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The Graduate School discussion

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Alright guys, I need some advice. I figured I'd post this thread so any general grad school questions could come here, but also I have some of my own "questions".

 

I'm currently a junior in Engineering Science and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, which is the 4th ranked program in the country. Suffice to say, it's brutally hard and at least considered the hardest engineering major here, which would put it up near the top overall as well. Anyways, I'm also a CS minor and math minor. This semester has turned out to be brutal and I'm struggling my way towards something in the high 2, low 3 range GPA wise. Do you think this one semester could wreck my chances at Grad school? I won't go much into my other "qualifications", but I'm in Phi Kappa Phi (honor society), have research experience in biomedical engineering, I've written for online journals, I'm a teaching assistant, and some others "resume fillers". I've never taken less than 18 credits, with my low number of classes being 6 and my high being 9. Since I'm late into the CS game, I've done a lot of work on my own time which may have affected my classes this semester some.


Sorry for the essay, but do you think there's still a chance? I'm looking at a career in CS, so I'm going to be applying to CS programs, instead of staying in engineering.

post #2 of 12
0. Cut down your class load. An additional class in your transcript has zero effect on admission. An additional "C" however, has a negative effect.
1. Get to know respectable/active researchers in your school, especially the field you want to get into. Talk to them. Ask to work with them on their project. That will lead to either or both of the following:
- A publication (or two) in refereed journals/conferences.
- Good references for grad school admission

Either one (though preferably both) would help people turn a blind eye on your GPA.
post #3 of 12
I don't think you can expect to have a publication at this point, especially because you only have 3 semesters left.

The biggest determining factor in admission (beyond GPA and GRE scores) are your recommendations. What are your relationships with your professors like? How well known are these professors in their fields? What's your cumulative GPA, and what's your trend - did you start out not so great and, besides this semester, have improved?

One of the problems you face is that when the economy dips graduate school applications go up. Right now graduate school admissions are just incredibly competitive, and GPA is an easy way to immediately weed out applicants. Your best way of overcoming that hurdle is to have an absolutely killer GRE score (or whatever test you have to take) as well as fantastic, personal recommendations.

Phi Kappa Phi probably won't make a difference -- it's only real use is that your membership can qualify you for some scholarship money, especially if you stay at Tech for graduate school.

What might make a difference is a competitive, interesting internship.

Have you won any scholarships, especially national ones? Have you entered any sort of engineered or programming competitions? Does Virginia Tech have a strong relationship with a particular program?

If there is one program you're set on applying, start making connections with the faculty there right now. Go and visit. Send them e-mails. Start networking.
post #4 of 12
As others have said, taking a bunch of classes does not really help, but doing poorly in even one class will hurt you. When I was applying for grad school last year, I had a crappy GPA and had a few Cs on my transcript, but had a positive trend so I think that helped.

High GRE scores will not really help you since most applicants are getting 780+ Math scores (don't know what that translates to in the new GRE). What will make you stand out are your letter of recs, personal statement, and internships.
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 

Well, the problem with cutting down the load is that I can't really..I'll have my math minor wrapped up after this semester, but I still have a horde of technical electives I need to take (thankfully my CS minor courses can count as technical electives, which helps). It's pretty much full course load until graduation.

 

I worked with one of the best researchers at the school for about a year and a half, which was concerned with biomedical engineering. But now that I've decided on CS, I'm looking for other opportunities. The nice thing, though, about CS is that you can do a significant amount of work or projects on your own time which I plan to do over this Christmas break. Create a "portfolio" if you will.

 

I should have several really good references. I'm extremely close with one professor who has been nominated for teacher of the year more times than can be counted, plus he's in my field. I also TA for the former president of the school, so that's another one. Then I'll have my adviser who can give insight into the program. I'm sort of just looking for that last one. I could go back to my old research professor, but I'd prefer to get a more recent one in computer science.

 

Regarding GPA, at the moment I'm at a 3.6. I've pretty much hit that every semester, so this would be my outlier. My professors are great and really understanding, so I've gotten into contact with two of them seeing if there's anything I can do to boost my grade in my two bad classes (it's really only two that are going to hit me this semester). One has already replied positively, which is nice.

 

Yeah, I figured PKP was just nice to show that "Oh hey, it's hard to compare GPA's across schools, but at least this shows I'm in the top 7.5% of my class" as an engineer.

 

The last two is sort of where I'm at and what I'm looking at. I was selected this year to be part of the VT Rhodes/Marshall prep program, but they didn't realize I was only a Junior (senior standing credit wise) so I was going to put that off a year. Sadly, I think my GPA may rule me out of that if it takes a big hit this semester. There's still opportunities and I think I'm going to get into contact with my adviser about some of them. My goal internship this semester is with Palantir, but I'm not sure my coding is up to scratch yet (I got interested in CS, and subsequently added the minor, later than most, hence all the outside work). So I'm cautiously optimistic..

 

Thanks for all the great points. Definitely trying to keep a level head and map it out. Also, didn't realize I could have a longer reply than my OP, but looks like I did..

post #6 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dapp View Post

Sorry for the essay, but do you think there's still a chance? I'm looking at a career in CS, so I'm going to be applying to CS programs, instead of staying in engineering.

If you're looking at a career in CS, the ROI on a graduate degree in CS is pretty low.
post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by dah328 View Post

If you're looking at a career in CS, the ROI on a graduate degree in CS is pretty low.

