1. Average Score: 78.9/100 (from a non-prestigious 985 university)
2. GPA: 2.67/4.0 (Yes, it’s quite low), 2.94/4.0 (WES certified, but not of much use)
3. Did not take the GRE or TOEFL. TOEFL equivalent score: 96 (R30, L29, S19, W18)
4. Published two conference papers, one as the first author and one as the third author.
5. Experience includes an internship at a small company, research assistantship at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and remote research at UF.
6. During the application period, employed at China Mobile Research Institute in Chengdu due to a gap year taken the previous year.
7. Recommendation letters obtained from professors at UF, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the thesis advisor from the current university. Due to being employed, hesitant to ask supervisors from the company for recommendation letters.
8. Other experiences include attending Peking University’s summer school, exchange program at Kwansei Gakuin University, and achieving a second prize in a national competition.
Application to Universities and Results
Concerned about the possibility of losing a year due to the gap year, the applicant decided to apply to numerous programs worldwide, with a primary focus on the United States and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, due to a lack of clear self-assessment and the mindset of personally bearing the application fees, the applicant took an aggressive approach to the applications. In this year’s highly competitive CS hard application cycle, their strategy appeared exceptionally radical, with nearly an all-out effort.
Application to Universities and application Results
The applicant applied to seven countries and regions worldwide, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Canada, and Sweden. In total, they applied to 35 schools and 39 programs. The results are as follows: Admitted (5): STEVENS@MSCS, UFL@ECE, UTD@MSCS, WPI@MSCS, NTU@AI, UM@MSCS, Glasgow@AI&Robotics.
Rejected (34): All the remaining schools. Admitted:Rejected ratio = 1:7, with an unexpected stroke of luck in Hong Kong, Sweden, and Canada.
– First Semester: Focus on leisure activities.
– Second Semester: Continued focus on leisure activities.
– First Semester: Continued focus on leisure activities.
– Second Semester: Decided to study abroad in Japan.
Summer between Sophomore and Junior Year:
– Participated in a one-month exchange program in Japan.
– First Semester: Prepared for the N2 level Japanese language proficiency exam.
– Second Semester: Prepared for the TOEFL exam and participated in academic competitions.
Summer between Junior and Senior Year:
– Decided that the timeline for studying in Japan was too long and decided to apply to both the United States and the United Kingdom.
– First Semester: Prepared for the TOEFL exam and GRE.
– While preparing for the GRE, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
– Second Semester: Focused on solving practice problems for job interviews, completing the graduation thesis, and attending a summer program at Peking University.
– First half: Submitted online applications to various countries. Worked as a part-time research assistant in a laboratory at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
– Second half: Contacted professors, self-studied relevant skills, and prepared for summer research.
As you can see, this is the consequence of my repeated indecisiveness and lack of a well-defined application plan. I suffered significant losses as a result.
1. For a master’s degree, GPA is crucial as it sets a minimum threshold and opens up more opportunities. Schools like USC often prioritize GPA, and achieving a high GPA can make the process feel more manageable. Language proficiency scores should meet the required standards, and I believe that GRE may not be necessary this year.
For a Ph.D., the significance of networking may be slightly diminished in schools with a committee-based system, but in schools with a professor-based system, networking can truly be a game-changer. When the professor finds you suitable for their research direction, the process becomes much easier.
2. Promise me, let’s not check our emails ten times a day. Wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to spend that time playing games? Each of my offers appeared when I was quietly playing games, and each rejection came from obsessively checking my inbox. It’s mystical.
3. Last year, before the winter break, I was hopeful that I would have time to celebrate Valentine’s Day and prepare for a math competition. However, both opportunities slipped away. In February, I was forced to start from scratch, self-study, and search for jobs. I stayed at home until July. Fortunately, after experiencing such a period, I suddenly became more Zen. No matter how distant my plans seemed, I learned to take each step carefully, understanding that unexpected events can occur along the way. It’s better to focus on steady progress.
I learned a valuable lesson: sometimes, you don’t need to find the optimal solution at the moment. Instead, seek a suboptimal or fail-safe approach that will keep you moving forward. Looking back, you may discover that it was the best solution after all.
