Looking for advice on CS Graduate School applications

Hi all, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with how graduate school admissions are, particularly differences between what CS M.S and PhD programs are looking for in applicants, and I was hoping someone more knowledgeable could offer some advice on my situation.

Ideally, I would like to apply to a CS PhD program focusing on computer vision and robotics, and afterward look for work as a CS research scientist at a tech company. The potential problems I see in my application are that I have no prior research experience and my undergraduate GPA is fairly mediocre (3.2 overall, 3.1 in CS coursework). I slacked quite a bit in college, and so I don’t really expect glowing recommendations from any of my professors either (if they even remember me). I’m 3.5 years out of college now and I’ve been working full-time as a software developer in the meantime, although not at all on stuff related to my research interests.

Given those weaknesses, would it make more sense to apply to M.S programs and focus on doing well there before applying to a PhD to be able to present a good GPA? Also, I thought getting a master’s would help me get more recent/stronger recommendations. I’d love to hear if anyone else has been in a similar situation and what they ended up doing. I’d like to apply to PhD programs right away since most are funded and offer M.S degrees in tandem, but I’m a bit concerned about wasting an application cycle if my stats are far outside the range of typical CS PhD admits.

P.S I haven’t taken the GRE, but it appears that many graduate programs are waiving the GRE requirement for both M.S and PhD programs given the pandemic situation. If it would help my application to take it anyway, I could still find time to take it before the deadline.

First you need to see which programs accept students with a 3.2 GPA, Some CS programs require a 3.5 minimum, other require a 3.0.

Overall, I do agree that perhaps doing a masters will help with your PhD program admissions, though you will have to figure out how to finance a masters. Doing very well in a masters is a solid program will allow you to be competitive for more selective programs that the ones for which you are competitive now. It will also help you develop a more focused idea as to whether you actually want to do a PhD, and what directions interest you.

Is you undergrad from a well regarded program in the field (look at the rankings by CS websites, not by places like USNews)? That also may help.

Thank you for your reply! According to these rankings (http://csrankings.org/#/index?all), my undergrad school was in the top 25. My college is generally prestigious/selective, but not specifically well-known for CS as far as I know.

Makes sense regarding doing a masters first, this does seem to be the best path forward. I have some savings from work that should just about cover a 2-year program. Would taking the GRE and getting a good score boost my application to M.S programs or would it be a waste of time? Looking at some of the other posts in this sub, it seems the general opinion is that the GRE is one of the least considered factor in admissions.

I am less familiar with master’s program requirements, so hopefully somebody more knowledgeable will be along to help.