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Apping and MS Vs Phd

23 April 2008 14 Comments

Of late, People have been asking about Apping and MS Vs Phd. I neither have an MS degree nor a Phd degree. But when I wanted to app (long long ago, so long ago), I had got gyaan from one of my senior – Adwait Tumbde. He was CS department topper from NIT Trichy, 2004 batch. He was pursuing his Phd on databases at Wisconsin Madison. He is now on leave and is working at Yahoo! Here is what he had to say about MS Vs Phd.

MS Vs Phd

Refer to Prof. Mor Harchol-Balter’s guide for application to PhD (link:http://www.cs.cmu.edu/education/admissions/doctorate/)

In a nutshell, MS is like furthering your education, learning advanced topics and carrying out more complex projects than at undergrad level. After that, you get job as software engineer in some firm (higher salary than undergrad and better quality of work in US) As a PhD, you can work in a university or in some research lab or as system architect in some firm. From admission point of view(for CS), it’s very difficult to get admission for PhD compared to MS. But aid is almost guaranteed for PhD and almost never available for MS. Some universities like, wisconsin-madison has integrated MS/PhD program. So, its one common pool of applicants and everyone who is admitted is for PhD program and gets aid. He can drop out after MS.

Apping Process

From my experience –

1. GPA and university reputation are most important for admission to any university.

2. Your best chances are in the universities where your seniors have been in past.

3. Have a good resume. Don’t have it more than a page as far as possible. No admission committee member has time to read long resumes. So, longer you write more “boring” you become to him. Achievements in programming contests get special attention(depending on the level of competition)

4. SoP: I doubt if anyone reads it, but make a good statement of yourself. Be objective! No articulate language. One page as far as possible….but 1.5 page is OK. Talk about yourself, your experience in the field and why you want to join graduate school and why join the particular university and briefly mention career plan

5. Reco letters: I know most of you will be required to write your own reco letters….so here are some tips. I believe, after GPA this is most important thing. References based on your industrial work don’t matter. Admission committee wants to know about your skills in academics. If the person can comment on your abilities and skills, then it may be OK.

Reference letter should always focus on specifics: “person took course XYZ with me and secured score of 99.99 out of 100 and was 2nd in class of 100 students. He did so and so work under my supervision. He did this and this in that project. Achieved so and so in that….and that work is up for publication now….in so and so conference. I have supervised students in past who made to graduate schools at MIT, CMU, Stanford and I consider him to be at par with them….I consider him to be in top 100% of students I have supervised….or in top 200% of students who make to places like…..

This is the reference letter, people are looking for! Focus on specifics….don’t write, “he is hardworking, ambitious….I found him very social….NOOOO!!
No one wants to read that kind of stuff……Include a line about communication skills. It is important.

If you are writing more than a letter… make sure all those styles are different….. people here *DO* recognise that students write own references in India and tend to discount those.

6. Choose universities carefully. Some of you asked for universities and selecting them. It is very difficult for me to comment on choice of universities. I repeat, chances are best where your seniors have been in past. It hardly matters, in my opinion if the university is 30th ranked or 50th for MS. If you are going for lower ranked universities, apply to places where there are jobs like, California or Boston or washington state.

Remember, every university has different priorities and has different procedure and criteria for admission.

Hope this helps!

First Posted at Coffee With Sundar – http://coffeewithsundar.com




  • balaji said:


    but i dont agree that SOP is not that important. in fact, it is the most important part as that is the only place where you can mention your achievements which dont appear anywhere else. like how you discovered kruskal’s algorithm yourself etc.

    also, SOP should focus on your aptitude for research (twiddling the internals of Linux also is research) rather that being full of self-praises like how you wrote your “hello world” program in LOLPython at the age of five itself.

  • Sundar Rajan G S (author) said:

    @ Balaji,

    Thanks for your thoughts..

    Probably SOP is important in the sense that you have everything to lose by writing a BAD SOP.. But not much to gain as most of ppl write good SOPs or down load SOPs..

    I have not been there.. But unless it is starklingly different… it might not add value.. Its all about USP

  • MS vs Phd - The TestMagic Forums said:

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  • Vikhram said:


    I am not sure if you are aware of this but Shriram (Bog) and I compiled a booklet on apping fundae relevant to our Nittians. We’ve even had it hosted on our college lan with the T&P HOD’s support. I’m sure people like Verma/Rannesh and Co. would be aware of this… not much justice can be done in a blog over the MS vs PhD conundrum.. I’ve had so many juniors quiz me over and over about it… and its like a year and a half since I started my program but I’m yet to learn much of thw stuf that really discerns the two.. more so because I’m not a CS! 🙂

  • the Monk said:

    Nope, I’ve apped for a PhD and secured a fully-funded admit, and I don’t agree with what he’s saying. The most important thing is your research experience. Almost everything pales in comparison to how much research experience you have, and if you’ve published anything. But then, this is a highly subjective matter, and what works for one university may not work for another.

  • Sundar Rajan G S (author) said:

    @ Vikhram,

    Can you share the tips with the readers.. It will be great to have your inputs.

    + this is not a one post effort! I am getting inputs from different quarters – like students, professors etc.. And I will put up the posts as and when I hear from them.

    @ the Monk,

    I think I fully agree with you. Some one who does solid research can more or less figure out what he wants to do. This is to give an idea to other, more general folks.. who have descent academic background..

  • Bhaskar Prabhakar said:

    @ Vikhram

    First of all, thanks to Greram and you for the most comprehensive apping guide i ve ever seen. It cant get better than that. And i feel it deserves appreciation in a forum where lots of people will read it..though when we gave a presentation back in college a year back, we did say its you guys genuine work.

    @vikhram : modesty huh?

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  • http://www.thestreetgallery.com/ said:

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to make a
    great article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.