US News rankings are a great starting point Pick a bunch of schools at the best level you think you can get into, and then some safety lower-ranked schools Make sure the schools you apply to have at least one professor you’d love to work with Professor who knows you well can help you get calibrated on where you might get in and might have advice on who are the great advisors at other schools Schools
In short, because everyone thinks they matter In long, Students tend to go to the highest ranked school they get into Faculty tend to go the highest ranked school they can be at Collaborating with and being surrounded by stronger students and faculty tends to make you achieve more Why do the rankings matter?
E.g., potential advisor match is much more important than, let’s say, #6 versus #8 But don’t take them too literally
In short, things that stand out and are well-calibrated Published paper or publishable work in progress Functioning in a lab at comparable level as PhD students At Berkeley, functioning at the level of our PhD students means functioning at the level of #1 ranked schools’ PhD students One of top student(s) in Ph.D. level class Strong transcript Some of this info will be communicated through your SoP and your letters PS: don’t do horribly on the GREs (quantitative section carries more weight) What tends to get you admitted?
Common advice: “Letter writers need to know you well” Yes, at least one of them, and ideally more; in practice very few Berkeley admits have more than one letter writer who knows them really well (this is an artifact of needing to work in a research group for a long time to really contribute) Potential letter writers: Research advisor, TA’ed for professor, high grade in grad course, high grade in undergrad course Letter writers need to be calibrated If applying to a top ranked PhD program – how many such PhD students has that letter writer worked with? How many undergrads have they graduated to such programs? Does the letter writer publish papers at the same venues as the group you want to join? If both answers are negative, the letter is going to carry very little positive weight, if any, as there will be very limited calibrated information in there… How about the letters?
Try to ask at least 6 weeks before the deadline Don’t be afraid to send friendly reminders, e.g., 2 weeks before, 1 week before, 2 days before, day off, 2 hours before (hopefully no further reminders needed ) Make sure your letter writers are happy to write you a letter (someone feeling forced into writing you a letter might not be writing that great a letter …) Letters (ctd)
Your chance to express your value to the admissions committee 2/3 what you have achieved already Show you understand the research agenda in your lab Explain specific sub-project you worked on, what you contributed, what was hard and interesting about it While research is most important, also include teaching/mentoring experience, HKN service, outreach.. 1/3 what you want to do going forward – this part is to some extent school specific, e.g., who would you like to work with, why / on what topics? Rule of thumb, reference 2-5 professors you’d be interested in working with, be concrete about why; if you make it to the final rounds of the process, those professors will likely be asked for their opinion; if you list no-one, who will they ask to vouch for you… if you list too many, no-one listed might think you listed them all that seriously… Statement of Purpose (SoP)
You can keep updating this even beyond the deadline E.g., can post a paper that gets accepted in early January Very subjective take, but stylistically either: Super-cool website, very impressively put together Really simple page with relevant info but that’s it because too busy with research to embellish a web page [don’t want to be in-between, where it looks like you tried to make a nice page but weren’t capable of doing so …] Your webpage
Ask around in your research group Who is willing to share their application materials? Who is willing to give feedback on your drafts? Get other people’s materials and feedback
NSF and NDSEG are most prevalent ones, more or less must apply to Prestigious, good for resume Really nice for your future advisor not to have to deal with fund- raising for you – more time to spend with you on actual research/advising! Fellowships
Two ratings: Academic quality Based on your transcript, letters commenting on your qualities, your research proposal Broader impacts Outreach, tutoring, how you are changing the world (potentially also through the research you propose) Broader impacts is often the distinguishing factor between two applicants who are maxed out on the academic quality score POLISH YOUR APPLICATION, GET FEEDBACK!! NSF Fellowship