Information for Prospective Students
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The Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech has a strong interdisciplinary research emphasis with flexible course requirements. We are gaining increasing recognition on the national level as a dynamic graduate program and a major producer of graduates at the PhD and Master's levels.
Click here for information about sources of funding for graduate students.
Virginia Tech's main campus is at Blacksburg, in southwest Virginia. The Northern Virginia campus is currently located in Falls Church, relocating to the Innovation Campus in the coming years. We operate as a single department, with a single faculty, single student body, and single set of rules related to our graduate degrees. The Northern Virginia campus is the primary home for our Master of Engineering (MEng) degree option. See information about student resources available at the Northern Virginia Center, and more about the CS programs in Northern Virginia.
MS/PhD: Our primary admissions criterion to the MS and PhD programs 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.
MEng: Our primary admissions criterion for the MEng program is our expectation regarding your ability to successfully complete the program. This program takes as its core missions to successfully bring a wider group of people into the computing field at the graduate level.
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.
For the MS/PhD tracks, 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.
For the MEng track, we require a background equivalent to two semesters of introductory programming courses (that is, to have successfully completed a "CS2" course at an accredited institution).
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:
MS/PhD: December 20, 2019 for Fall 2020 semester. September 15, 2020 for Spring 2021 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.
MEng: February 1, 2020 for Fall 2020 semester. October 1, 2020 for Spring 2021 semester.
Where should I apply?
All applications must be submitted online formally through the Virginia Tech Graduate School's online application form. 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 for the general exam are required for students applying to the MS or PhD from a non-US institution, and preferred (but not required) for students applying from a US institution. GRE scores are not required for students applying for the MEng.
- 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 the same as that of the Graduate School: 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.
When do the programs begin? And when should I expect to arrive?
This varies slightly each year. Fall semester typically begins in the third or forth week of August. Spring semester typically begins in the third or forth week of January. You should be on campus and ready to attend orientation by the Monday one week prior to the start of classes.
What is the difference between the MS track and the MEng track?
The MS track requires completing a thesis. The MEng track is coursework only. This in turn leads to different expectations in terms of minimum background, the skillset training emphasis, and the typical time to completion. MS track students are expected to have the equivalent of a CS minor (typically two years of coursework), while MEng track requires completion of a traditional second semester programming course. MS track students will gain greater experience with a number of "soft skills" associcated with completing a thesis, including a significant writing experience, more experience with self-directed research work, and often more communications and group project skills. It is a natural stepping stone to the PhD. The MEng track is better suited for students who seek to enter the computing profession at the graduate level. It supplies strong technical training, but with less emphasis on "soft skills" gained from the thesis experience. Students taking the MS track should expect to spend four academic semesters in the program. Students taking the MEng can often complete the degree more quickly. Our GTAs are drawn from the MS and PhD students.
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 seeking to enter the MS or PhD track should already have selected and have the support of a research advisor from CS before we evaluate the transfer request. This is not a requirement for students seeking to enter the MEng track.
I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in Virginia Tech Department XYZ. I would like to get a simultaneous degree in Computer Science.
If you seek to enter the MEng track, simply submit a completed "Application for Simultaneous Degree" form (available from the Graduate School forms page).
We only admit research-track students (MS/PhD) after a CS faculty member has agreed to serve as the thesis or dissertation 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 for the MS or PhD tracks, do the following:
- 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.
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 for the MS and PhD tracks is our expectation regarding your ability to have a productive career as a research-track graduate student. Our primary admissions criterion for the MEng program is our expectation regarding your ability to successfully complete the program. We base our 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 your chosen program. If you have direct evidence of research ability through research publications in competitive conferences or journals (for the MS/PhD tracks), or if your letter writers can speak to your 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 students in the MS/PhD program include Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) and fellowships. Sometimes, students might be offered Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) by individual professors, but these decisions are made by 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.
I am interested in the research track. Which program should I apply to: M.S. or Ph.D.?
Research-track 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. For more information, see the degree requirements.
I know that I want to do research, and so am in or plan to enter the MS or PhD degree track. How do I get started with a reseach group?
The place to start is with contacting faculty, and arranging to work with them. Here are some places to get information on who might be good to ask. Your first question is likely to be: Who is working in an area that I am interested in? The Research Areas page should be a good starting place for this, but be aware that many of our faculty work in multiple areas, or on topics that are hard to pigeonhole in this way. Your next question might be: Is this person actually taking new students? There is huge variation on this point between faculty members, since some might be overloaded with students, actively growing their group, or unavailable for research activites at the moment. You can see this spreadsheet where we track the current status of faculty members with respect to how actively they are recruiting new students.
Will courses be offered online?
Depending upon the course, an on-line option may be available. Sections of the course that are online can be taught as synchronous (at a fixed time with the ability to interact live with the class and instructor) and asynchronous (prerecorded lectures and tutorials that can be viewed at the students convenience). Consult the University timetable of classes for information about specific course offerings.
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.