Information for Prospective Students
The department of computer science at Virginia Tech is recognized for its interdisciplinary research emphasis, flexibility of course offerings, and increasing recognition on the national level as a dynamic graduate program. Click here for information about sources of funding for graduate students.
Our primary admissions criterion is our expectation regarding your ability to have a productive career as a research-track graduate student. We base this assessment on the academic record, proficiency in English speaking and writing, letters of recommendation, research experiences such as independent study projects, and prior internship/work experience. All of these are imperfect indicators of the real trait that we are interested in assessing, namely ability to succeed in research. If you have direct evidence, such as research publications in competitive conferences, or if your letter writers can speak to these abilities, that is considered more valuable than any score cutoffs. For this reason, we do not declare official minimum scores and cutoffs since performance on these measures is just one factor taken into account.
Our department accepts students from a variety of backgrounds besides computer science, such as mathematics, many branches of engineering, physics, biology, and many art disciplines. We require a background equivalent to two years of undergraduate training in Computer Science, including at least:
- an introductory course on programming and beginning data structures (typically referred to as "CS2"),
- a sophomore or junior-level course in data structures (i.e., something that goes beyond the data structures content normally expected from a standard "CS2" course), and
- a course in operating systems.
In addition, we expect background in Mathematics to include courses in Linear Algebra, Discrete Mathematics, Statistics, and at least one year of Calculus.
Application Frequently Asked Questions
When should I apply?
To be considered for admission during a given semester, all application materials must reach Virginia Tech by the following dates: December 15 (for Fall semester). We no longer accept applications for Spring semester. Due to the high volume of applications received, it is strongly recommended that you apply well in advance. This is particularly true for international applicants and any applicant who desires financial assistance.
Where should I apply?
All applications must be submitted online formally through the Virginia Tech Graduate School's online application form (https://applyto.graduateschool.vt.edu/). The entire package comprises:
- Graduate School online application form, including the CS applicant information which is part of that form.
- Non-refundable application fee.
- Three letters of recommendation. These should be sent electronically using the on-line form to ensure that the letters are correctly matched to your application.
- Official GRE scores from ETS. The general exam is required.
- Official TOEFL scores from ETS for international students whose native language is not English and who have not earned a bachelor or master's degree from an anglophone univerisity (American, Canadian, British, or Australian). Departmental minimum scores are 550 (paper), 213 (computer), and 90 (internet).
- Copy of transcripts of your undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) studies. You must upload a scanned copy of your official transcripts at the time you apply for admissions. If you are admitted to Virginia Tech, you must provide an official paper copy of your transcripts when you come to campus.
I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in Virginia Tech Department XYZ. How do I switch from XYZ to Computer Science?
Transfers from another VT department into CS are evaluated just like a regular application to the CS department. First, complete and submit a change of graduate program request form (available from the Graduate School forms page). This will enable us to request your application file (GRE scores, transcripts, recommendation letters, and essentially all components of the original application) to be sent over from the graduate school to the CS department for evaluation.
Transfer students should already have selected and have the support of a research adviser from CS before we evaluate the transfer request.
I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in Virginia Tech Department XYZ. I would like to get a simultaneous degree in Computer Science.
It is department policy to approve simultaneous degrees only for research-track students, i.e., either Masters thesis or Ph.D., and for whom a CS faculty member has agreed to serve as the thesis advisor. This is normally only done when the student already has a standing research relationship with the potential advisor stemming from the research program being done in the home department. Important: Simultaneous degree students may only file a thesis-track Plan of Study, and we will not honor requests to change from the thesis to coursework-only track for simultaneous degree students.
To request consideration for a Simultaneous Degree in CS, do the following three things:
- Have your current advisor (for your current degree) send email to Dr. Shaffer indicating their approval for the you to do a simultaneous degree.
- Have your potential CS advisor send email to Dr. Shaffer indicating that s/he agrees to supervise your thesis, and indicating what the thesis topic will be.
- Submit a completed "Application for Simultaneous Degree" form (available from the Graduate School forms page).
Can I upload copies of my transcripts?
Yes, you are required to upload one copy of your scanned official transcript from each institution where you have earned or will earn a degree. Please do not mail paper copies of your official transcripts (or anything else!) to us. For more information visit the Graduate School page at http://graduateschool.vt.edu/admissions/how-to-apply.html.
I was able to schedule my GRE/TOEFL exam only after the application deadline. What should I do?
You can submit all the remaining materials by the deadline and submit the scores once they arrive. We will continue to review applications as they become complete - so aim to schedule these exams as early as possible.
Can I track my application's review progress?
You can track your application's progress online once it has been submitted. The Graduate School will send you an e-mail with instructions for checking your application status. The CS Department is not able to respond to emails or phone calls regarding the status of applications.
My GRE score is __, my TOEFL score is __, my GPA is __. Can you assess my chances of admission?
We do not do pre-reviews of applications. We will evaluate your application material once you officially apply via the Graduate School. The only sure-fire way to know if you will be admitted is to apply.
What are the minimum scores you will accept?
The graduate school has minimum requirements for an application to be considered. We follow those published minimums. Perhaps the most important is the requirement that students from non-native English speaking countries have a minimum combined score of 90 on the TOEFL exam, and all sudents must have the equivalent of a 3.0 minimum GPA.
