Disclaimer: Answers to these questions are from the experiences of the authors of this article and are highly subjective. Certain answers can be invalid for certain scenarios.
PhD application process is a tedious process that can take 6 months to even 1 and half years. Here is a list of things you need to be doing during this process in no particular order.
Most universities require you to take either or both GRE and TOEFL exams. Refer to university graduate school website to find out their requirements. But its a good idea to do get ready and sit for the exams if you are planning to apply for multiple universities. There are universities that do not require either of these exams. But those are often highly competitive and your chances of selection can be low compared to others.
GRE exam mainly consists of an analytical section and a verbal section. Analytical section tests your mathematical skills and verbal section tests your english language skills. It is highly recommended to achieve more than 750 (out of 800) in analytical exams, but getting 800 can be a big plus. If you have less than 700, you have very low chance of getting through the first screening.
Most schools understand that verbal section is really hard and they don't want you to excel in that. Getting more than 350 is generally considered okay for this section. But you need to prove your English skills with better TOEFL score.
As of this writing,in Sri Lanka they offer paper based GRE exams once a year. But in India they have internet based exams on a regular basis. If you cannot sit for the paper based exams in Sri Lanka or you have a low score, going to India and getting your exams done is a good alternative.
Short answer is, in US - Yes !! in Canada - No !!
You can directly apply for a PhD after your undergraduate degree if its a US school. During your first few years you will be taking courses to fulfil your PhD qualification. These subjects are (almost) equivalent to a master degree.
In Canada, most of the universities require you to have a masters degree to apply for a PhD. There are cases where few students are taken directly into the PhD program but this is rare and these students tend to have an exceptional academic and research record, also often having prior experience with the lab they are applying to.
Answer to this question depends on numerous factors. It can depend on your skills, your advisor, your area of research, your research lab, your rate of publications, your school, your department procedures and little bit of luck. In general it can take from 3.5 years upto 10 years, but on average its about 5 to 6 years.
This depends on the area of research you are interested in. Search for university labs that have research in your area of interest. Read papers published in those labs and send emails to the faculties in that lab. Make sure you show interest in the work they are doing.
Selecting universities purely based on ranking can be misguiding. University ranking process is an ad-hoc process and depends on numerous factors. A leader in a certain field can have a lab in a small university. Also, general university rankings can be different from the subject area based ranking. For example, a university having a low general rank can have a higher rank in programming languages. Its always a good idea to select at least 2 universities from rankings 1-15 and 15-45 and 45-100.
This is a highly subjective question. People apply for graduate school for various reasons. Some are really passionate about a field and they want to learn and research more on that area. Some want to become faculties or teach in university and they need a PhD. Some require a PhD to get a better job. Some pursue a PhD to get into other countries and live a better life. Some pursue a PhD because his/her friend or relative is doing that.
Whatever the reason, PhD process can be tough. You will have to go through a hard time to fulfil the requirements and get through the process. Unless you are passionate about what you are doing it can be hard to survive. There are people who have given up PhD in the middle of the program (no I'm not talking about people who went on to start companies and got wealthy :D). But having said that I personally believe most of our students can go through this pain and get a PhD :)
Not really. If you are passionate about what you want to do and you think you can do it no matter how hard it gets then you are good enough. From my experience interacting with undergraduate students in Sri Lanka and in other countries I really believe our students can do it. Most of our students have the passion to do it. Remember when you are about to go for industrial training you were scared about working upto the company expectations? But didn't you complete your internship without any issue?
Where can I get recommendations for my PhD application?
A recommendation letter will be one of the main documents they will consider during PhD application process. It really recommends you and talks about your research ability from some one else's point of view. For this recommendation to be credible he or she must also have a credibility or credible record. So its really important to select the recommenders carefully. I've seen two types of people you should avoid at all cost for getting recommendations.
There are few funding resources available for a PhD student.
Definitely yes, in fact you should (what’s the point of having a family if you cannot be with them at all the times :) ). You can work with the selected university to get dependent visa for your wife and kids. Certain visa types even allow your wife to work when you are here.
You are allowed to work on campus for 20hrs per week within Fall and Spring semesters. During summer you can work on a place related to your academic work for 40hrs or more in a week. All the other employments will be considered illegal for students on student visa.
Statement of Purpose (SOP) will be the marketing documents that will sell yourself to different universities. If you are not in contact with any of the faculties, the university committee and other interested faculties will read the SOP to consider yourself to their university or lab. Here are few things you can include in this document:
It is very important to adhere to application deadlines when applying to graduate studies. Usually deadlines for Fall applications are between early December (of the year before) and mid of January. Different universities have different dates. So make sure you keep track of them appropriately and apply well in time. This is easier said than done if you are not prepared with the prerequisites that you would encounter while applying. A set of possible time constraints are explained under the following points.
