Frequently Asked Questions About Doctoral Admissions

Q: What are the criteria for admission to the Brown CS doctoral program?

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're looking for:

  • Academic performance: The GPA is not the only criterion. Grades in computer science and related disciplines, such as math, count more than grades in other areas. Also, we take into account the fact that at some very competitive schools it's difficult to achieve a high GPA.
  • Letters of recommendation: Letters must give a detailed, factual, and candid evaluation of your capabilities. Rankings and comparisons with other students are very useful. Ask your recommender to follow these guidelines and remind your recommenders about deadlines to ensure they're met. We routinely find ourselves unable to admit potentially qualified students because their letters of recommendation didn't arrive in time.
  • Research experience: Although not required, it can boost your chances of admission considerably. If you've 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're aware that test performance can improve considerably with practice, some people don't perform well on tests, and the verbal GRE is harder for some foreign applicants. In order to be considered for our program, the minimum score you can receive on the GRE verbal test is 155.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores: Applicants whose native language isn't English and who haven't received a college degree from an institution in an English-speaking country must take the TOEFL exam. You can also submit additional evidence, such as a certificate of completion for an English course. We generally don't consider applicants with scores below 620 (PBT), 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're 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'll help you in graduate school.
  • Awards, honors, and prizes: Unless they're well known (for example, an NSF fellowship or graduation with honors), please give details about them. How many candidates were there? How many awards were given? What were the selection criteria? This is especially important for foreign applicants. If these awards are really important, we'd expect your recommenders to mention them.

Q: Can I still apply if I won't have all the material ready by the deadline?

A: Unfortunately, no: you must submit all material by the application deadline. Since we ask for scans or electronic copies of your transcripts, and ETS provides 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.

Q: Can I apply at other times of the year?

A: No: all doctoral students must enter the program at the beginning of the fall semester, in September. Consequently, there's only one application period, with a deadline of December 15.

Q: I can't afford the application fee. Can you waive it?

A: The Graduate School can waive this fee, but does so only for American citizens on the basis on verifiable need. To request a waiver, send an email here explaining your situation. If your request is denied, your application is kept on hold during the application process and reactivated if you pay the application fee.

Q: What are my chances of being admitted?

A: We can't estimate your likelihood of admission on the basis of an email message. In recent years, we've admitted about 40 students from an applicant pool of about 300-400 students.

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

A: No. Admission and funding are handled independently. We provide all PhD students (including international students) with financial support. If you're eligible for a fellowship, we'll determine this when you apply, so you don't need to mention it in your application.

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

A: No, this isn't required. You're funded by Brown CS and Brown for the first year. You have this year to find a PhD advisor, which you do through courses, seminars, group meetings, and other contact. (In contrast, some of our competitors force you to align yourself 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, isn't likely to help your case. 

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

A: We encourage scanned or electronic copies of transcripts as part of the initial application; original documents are required if you're admitted and decide to enroll here. Please send all documents to the Graduate School, not Brown CS. ETS should send score reports for GRE and TOEFL scores; we can't accept scans of those reports as official notification of the results.

Q: How do I contact the Graduate School?

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 (3094) and the department code (78). Note that answers to these questions and many like them may be found at the Graduate School's website.

Q: Have you received all my application materials?

A: To find out, please start by checking the Graduate School's online application system. Don't contact the Graduate School for assistance unless you're unable to find them in the system.

Q:  My application still says it's awaiting materials even though everything has been submitted except for a TOEFL score. How do I clear the TOEFL requirement if I'm exempt from it?

A:  Please email the Graduate School and ask them to waive the requirement based on your exemption.  To see what qualifies you for an exemption, see the information available on the Graduate School's website.

Q: Where do I send my transcripts, score reports, and other materials?

A: Please send supplemental materials to:

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

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

Q: Who decides whom to admit?

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

Q: What if I have other questions?

A: Please email us.