Our primary admissions criterion is our expectation regarding your ability to have a productive career as a research-track graduate student. We base this assessment on the academic record (amount of Computer Science background, where previous degrees were obtained, class rank and grade point average, and scores on standard exams such as the GRE general exam and TOEFL), proficiency in English speaking and writing, letters of recommendation, and prior internship/work experience. All of these are imperfect indicators of the real trait that we are interested in assessing, namely ability to succeed in research. If you have direct evidence of research ability through research publications in competitive conferences or journals, or if your letter writers can speak to these abilities, that is considered more valuable than any score cutoffs. For this reason, we do not declare official minimum scores and cutoffs, etc. since performance on these measures is just one factor taken into account.
If I have multiple GRE scores, will you consider the best score? Or most recent score? If it is the best, will you consider the best of the total or best of individual scores?
It doesn't matter. The GRE is only one criterion used in admissions decisions. As the answer to the previous FAQ suggests, applicants with lower scores might be accepted and those with higher scores might be declined. You do not have to worry about your application being declined because we used the smaller GRE score.
Where should I furnish my letters of recommendation from? Academic professors? Supervisors from my industrial work experience? Other?
Request letters from people who can provide a detailed assessment of your capability to engage in graduate studies/research, i.e., those who have had ample opportunity to observe you in studies/work. Since we are a research-oriented graduate program, we look for evidence of research ability in these letters. Ideally, you should request letters from your most recent academic program and perhaps one letter from your most recent work experience (if applicable to your research skills).
How recent should letters of recommendation be?
Ideally, the letters should be no more than 2 years old. We will not categorically disregard older letters, but recent letters and letters from people who can directly attest to your research abilities will be given greater consideration.
What types of financial assistance are available?
The primary form of support available to incoming student include Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) and fellowships. Sometimes, students might be offered Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) by individual professors but these decisions are made the specific faculty members. When making decisions on offers of Graduate Teaching Assistantships, we do not take financial need or ability of students to support themselves into account. However, international students who are not given a Graduate Teaching Assistantship will not be offered admission unless they have completed a financial certification form indicating sufficient resources available to complete their degree requirements.
Here is more information on funding opportunities.
Which program should I apply to: M.S. or Ph.D.?
Applicants may apply to either the MS or PhD programs. Qualified students wishing admission to the PhD program, without first completing an MS, are welcome to do so. Note however that the PhD program has some requirements that differentiate it from the MS program, including a PhD qualification process and a limit of two courses that can be taken in a given semester. For more information, see the graduate handbook.
Can I defer my admission to a future semester?
While requests for deferral of admission will be considered, it is department policy to grant these only for exceptional reasons. Requests for a second deferral will not be granted. To make a request you must contact the CS Department by email only at firstname.lastname@example.org, explain why you need a deferral, and specify the term to which you would like to be deferred. You will be notified by email of the decision. Prior funding offers are not automatically repeated if a deferral is granted. In addition, deferral to Fall admissions if you have been admitted for Spring is rarely done. What we often do is defer your application and reconsider you for admission. Our Spring and Fall pool of applicants are significantly different, so we cannot guarantee admissions for the Fall if you were admitted for the Spring.
Can you reconsider my declined application?
We are unable to reconsider an application that was declined. If you wish to re-apply, you will need to pay the application fee again and start the process over. However, the outcome will likely change only if there is a significant change in the information contained in the application.
Can my application fee be waived?
The CS department is not involved in making decisions regarding waivers of application fees. This is handled by the Graduate School.
Any other tips?
- Email addresses: If you change your email address during the application process, be sure to inform both the Graduate School and the CS department. Normally all communications sent out to applicants will go to the address specified on the original application.
- Names: Because of differences in naming conventions among nations, it is essential that you clearly specify what you intend to be your last name (family or surname), first (given) name, and middle name on all documents. It is also important that you be consistent in their use. If we cannot determine your name accurately in our records, your application materials could become separated, misfiled, or lost. And if the name that you use in any email to us is not recognizeable in your application materials, it might be hard for us to communicate sensibly with you. For applicants from China, the most common problem results when the family and given names are switched somewhere during the process. For applicants from India, the most common problem results from inconsistent use of abbreviated forms of the name among various application documents. For applicants from the Middle East, the most common problem is inconsistent selection of name parts for different purposes. For applicants from Latin America, the most common problem is the inconsistent use of two surnames (apellido paterno and materno). In all cases, be consistent so that all documents are filed under the same name.
- Financial certification/visa documents: All financial certification documents and any paper regarding immigration and visa issues should be sent to the Graduate School, not the CS Department. All questions regarding these issues should be directed to the Graduate School.
Interdisciplinary Gradatuate Education Programs (IGEPS)
The Graduate School is supporting Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs) to promote and sustain interdisciplinary graduate education and research at Virginia Tech. Each IGEP addresses a major fundamental problem or complex societal issue requiring an interdisciplinary team of scholars.
Interdisciplinary graduate education at Virginia Tech is comprised of 3 components:
- Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs)
- Individualized Interdisciplinary PhD program
- IGERT graduate research training grants funded by the National Science Foundation
To read more, click here. Department of Computer Science faculty participate in most of these programs.