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IllinoisCS’ Admission Process

Image source: https://www.coursera.org/degrees/master-of-computer-science-illinois/about

(This is a post I originally published on my personal website: https://yongjoopark.com in 2020)

TL;DR

  1. The final decisions are made by the committee.
  2. To reach the final stage, each applicant must be supported by a certain number of faculty members.
  3. To give supports, faculty members assess application materials (e.g., letters, transcripts, papers, etc.).

This post shares limited information about IllinoisCS’s admission process. No sensitive information included. Only to help prospective graduate students.

Last winter, as a new faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I experienced the admission process (in the computer science department) for the first time from the other side. In the past, I applied to many graduate schools as prospective students (and mostly got rejected…), but it was my first time experiencing the process as a potential advisor. When I was a student, I heard many different stories about how the graduate admission processes work. This I believe is because different schools have different internal processes. Some say the process is entirely handled by the admission committee, and some say individual faculty can admit it. At IllinoisCS, it is somewhere in between.

Last winter, I wanted to recruit new students for my research group. So, I had to do the following.

First, I browsed applications and short-listed the students that interest me. There were thousands of applications, so I checked only the applicants who expressed interests in the data area, and additionally the applicants who expressed interests in working with me. Then, I read each applicant’s letters, CV, GPA, and so on.

Second, I reached out to some of those applicants to set up Zoom calls. At that time, I was traveling due to my wedding, and also, many applicants were outside the state, so having Zoom calls made more sense.

Third, once I decided to support some of their applications, I had to get supports from other faculty, which is the requirement for moving forward to the admission committee. To get support from other faculty, I explained why this applicant is good. If applicants had extremely high GPA with several papers, getting support is easy. Otherwise, I had to explain why the applicant is still good enough to admit. In addition, I should show that I was willing to financially support the applicant (which comes out of my limited research funding or TA slots).

Finally, the case proceeded to the (departmental) admission committee. I believe, in most cases, the admission committee approves unless there is a red flag. I haven’t served on the admission committee, so I don’t have much information about what kinds of discussions are made there. In the future, I will have more stories to share about this.

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