CS PhD School Recommendations

Looking for recommendations for schools that offer AI/ML for the good student but not IVY material. UG 3.95 with two summers of research (both in Math) and study abroad program specifically for software engineering/CS. Looking for schools below the top 20 to increase odds of acceptance. Thanks.

The best advice can get is from your mentors at the undergraduate institution you attend.

CSrankings has a list of programs ranked by how many publications they put out in the last couple years, and you fan filter by area. Of course, take with a grain of salt as absolute numbers can be skewed by the number of faculty in the department - and that’s not necessarily indicative of program quality. Still, it’s a start if you don’t look at absolute numbers.


Why are you saying that your daughter is not “Ivy” material (by which I assume you mean top CS programs)? A 3.95 is nearly as high as you can possibly get; she’s got two summers of research as well. Has she done any research during the school year? First of all, she really shouldn’t sell herself short; she should include some good fit top programs on her list. Second of all, applying to doctoral programs isn’t really like undergrad, where you want some safety schools. All of the schools on the list should be good fit schools, and frankly program reputation (not necessarily rank, but reputation) is tied to employment (especially in academia). So she should be looking to go to a good program. (That doesn’t mean top 20, though; there are lots of good programs especially in CS.)

@juillet, would love to have a handful of good CS programs to research. Right now, the list is from 9% acceptance at UT-Austin through 25% at Notre Dame but I’d still like to hear about schools more likely for admittance and not sure where to look. What schools with better than a 25% acceptance rate, or thereabouts, would you suggest we look at?

And yes, she has done a 1 cr research for several semesters during the school years as a requirement/extension of the summer research.

As i said before, she needs to talk to her research mentors who will have a very good idea of the programs she should be interested in and also the ones which are likely to admit her easily. This is normal for a faculty member to do. I routinely have students come to talk with me about these very things and I try to be honest with my comments.

This is going to sound counterintuitive, but she shouldn’t pay very much attention to acceptance rates in graduate programs, especially not doctoral programs.

First of all, most doctoral programs don’t publish their acceptance rates anywhere.

Secondly, most good doctoral programs are going to necessarily have low acceptance rates. Finding some program that accepts more than 25% of their applicants would be a challenge, if not nearly impossible. Doctoral cohorts aresmall, much smaller than undergraduate cohorts. A doctoral program may only enroll 4 to 7 students every year. If you think about a program who aims to enroll 9 students and has a 75% yield rate, that means they can only admit about 12 students. If they get 100 applicants in a given year they’re already down to a 12% acceptance rate. Most of the top programs receive well over 100 applicants in a given year.

And because the numbers are so small, the acceptance rates can vary wildly over the course of a couple years. For one example, a program I am very familiar with in my field underestimated their yield the year I started graduate school - 2008, which was probably at least in part due to the financial crisis. Their cohorts were usually around 6-8 students and this particular year they had 12 admitted students say they would attend. They adjusted by admitting fewer students in the following 2-3 years. I doubt they had fewer applicants, though (if anything, they probably had more, given that the effects of the recession became more fully realized), so I’m sure their admission rates plummeted.

What some students seem to do is interpret acceptance rates as a probability - i.e., if Notre Dame’s acceptance rate is 25% that means I have an 25% chance of getting admitted. Not so. In fact, a given student may have a better chance of admission at a school with a lower acceptance rate for the simple reason that they’re a better fit for that department. The key, really, is to talk to people in your field who know you well (the professors that xraymancs is referencing) who can give you some sense of how competitive you are as a student and what programs are a good fit for you.

So for her, I would advise not focusing on acceptance rates but focusing on places where her overall profile is a good fit for the department - particularly her research interests and career goals.

Agreeing with both @juillet & @xraymancs (both of whom are really well-informed posters).

One of my collegekids just went through the PhD application process last year, and another is gearing up to do the same. In both cases, their profs/advisors and the researchers that they have worked with have had useful things to contribute, including where students have tended to go (and, importantly, what their experience has been), what they know about the work that is being done (sometimes including particular researchers), etc. In at least a couple of cases, my collegekid was told that one of the reasons for her offer was specific research work / experience with equipment that she had, which they felt made her a good fit (with a shorter learning curve, meaning that she could be useful to them faster!).

Have you found the grad cafe website?

Also, I feel like CS PhD programs are a tad less competitive than other subjects. It is so easy to make good money in CS without it…

@intparent, thank you, I know you recommended this before, I just googled it and found it :slight_smile: And yes, I agree that a PhD most likely isn’t necessary but her career counselors are recommending a Masters or Phd. I think in the end she’ll be applying to a couple Masters scholarship programs (Gates Cambridge and British Marshall), several PhD programs and jobs.

Well, schools are crying for CS profs right now if she is interested in the PhD path. This might be a good year to apply to programs. Yes, it takes several years to get through, but I think it will continue to be a very popular major for the upcoming generations.

One thing to keep in mind regarding funding that while PhDs don’t require tuition, they aren’t free. There is a large opportunity cost, especially in a hot field like CS.

Likewise, acceptance rates are not probabilities. Just because a school has a 25% acceptance rate does not mean one has a 25% chance of getting in, admissions are not random. There is a significant difference between the acceptance rate overall and for qualified serious applicants.