Please note that it is VERY easy for the OMSCS Admissions Committee to ascertain whether an applicant has read and followed the guidelines given here. You will actually save yourself an enormous amount of time and effort if you will read this carefully and follow its advice.
Use these suggestions as guidelines for preparing a stronger application for the OMSCS program. Following them does NOT guarantee that you will be accepted. Focus on documenting and substantiating your computer science knowledge and on explaining why you are capable of rigorous, graduate-level computer science coursework. These suggestions are presented in no particular order.
- NOT Describe your motivations or experiences prior to college.
- NOT List your coursework – it is on your transcript (UNLESS you need to describe how a course encompassed CS concepts).
- NOT Ask work peers, current or former classmates, spouses, in-laws, siblings (twins or otherwise!), parents, children, religious leaders, friends, etc. to write reference letters.
- NOT Describe or list hobbies, personal interests, or other areas of your life irrelevant to Computer Science.
- NOT List non-graded, non-academic-credit MOOC-type coursework.
- NOT List any background prior to your undergraduate work (e.g., secondary or high school) - it IS IRRELEVANT to Graduate School!
- SHOULD Include a transcript from EVERY college/university you have ever attended for academic credit! If you don't, processing your application will be delayed!
- SHOULD organize your Statement of Purpose as follows:
- [Keep the Statement of Purpose short!!!!!! Length does NOT equal quality!]
- Lead off with your academic credentials (including any relevant minors) – you are applying to an academic position – not a new job!
- Explain in ONE sentence your purpose in studying in the OMSCS program.
- [We do NOT want your life story! In the following, ONLY relate experiences from undergraduate life onwards! Anything before your undergraduate experience is IRRELEVANT to a graduate school application!]
- List student experiences related (or closely related) to Computer Science.
- List CS-relevant coop/internship experiences.
- Summarize CS-relevant work experiences and projects.
- Explain succinctly why your academic credentials and your CS-related experiences have prepared you for rigorous, graduate-level academic CS work.
- List in ONE sentence any special areas of CS research or interest that you have.
- Explain, IN DETAIL, a poor undergraduate GPA (and poor graduate GPA, if applicable) and why you would do better in rigorous graduate classes.
- Explain in ONE sentence how the OMSCS degree will benefit YOU.
- SHOULD upload into the Professional Development area of your application any supporting documents (except transcripts, which should be uploaded into the Academic History area).
- SHOULD Ask professors and/or work supervisors who have DIRECT, SPECIFIC knowledge of your Computer Science capabilities to write reference letters – AND ask them to comment SPECIFICALLY on your CS knowledge.
- SHOULD INCLUDE a resume – your application WILL NOT be evaluated if you do not submit a resume.
- SHOULD make sure that you have truthfully answered the nine Yes/No questions in the OMSCS Supplemental section as "Yes." If you truthfully answered "No" to any one of these nine questions, then you should NOT submit your application until you have corrected your application so that ALL nine of the questions can truthfully be answered "Yes."
The most common problems that we see are:
- transcripts are woefully out-of-date (meaning >3 months older than the application date) OR do not show the conferral of an earned degree.
- failure to explain poor undergraduate and/or graduate GPA.
- inclusion of "experiences" prior to your undergraduate life (we do not care that you started using a computer at age 5, etc.).
What you should ask the writers of your Recommendation Letters to address in their letters:
- Do NOT have work peers, spouses, in-laws, siblings (twins or otherwise!), parents, children, religious leaders, friends, etc. write recommendation letters –those letters are ignored!
- Your personal characteristics (e.g., being punctual to work, “thirsting” for knowledge, great team player, leadership skills, etc.) are NOT important. What is? Your technical skills as related to CS!
- Since you are applying to an academic program, you should have at least one academic reference (and preferably two).
- For an academic letter writer, ask a professor/teacher who has had you in a CS-related class; if you have a non-CS or related background and took few or no CS classes, ask a professor who taught you in a challenging, technical course. Regardless, ask them to comment specifically on your technical abilities – how did you meet the challenges of their course; how did you solve problems; what skills, knowledge, and tools did you bring to bear on the problem or project?
- For a work letter writer, it should be a supervisor who has DIRECT knowledge of your TECHNICAL CS-related skills. A high-level executive who doesn’t understand the technical details of your work cannot write a good recommendation. The letter writer should specifically comment on projects or tasks that you undertook: what was the problem, what was the result, and how were your CS skills utilized to achieve the result. Ask the letter writer to state their credentials as to how they relate to CS, i.e., why are they competent to comment on your CS skills?