US and Canada but got rejections from most universities (although I had high TOEFL and GRE scores).

Before I finished my MSc, my adviser has come up with this idea. To sent me to attend a conference to present my MSc research because he knew that some professors are going to be there. I went and met many of the professors that I have contacted by email (and never got a reply from). To be honest, they did not remember me as they receive 10s of emails from other students on a daily basis. Some have even told that they don't go over them.

With couple of these professors who seemed interested in my MSc research, I have discussed my research interests as well as my BSc gpa and school issue. It turned out that it is risky to accept students with my gpa. The professor has to justify his decision somehow to the graduate committee. So, after one of these professors who saw my presentation, and knew that I was a co-author in couple of publication, said that he would go over my application one he gets back to his Uni. Few weeks later, I emailed him again and it turned out that the graduate committee would not admit me and asked me to redo my GRE and TOEFL to get higher scores! I did that, and finally got admitted! You should know that my school is top 50 in my field (civil engineering), my adviser is very well known, I got fully funded too, and I'm about to finalize my PhD!!

This is the moral of the story;

  • Get publications (its one of the only things you can control after you graduate, its too late to fix GPA or school name)
  • Contacts matter! Attend conferences and get in touch with people

It comes down to funding in the UK at least for all but the most prestigious Universities.

Being able to pay the (Non EU band) UK fees does give you preferential treatment despite the protestations to the contrary.

Edinburgh is one of the top Universities in the world for AI and on my (MSc AI) course we had numerous Indian students, one of them was from an IIT, the rest from middling Indian Universities. Did you try Edinburgh?

One of them is currently in Mumbai working and I'm sure could give you some advice, could twitter you his cell#.

As for the "After all, your real goal is to do great research, not to get into a top-20 program. Right?"

I'd disagree. A top program indicates excellent teaching and the fostering of a good Research environment and great resources as well as far better post-doc opportunities - you will likely not get this at Podunk U.

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