Frequently Asked Questions About PhD Admissions

Q: What are the criteria for admission to the PhD program in computer science at Brown?

A: Academic performance, letters of recommendation and previous research experience are crucial in our selection process. We also consider GRE scores, TOEFL scores (if relevant), motivation, work experience, awards, honors, prizes, and other accomplishments. In more detail, we are looking for:

  • Academic performance: The GPA is not the only criterion. Grades in computer science and related disciplines (e.g., math) count more than grades in other areas. Also, we take into account the fact that at some very competitive schools it is very difficult to achieve a high GPA.
  • Letters of recommendation: Letters must give a detailed, factual, and candid evaluation of the applicant's capabilities. Rankings and comparisons with other students are very useful. Ask your recommender to follow these guidelines. Remind your recommenders of deadlines to ensure they are met. We routinely find ourselves unable to admit potentially qualified students because their letters of recommendation have not arrived in time.
  • Research experience: Research experience, although not required, can boost your chances of admission considerably. If you have worked on a research project, please tell us about it and ask at least one of your recommenders to comment on it. If your work is part of a joint project, the recommender should indicate your specific contribution to the project. Include abstracts or reprints of any papers you have published in journals or presented at conferences.
  • General GRE scores: These scores let us compare the basic skills of applicants from diverse backgrounds. We are aware that: test performance can improve considerably with practice, some people do not perform well on tests, and the verbal GRE is harder for some foreign applicants. The minimum score applicants can receive on the GRE verbal test is 500 in order to be considered for our program.
  • Subject GRE scores: The subject test scores are most useful when they are from the computer science exam. While we do not require subject test scores, the test provides an additional objective form of evaluation that is often helpful in determining an applicant's abilities.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores: Applicants whose native language is not English and who have not received a college degree from an institution in an English-speaking country must take the TOEFL exam. Additional evidence (e.g., certificate of completion of an English course) may also be submitted. We generally do not consider applicants who have scored below 620 (PBT) or 260 (CBT) or 105 (IBT), and prefer scores higher than that. The corresponding minimum IELTS score is 7.
  • Statement: The statement that accompanies your application helps us learn more about you. Tell us why you want to pursue a PhD program in computer science, and why you are applying to our department in particular. Clearly expressing any areas of academic interest make it easier for us to evaluate your application.
  • Work experience: Please describe your work experience in the application and, if related to computer science, mention how you think it will help you in graduate school.
  • Awards, honors, and prizes: Unless they are well known (e.g., NSF fellowship or graduation with honors), please give details about them (how many candidates? how many awards? what were the selection criteria?). This is especially important for foreign applicants. If these awards are really important, we would expect your recommenders to mention them.

Q: Can I still apply if I cannot have all the material ready by the deadline?

A: We cannot accept applications after the deadline. Since we ask for scans of your transcripts, GRE and TOEFL reports, there's no need to mail those documents when you apply. We also ask that your recommenders use the electronic system to submit their recommendations. Please be sure to give your recommenders enough time to write your letters of recommendation.

Q: Can I apply at other times of the year? Can I enter in the winter quarter?

A: All PhD students must enter the program at the same time (at the beginning of the fall semester, in September). Consequently, there is only one application deadline also.

Q: I cannot afford the application fee. Can you waive it?

A: The Graduate School can waive this fee, but does so only for U.S. citizens on the basis on verifiable need. To request a waiver, write to the Graduate School (or send email to explaining your situation. If your request is denied, your application is kept on hold during the application process and is reactivated if the application fee is paid.

Q: What are my chances of being admitted?

A: We cannot estimate your likelihood of admission on the basis of your letter or email message. In recent years, we have admitted about 40 students of an applicant pool of about 400 students.

Q: Does a request for financial aid affect my chances of being admitted?

A: No. Admission and funding are handled independently. We admit all PhD students (including international students) with financial support.

Q: Do I have to pick an advisor prior to entry?

A: No. You are funded by the department and university for the first year. You have this year to find a PhD advisor, which you do through courses, seminars, group meetings and other contact. We do not require you to pick an advisor prior to entry. (In contrast, some of our competitors force you to align with a particular advisor, whom you may have never met and whose work may not entirely interest you, before you begin.)

Do note, however, that your graduate application will probably be a lot stronger if you have some idea of what you want to do. If you do have such plans, please discuss them in your application statement. Try to be specific; simply listing the names of lots of professors, without providing concrete reasons for why you are interested in their work, is not likely to help your case.

Q: Are scans of any of the application materials acceptable?

A: Scanned copies are encouraged as part of the initial application; original documents are required if you are admitted and decide to enroll here. Please send all documents to the Graduate School, not the Computer Science Department.

Q: Do I have to take the GRE Subject exam?

A: The department does not require the Subject exam. If you do take it, the scores most useful to us would naturally be those from computer science. Your Subject test scores give us an additional objective form of evaluation. On the other hand, some students have extremely strong records, and this strength is evident from their application. For such students, the Subject test score does not provide much additional information. In the end, it's your call.

Q: Can I contact the graduate school by phone or electronic mail?

A: The graduate school's contact information is on their Web page.

Q: Should I use the institution code, the department code or both for the GRE and TOEFL?

A: The GRE institution code is 3094 and the GRE department code is 0402. For the TOEFL, you should use the school code which is 3094 and the department code 78. Note that answers to these questions and many like them may be found at our graduate school website:

Q: Have you received all my application materials?

A: Please contact the Graduate School directly at for questions relating to the online application system or to see if all of your materials have arrived.

Q: Where do I send my transcripts, score reports, etc?

A: Please send supplemental materials to:

      Brown Graduate School,
      47 George Street, Box 1867,
      Providence, RI 02912.

Please wait to find out if you have been admitted before mailing your official documents.

Q: Who decides whom to admit?

A: Officially, admissions are generated by the Graduate School of Brown University. In practice, the Computer Science Department (specifically, a group of faculty members) evaluates your application and makes recommendations to the Graduate School, which typically follows our recommendations. Therefore, you are generating your application (in particular, your statement) to be read primarily by computer science faculty.

Q: What if I have other questions?

A: You can email the department at Please be sure to mention that your question is about PhD admissions.