Getting into Graduate School (Engineering / CS)

These are my personal opinions.  Other people will say other things.

 

Fellowships:

You must apply for fellowships to be competitive.  It actually doesn’t really matter if you get one because you find out after you are admitted to the schools.  But you need to be able to say on your application that you applied (they specifically ask).  If the school thinks you might win one then they will be more likely to admit you because they won’t have to pay for you.  The NSF deadline is /earlier than you think/.  It is usually late October or early November… which means you need to ask for letters of recommendation in late September or early October.

You should at least apply to:

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP)
National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG)

and probably to:

DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship Program
DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship Program

Thoughts:Think about qualification exams.  Many departments admit more people than they expect to pass quals and will
force them to leave after a masters.  Departments vary a lot — MIT MechE and Aero/Astro have much more difficult quals than EECS but also admit more people.  Ask the other grad students what quals are like when you visit — they will definitely be able to tell you.The GRE is a huge pain, but in engineering you mostly need good scores in the math.  English doesn’t appear to matter very much.In the end, there are really two things that get you into grad school.  One is good grades, publication(s), and fantastic reference letters.  The other is talking to professors.  The professors/admissions committees are looking at people without enough information.  If a professor has a choice between a great candidate on paper and a great candidate who s/he has talked to, that’s a huge difference.  I fully believe I got accepted where I did because the professors knew who I was, knew what I was interested in and had met me.  When my name came across someone stood up and said, “this guy is good, I’ve talked to him.”So you ABSOLUTELY MUST email and talk to professors.  This is really hard.  The way to start is to read their papers and write to them with a question about their work.  It needs to be an actual good question.  Then you can have a conversation with them which is key.  Saying, “I’m interested in your lab” isn’t going to work.  Too many people do that. This is really hard but it is what will get you into a top program.

When I was doing this as an undergraduate, it took me 4 to 6 hours per paper to read it, understand it, and come up with a question.

One thing that I found worthwhile was to read some of the sites out there on getting into grad school.  I liked:

http://jxyzabc.blogspot.com/2008/08/cs-grad-school-part-1-deciding-to-apply.html
http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2010/02/grad-interviews.html
http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2009/11/you-choose.html