Q: I got admitted to the graduate school I want to attend, but I did not get an offer of financial support. Does it help to email professors whose work I am interested in?
A: Ph.D. admissions almost always come with financial support. Most students admitted to the Master’s programs do not get financial support. After you arrive at a university, some opportunities may come up and you may get support.
Q: I got accepted into multiple PhD programs. I am not sure how to decide which admission to accept. How should I decide among the financial package, research areas represented, rank of school, geographic location, PhD qualifying process?
A: General advice is to determine the school that offers the best environment for you to become a successful researcher. Most departments have visiting days for admitted students, so attend them. If there are none, ask them to help arrange a visit. Talking to the faculty and graduate students is generally very helpful and informative. Most schools will offer financial support, even though the type may differ (e.g., TAship, RAship, fellowship). While a fellowship is nice, the research programs and interests of the faculty will be more important in the long run. Geographic location and qualifying process seem secondary (you should assume you will graduate and move; you should assume that the qualifying process is not a real hurdle). Don’t let money (including which school offers a slightly larger stipend) affect your choice, focus on what is better for you in the long run.
Q: Am I guaranteed full funding throughout my graduate study if I am funded initially?
A: No. However, in computer science and computing related fields, a student is typically funded for the entire graduate career.
Q: Is it wise to start at one school without funding and hope to get funding later if it is my preferred choice of school though I was admitted with full funding elsewhere?
PhD admissions typically come with financial support. If you are in the Master’s program, there is no guarantee that you will get funding at a later point in time, especially at schools that admit many Master’s students. However, many schools have funding opportunities for computer science students outside the CS department. This may be hard to arrange before you arrive, but a student can often get a good understanding on what other support opportunities are available.
Q: I did not get admitted to my top choices of graduate schools. Is it wise to start at one school with the hopes of transferring to a better ranked school after my Master’s? Or is it better to wait another year to apply again?
A: Accepting admission to a PhD program and knowing that you only plan to get Master’s is dishonest. Yes, students enter the PhD program, get an MS and do not continue their PhD (for a variety of reasons). However, entering a PhD program with the intention of only doing a Master’s and then switching to a PhD program somewhere else is different. You will need letters from the department you are leaving and researchers know each other. Think carefully about your strategy. Having said this, good students sometimes leave and pursue an MS somewhere else when the department lost or never had faculty in the area of their research interests. In one case, the faculty actually helped the student find a department with the right environment.
Q: What are my chances of receiving financial support if I get admitted into the Master’s program?
A: Some departments do not offer financial support to Master’s students (their TAs are PhD students). Other departments offer TAships to Master’s students when they have a need and the M.S. is very qualified. The graduate office can probably provide some past data. In many schools, computer science Master’s students find support in other departments or other units.
Q: I have been admitted to department X and it is not one my top choices. They have invited me (and all other admitted students) to attend a visiting weekend. Should I attend?
A: Unless you already have accepted admission somewhere else or you are certain you are not interested in department X, consider attending the visiting weekend. There is no substitute for visiting a department and talking to graduate students and faculty. You are likely to find out things you did not know and they may become important in your final decision. The more information you have, the better.
Q: I have been admitted to department X. It is not my “stretch” school, but there are two faculty whose research really interests me? Can I contact them to find out if they are taking on new students?
A: Sure, once you have been admitted to a program, you should not hesitate to contact the faculty if you have questions. Your email and phone conversations with them can prove to be useful in your final decision.