It takes time to get GRE and TOEFL results. If you are writing the Computer Based GRE test it would take 15 business days (i.e. nearly three full weeks in the calendar not two). Also, the fact that computer based test is not available in Sri Lanka and the nearest place you can go (fly) to is in Chennai, India, takes away a good deal of days from your schedule. If you plan to write the paper based GRE in Sri Lanka, of course you don't have to worry about flying, but will take approximately six (6) weeks to get results. Another things is that paper based GRE is conducted only twice per year in Sri Lanka (in Feb. and in Aug. if I remember correctly). They have only a limited number of seats available and they do get filled pretty quickly. So register as early as possible if you planning to take this path.
TOEFL Internet Based Test (IBT) is preferred over paper based version by most of the universities primarily because IBT includes a spoken section. You can take this in Sri Lanka and schedule is not as tight as for GRE, yet it will take 15 business days as well to get results.
Even if you are lucky with human relations and get the transcripts in time, you still have to send them abroad (for example United States). It's highly recommended that you use some method that will guarantee recipient signature on arrival (e.g. registered mail, FedEx, DHL, etc.). Usually it takes time for these to get delivered. Even FedEx will take two business days for documents. So make sure you prepare all the documents required for a particular university into a single package and send it well ahead of time. On a side note, make sure to put a small cover letter noting the list of content in your package for speedy processing when received by the university.
The application process has two main expenses; i.e. application fee and fees for tests (e.g. GRE, TOEFL). The following is a rough break down of prices for these.
One other thing you may do is to take the Online Writing Practice for GRE's Analytical Writing. This is highly encouraged if possible as it would instantly give you a score, which is in reality very close to what any human grader would give you. This way you have a better understanding about where you are standing in terms of writing. The test costs $21 (see ScoreItNow! (TM) )
The story is similar for TOEFL as well, except it enables you to designate your choice of 4 universities online until 10 p.m. (local) on the day prior to the test date. The additional fee if not or if sending to more than four is $17 per university (see TOEFL Scores ).
total if you apply to only four universities you are looking for something
(50 to 100 taken as 75 on average) x 4 + 190 + 150 = $640 (without other expenses)
Graduate school is about doing full-time research for 2 years if it’s a Masters or for 4+ years if its for a PhD. Get a flavour for what is involved by doing research projects and getting experience in your undergraduate years. The sooner you can do this, the better it is. Also talk to graduate students in your school and abroad. Read research papers and staff/lab profiles to understand the kinds of research taking place and what is involved in a graduate degree. Refer to the section on “Why should I apply to Graduate school”. If you like research work, graduate school is an option to get into after you complete your undergraduate degree – but you have to start planning early.
If you’re interested in doing a shorter research oriented degree, go for the MS, since its 2 years. Some universities offer a non-thesis (course based) MS which is also 2 years. If you plan to do the PhD (4+ years) or you need it for your dream job, its better to apply directly to the PhD. If you change your mind while doing the PhD, you can still leave early with a terminal MS.
In US, most MS degrees are not funded. On the other hand, almost all PhDs are fully funded.
In Canada, almost all thesis-based MS degrees are fully funded and PhDs are also funded.
Yes you can. Having the theoretical knowledge in different fields can be to your advantage since many professors these days are involved in multi-disciplinary and collaborative research projects. But it is better to have research experience in the field or program you are planning to apply to since you can show your potential supervisor why you deserve to get the acceptance as a graduate student in his or her lab.
You can still apply but you have to be careful about the schools you select. It is better to try, than to give up! Instead of applying to highly competitive, top-ranked universities, you should apply to the lower ranked ones. Later on, maybe after getting a terminal MS or if you consider doing a post-doc for instance, you can consider transferring to another university. In your SOP, you can explain why you have lower grades. To boost your application you should get involved in as many research projects as possible and highlight this in your SOP. If you can get involved in presentations, conferences and have publications, this will help your application. Also, read your potential supervisor’s publications well and try to propose additional innovative ideas that can be added to their studies. Do everything you can to show that you are totally into what they are doing and impress them!
You can also take external qualifications such as CIM and CIMA, and use those additional certificates and grades to boost your average. If you are applying to the US, you can send all of your transcripts to World Education Service (WES – www.wes.org ) where foreign credentials are evaluated and they will provide a cumulative assessment.
In Canada, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, Waterloo University and McGill University are all highly ranked for CS and Engineering programs. These are very competitive. Other universities to consider are University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Manitoba, Queens University and McMaster University.
In US it depends on the area of research you are interested. The top 10 universities in US can be good for any research area but after that point the rankings depend on the field. Do some research on labs in different universities.