How to Apply to Grad School

Throughout my last few posts, I have discussed why I went to grad school and how to determine if you should apply to grad school. Next up in this series, I’ll discuss what you need when applying to grad school!

Some things you need to apply to grad school:

  1. Money! (Let’s be real, application fees and entrance examinations are expensive)
  2. List of schools you are applying to
  3. Personal statement
  4. Research statement
  5. List of potential recommenders

Fortunately, I was able to receive fee waivers for every grad school I applied to and even a partial waiver for the GRE! I was adamant that I would spend the lowest amount of money I possibly could throughout this process and achieved my goal. I will admit that the GRE score reports were a bit expensive after adding everything up. I would suggest asking the respective schools you apply to if you could send unofficial score reports and only pay for the official ones once you have been accepted and plan to enroll.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I only chose to apply to schools I would go to if they were the only ones I got into. From this, I was able to choose a mix of top 10 universities in computer science and universities not in the top 10 or top 20 that had professors I was interested in conducting research with. Research fit is extremely important and it’s essential to not let the prestige of schools you may be interested in cloud your judgement. Being stuck in a research area you’re not passionate about may prevent you from progressing throughout your graduate studies and leave you with an unsatisfactory experience.

In my opinion, your personal statement and research statements are the most important parts of your application. These statements should demonstrate your interest in research and passion for the respective field you want to conduct research in. It is also important to convey why you are the best fit for each program you apply to and you can do this by tailoring your statement to the respective university. Another essential part is your letters of recommendation. While you have less say in what your recommenders write in their letters, you do have a say in who you pick to write them. Always make sure that any person who writes a letter for you will write a positive one!

I’m still debating if I want to make another series detailing how to craft statements for graduate school and fellowship applications but here is a great Twitter thread about common pitfalls to avoid when writing your research statements. Let me know in the comments if you would like a more detailed guide or links to more resources and I’ll get started on a post! Also, Dartmouth’s Computer Science department has a great webpage detailing the process of applying to, selecting, and enrolling in MS or PhD programs in computer science. Definitely take a look if you are interested in going that route!

Feel free to share this post and follow me on all social media platforms @CollegeSista! Have questions about applying to grad school, life as a graduate student, or Cornell in particular? Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or through email!

Why I Chose to Attend Grad School

Graduate school application season is here, so I’ll be starting off my blog with a graduate school series! First up, I’ll be talking about why I chose to apply and attend my respective institution.


I’m currently a PhD student in Computer Science at Cornell University studying Computer Vision and Information & Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD). As a young adult, I always loved the idea of attending graduate school but it took me a while to figure out the exact path I wanted to take. Fortunately, I had the privilege of participating in summer research experiences, mentoring groups, and preparatory programs that supported my journey to graduate school and I’m here to share this with you all!

How did you choose where to apply?

My mantra for applying to grad school is that I would only apply to a specific university I would attend if it happened to be the only place I was accepted to. I also wanted to attend a top program in computer science, so making my choices based on these two main criteria simplified my options pretty easily. In grad school, it is important to find professors in a specific field that you are interested in working with, so you can’t choose a school based solely on its name or reputation. I used a handy website (http://csrankings.org) to factor out university rankings based on specific areas within computer science and then found professors in those disciplines that I would want to work with. Also, I was not picky about location or climate (even though I would have preferred to stay on the west coast), but that is a major factor for many prospective students to consider.

Why did you choose to attend Cornell?

During the second semester of my senior year after a receiving acceptances from graduate schools across the country, it was time to make some visits! Due to my hectic schedule and having to finish up my senior project, I was unable to visit every school but I did make it to my top choices. During my spring break, I flew over 2500 miles across the country to visit Cornell and Princeton and knew that I would have a tough choice ahead. I knew that I would be happy with either choice, but these institutions are so different culturally and academically that it was important for me to take everything into consideration.

Collage of buildings at Cornell and Princeton
Fortunately, my decisions weren’t based on weather because there was snow in March at both places! (top: Princeton, bottom: Cornell)
Princeton Computer Science Visit Day

I’m not sure much how this factored into my decision, but I visited Cornell first and it really set the tone for my subsequent visits. When leaving, I felt a twinge of sadness and knew that I wanted to come back. Even though I had never heard of Ithaca, NY a day in my life, my visit to the Computer Science department left me fulfilled and reinforced the idea that I could survive as a Black woman in a department where I would be one of few who look like me. I loved visiting Princeton as well, but I only saw one other underrepresented student at my visit (who I coincidentally met at a conference 7 months later!) and didn’t get to interact with current students as much as I would’ve liked. Most importantly, the faculty in the research areas I was interested in pursuing were a bit more established at Cornell and I knew it would be easier to switch or add research interests (which I ended up doing!).

Are you happy with your choice?

I can say that I’m extremely content with my choice to attend Cornell for graduate school! The graduate school here is unmatched in terms of support and opportunities and I couldn’t have chosen a better institution for this journey. I’ve had my struggles along the way, but the supportive communities I’ve cultivated across campus and within my department keep me motivated!


Have questions about applying to grad school, life as a graduate student, or Cornell in particular? Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or through email!