My battle with the TOEFL can be described as intense. I attended offline courses at a renowned educational institution, as well as one-on-one tutoring. I even considered joining an offline training camp offered by another well-known educational institution.
However, I later realized that language exams can be conquered through short-term, intensive preparation, especially for sections that involve input. It took me three attempts to score above 80 in the TOEFL, mainly because the gaps between each exam were too long. In hindsight, I should have prioritized tackling reading and listening sections and gradually worked on the rest.
My reading ability has always been good, as evident from my high score in N2. Perhaps it stemmed from my love for reading since childhood, which made me adept at comprehending the logical relationships within written text. Reading is the best skill to practice, so I encourage developing a reading habit by regularly reading sentences. Listening was initially the most challenging part for me. Eventually, I realized that building a solid foundation is crucial, being able to recognize and understand words. Then, it’s a matter of training your ears by listening at normal speed, followed by 1.2x speed and 1.5x speed for passages where you make more than two mistakes. You’ll notice how slow 1x speed actually feels.
Writing and speaking, to be honest, I don’t have any effective strategies. I often found myself deviating from the topic in writing, and my speaking scores consistently ranged from 19 to 21.
Statement of Purpose:
For revising my statement of purpose, I turned to Fiverr and sought assistance from native speakers to ensure my language was sound. I had a clear understanding of the content, and I only needed language revisions. No one knows your statement’s content better than yourself. Outsourcing the writing process to an agency and applying to schools would create a sense of absurdity, as if wearing someone else’s crown without deserving it.
Let me give you an example from before I accepted the offer from NTU. The program I applied for was relatively new, with limited information available. So, I went to LinkedIn and found dozens of NTU alumni, reaching out to them individually through messages or leaving my email address, asking if they could spare 30 minutes for a conversation. Around seven or eight people responded.
Then, I compiled my own inquiries, such as questions about the curriculum, program duration, employment prospects, and conducted preliminary research.
Prepare targeted questions for each alumni, such as their job preparation upon graduation, the support provided by the university, what they consider the best aspect of the program, and the most significant benefit in their job search. Also, make sure to inquire about crucial information that you need to know before arriving.
Pay attention to details and make the other person feel that you’re already on the right track. When embarking on your journey, you can observe the footprints left by those who have walked the same path. Then, contemplate and mold your own direction.
However, I believe that ten years from now, you will realize that the choice of the university you attended is not as critical as it may seem. Perhaps, the country you chose to study in might have some influence.
Life is long, and after spending a considerable time in China, we often have a sense that life doesn’t allow for mistakes. If we take one wrong step, we’ve lost everything. It’s quite terrifying for a nation known for its skill in playing Go, haha.
But that’s not the reality. Even Tianqi Chen, a respected figure, wasn’t certain about his research focus during his second year of graduate studies (based on what I read on his Zhihu profile). Yet, he amazed the world with
Final Thoughts on the Application Journey
As the application journey comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the lessons learned and the path ahead. While GPA constraints have influenced my choices, I have focused on enhancing my soft skills as an alternative.
Being bound by GPA requirements, I have embraced the opportunity to strengthen my soft skills. In the field of computer science, diligent pursuit of summer research projects and hands-on experiences during undergraduate studies can lead to significant improvement. Often, I have encountered exceptionally talented juniors who excel in their endeavors. However, it is rare to find undergraduates who have a clear direction from the early stages.
The Importance of Communication and Diversifying Background:
Effective communication is crucial, as it broadens perspectives and helps in determining one’s desired career path in different countries. Additionally, obtaining recommendation letters can greatly assist in the application process.
Looking back at this period, I feel a sense of missed opportunities in not fully utilizing the resources available at my university. However, regrets are an inevitable part of youth. Regardless of the timing, moving forward is always a positive step.
Through a year of work experience, I have come to realize that the campus years are when we experience the most significant growth. As I envision my future self, I embrace the philosophy of lifelong learning, taking one step at a time, surpassing my limits, and reaching new heights.
As the application process concludes, it is essential to acknowledge the constraints we face and adapt accordingly. By focusing on personal development, fostering effective communication, and embracing a commitment to lifelong learning, we can navigate the journey towards success, surpassing our own expectations and scaling new peaks.