How to get admitted to a PhD program
DISCLAIMER: What appears on these pages represents my
personal opinions, which must not be construed as binding on any part
of Tufts University
So you'd like to get admitted to a good Phd program—maybe at
Tufts, maybe elsewhere. What do you do?
First of all, recognize that there are no guarantees.
Not only do you have to meet minimum standards for abilility and
research potential, but you must also distinguish yourself
among your peer group.
Every year, only the very best candidates are admitted, and because
the number of places is limited, we are sometimes forced to turn down
candidates who could have successfully completed the program.
What are the criteria for admission?
This is what I believe admissions committees are looking for.
(Note disclaimer above.)
The ideal PhD candidate shows
Sometimes we have applicants whose primary backgrounds are not in
It is very difficult to make any general statements about these
such students often begin with a
post-bachelor's certificate in Computer Science and are then admitted to a degree program.
Students with solid background in theory (at the level of
our CS 160 and 170) and programming (at the level of our
CS 15 and 40) may be admitted directly to a degree program.
- Strong evidence of research potential.
- Excellent grades, e.g., at least A-minus.
- Good GRE scores.
- Good preparation for both course work and research. Ideally, this
means a strong plan of study at a university that is known to us.
Your plan of study should give you good background in both
and programming practice.
To see if your undergraduate plan of study is comparable to ours,
look for the
undergraduate program in Computer Science at the
CS web site.
How can I tell whether I should apply?
We often receive inquiries from students who want to know whether to
apply to the program.
It is very difficult to make
predictions about outcomes without seeing an actual application.
In particular, we are unlikely to be able to tell very much from
seeing just your vita, resume, or transcript.
If you are interested in the program, the only real way to estimate
your chances of getting in is to apply.
What can I do to improve my chances of getting in?
If you do any or all of the following things, you will make it easy
for our admissions committee—or any other—to offer you a place in
- Undertake an ambitious course of study—and do well.
- Get involved with a research project.
- Get letters from people who (a) know your work and
(b) know what is expected at a major research university.
Faculty members often know how to write these letters;
industrial managers often don't.
The most helpful letters will not simply claim that you are smart,
are creative, work well independently, etc.
Instead, the best letters
will be packed with specific information about what
you did and what the results were, leaving the admissions committee to
draw its own conclusions about your abilities.
What should I say in my statement of purpose
It will help you write your statement of purpose if you know how it
will be used.
- The admissions committee will use your statement of purpose to try
to figure out who might be your research supervisor.
If you know you want to work with particular faculty, by all means
mention them by name.
Just be sure to demonstrate you know something about them—if you
appear to have picked a name out of a hat, you are unlikely to be
- The admissions committee will try to judge whether you are
committed to a research career and whether you know what you are
Another good thing you can do in a statement of purpose is give clear,
concise descriptions of work you have done.
This is an important skill for a researcher, and you have an
opportunity to show that you are already developing this skill.
For bonus points, explain the significance of your work.
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Norman Ramsey's home page.