I am a Master student on CS. Actually in theory. I have a BE in polymer (Chemical Eng stuff), and I struggled somehow to get enrolled in this program.

I want to apply a TCS PhD in US. So, what do you people think is important that I get to apply to a PhD ?

Perhaps you may value these following options:

  1. published paper ( I am writing a paper on combinatorics )

  2. strong recommend letter

  3. a high score on GRE or GRE sub(math or CS ,U Chig recommends a math sub as far as I know)

  4. Meet some guys who doing recruiting.

Note that I have 2.0/5 GPA on my BE, so this really upsets me much.

Hope that this problem could help others desiring to do a PhD in TCS.


2 Answers 2


If you're currently a masters student in CS, then a lot of your 'switched major' issues have already gone away. the main concern in applying for a Ph.D in TCS is if you have sufficient mathematical background, as well as background in algorithms. If your MS program experience can demonstrate this, and you also can demonstrate mathematical expertise via your paper in combinatorics, then that concern goes away.

But admissions decisions are multivariate and stochastic. Maybe the right question is whether you have the right background to succeed, and there are answers regarding what constitutes the right background (on mathematical background). Also see this on how to prepare for a TCS advanced degree.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks very much for that. For mathematic background, I have learned analysis, linear algebra, combinatorics, abstract algebra and some others. So the point is I need to show that I have done these to the committees? $\endgroup$
    – Yao Wang
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 22:53

Not to address your question specifically, given my recent experience with TCS phd applications (US universities), I'd like to encourage you to apply to as many programs as possible. I don't want to be cynical, but given the limited number of spots available in these programs and the diverse and qualified pool of applicants, your admission is as random as it gets.

For instance, I have a joint degree in Math and EECS with a high GPA from a well respected university. Publication, great LORs, good GRE score, and research experience didn't help me not to get rejected form all the TCS programs I applied to (5/5 TCS rejections :D). So I recommend to have a plan B (I applied to AI instead of TCS for my top choice school which turned out to be much easier to get in)

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ One thing to keep in mind (and I of course don't know anything about your experience specifically) is that denial of an application often has less to do with the applicant and more to do with the funding status of the professors (which for theory folk is often limited) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 3:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Or even if a professor has funding, he may currently have all the students he wants / needs / can handle. Advising a grad student takes time, and no one seems to have enough of it... $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh Benkat. Very good for funding status of the professors. $\endgroup$
    – Yao Wang
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 12:07

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