What? Amongst all PhD, CS has the highest average income, and one of the highest demand in current economy.
post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

Yeah, apart from enjoying CS, I wouldn't be looking at it if it had poor job prospects. There are some worries of a dot-com 2.0, but even if I don't go full CS for my career, computer science combined with an engineering undergrad should put me in a good position for a number of jobs.

post #9 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by onix View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by dah328 View Post

If you're looking at a career in CS, the ROI on a graduate degree in CS is pretty low.

What? Amongst all PhD, CS has the highest average income, and one of the highest demand in current economy.

You may very well be correct. That still does not mean that the ROI on a PhD in computer science is good. (In fact, what it more likely means is simply that the average income and demand for PhDs in other fields is particularly poor.) The average salary for a CS major with a PhD isn't much higher than the average salary for a CS major with a bachelors degree. Add to that the fact that very few CS positions require a PhD or care that you have one. In other words, it's a credential with limited demand outside of academia. For the average CS major, the only graduate degree I would recommend is a Masters degree and that only if it's no more than one extra year and doesn't cause you to incur any additional debt. If you take an industry job in CS and don't suck at your job, it will be only 4-6 years before merit adjustments to your compensation overwhelm whatever small reduction there may have been to your starting compensation due to your degree. In other words, if you take 2-3 years to get a Masters or 4-6 years to get a PhD in computer science, your compensation will likely lag behind the guy with the Bachelors degree who spent those same years working in industry.

Also, even in CS, there will be lots of jobs for which a PhD will be perceived as overqualified.
post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by dah328 View Post

You may very well be correct. That still does not mean that the ROI on a PhD in computer science is good. (In fact, what it more likely means is simply that the average income and demand for PhDs in other fields is particularly poor.) The average salary for a CS major with a PhD isn't much higher than the average salary for a CS major with a bachelors degree. Add to that the fact that very few CS positions require a PhD or care that you have one. In other words, it's a credential with limited demand outside of academia. For the average CS major, the only graduate degree I would recommend is a Masters degree and that only if it's no more than one extra year and doesn't cause you to incur any additional debt. If you take an industry job in CS and don't suck at your job, it will be only 4-6 years before merit adjustments to your compensation overwhelm whatever small reduction there may have been to your starting compensation due to your degree. In other words, if you take 2-3 years to get a Masters or 4-6 years to get a PhD in computer science, your compensation will likely lag behind the guy with the Bachelors degree who spent those same years working in industry.
Also, even in CS, there will be lots of jobs for which a PhD will be perceived as overqualified.

One should never, ever, get a PhD if income is the main concern. And thus, my statement limits to PhD's only.
post #11 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by onix View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by dah328 View Post

You may very well be correct. That still does not mean that the ROI on a PhD in computer science is good. (In fact, what it more likely means is simply that the average income and demand for PhDs in other fields is particularly poor.) The average salary for a CS major with a PhD isn't much higher than the average salary for a CS major with a bachelors degree. Add to that the fact that very few CS positions require a PhD or care that you have one. In other words, it's a credential with limited demand outside of academia. For the average CS major, the only graduate degree I would recommend is a Masters degree and that only if it's no more than one extra year and doesn't cause you to incur any additional debt. If you take an industry job in CS and don't suck at your job, it will be only 4-6 years before merit adjustments to your compensation overwhelm whatever small reduction there may have been to your starting compensation due to your degree. In other words, if you take 2-3 years to get a Masters or 4-6 years to get a PhD in computer science, your compensation will likely lag behind the guy with the Bachelors degree who spent those same years working in industry.
Also, even in CS, there will be lots of jobs for which a PhD will be perceived as overqualified.

One should never, ever, get a PhD if income is the main concern. And thus, my statement limits to PhD's only.

I don't disagree. My original remark was based on the OP's statement that he wanted a career in CS. A relatively small percentage of CS careers requires or benefits from a PhD.
post #12 of 12

Dapp,

  I'm a professor in bioengineering.  Your record sounds excellent for graduate school.  While computer science is different than most engineering disciplines, many aspects of graduate school admission are the same.  A 3.6 GPA in a rigorous discipline from a great institution like Virginia Tech puts you in a very competitive position.  Also, it sounds like you can get great letters from prominent people.  As long as your GRE isn't disastrous (GRE is the least important predictor for graduate school success, in my opinion), you will be accepted to any number of excellent schools.

  If you are interested in a MS only, you may or may not get funding (tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend).  If you want a PhD, you will almost certainly get it at any place you are admitted.  

  If you are interested in software engineering, developing code for applications, you will probably do best with an MS, particularly if it fills some gaps in your background since you will only have a CS minor.  However, there are plenty of positions outside of academia where a PhD is not only useful, but necessary.  Getting a PhD is most helpful for any career that has a strong research component.  Of course, software engineering jobs at the BS and MS level are more plentiful, but if your career focus has to do with research and development, you may want to get a PhD.  For example, there are jobs at places like Wolfram Research and Microsoft that require a PhD in CS.

  You might want to consider staying at Virginia Tech for the MS in computer science.  That would probably be the easiest route and there may be advantages as far as credits and such.  Many schools have programs where you can apply some advanced undergraduate credit towards the MS.  

  If you want to get a PhD and wish to boost your chances of getting to a very competitive program, staying at Virginia Tech for the MS will also help.  It will give you another year or so to publish a CS paper or two and to round out your CS coursework and background.

  By the way, I've had students with credentials similar to yours who have gone on for MS and PhD studies at places like Vanderbilt, Wash U, U Wisconsin-Madison, University of Washington, and Rice.  I'm sure you can do as well.  Good luck.

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