Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tips for Getting Accepted into an Engineering PhD Program: Part 1

I consider myself to be very lucky that I was accepted into Carnegie Mellon's ECE PhD Program. After all, CMU is a very competitive University, and many outstanding students are turned away. With this post, I hope to give you some tips and guidelines into getting accepted into a PhD program. I am assuming of course that you have good undergraduate grades and good GRE scores. If not, you should focus on getting your grades up first and your GRE scores up second.

There are multiple aspects to an engineering graduate school application: Grades, GRE scores, essays, letters of recommendations, and campus visits & professor interviews. I'll focus mainly on essays because that's something you can control because you'll write them. Now, don't open your word processor just yet, as you need to brainstorm first. While you're brainstorming, you should ask yourself several questions:
  • What research areas do I want to passionately pursue in graduate school?
  • What kinds of research did I have a passion for in undergraduate school?
  • Are there research areas that I have no passion for whatsoever?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • Which professor(s) at the University share my research interests?
  • How can I add value to the University?
You might notice a couple of key themes. First, you must have passion for the research that you pursue. After all, you will spend four to five years doing hard work at a University, and you will not enjoy your graduate life if you don't have a passion for what you do. Second,  you should keep in mind that professors will read your articles. These aren't just any professors: They're the ones who will decide whether or not they want to fund you. I understand that the admission process varies from University to University. However, in order to get accepted into a PhD program, a professor must be willing to fund you. In other words, you've got to write to your audience! This means that you'll need to write different essay(s) for each University to which you apply. I know that this sounds painful, but it will pay off dividends in the end. After all, each University has its own set of professors each of whom have their own research interests and needs, so an acceptance worthy essay for one University may fall short for a different University.

In a future post, I will discuss the importance of campus visits and interviews with professors. I hope that this article was helpful, and I wish you best of luck in your graduate school endeavors.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University