Dear Prospective Graduate Student,

There are many false myths about the graduate admissions process at U.S. universities. This has unfortunate consequences for everyone involved. During the Fall months, I get about 10 emails every day from prospective students who claim that “their research interests match mine.”

Unfortunately, my colleagues often get the identical emails from the exact same students — and that includes faculty colleagues who are in completely different areas.

This “shotgun approach” to sending emails to multiple professors is extremely unproductive. For me, it means that I have to wade through large numbers of “application junk” mails to get to the few genuinely interesting emails from qualified students.

Equally importantly, most of the senders of such “application junk" mails don't understand that it also backfires on them. Admissions at UCI (similar to other major research universities) is made by a committee. Individual faculty members cannot admit students on their own. The committee collects information from the faculty about what applicants they have “been in contact” with. Typically, if prospective students have been emailing different professors in completely different areas, that will work against them and may significantly reduce their chances of admission.

Now, if your goal is a Master's degree, you should not email any professors at all. Master's students do not normally "join a research group." You obtain an M.S. degree to better yourself, and like most universities, we expect you to pay full price for that privilege. Studying for an M.S. degree is very similar to undergraduate study: you attend classes, just that these classes are at a higher level than undergraduate classes. You typically will not see professors outside of the classroom. Occasionally, M.S. students in their second year will get invited by a professor to participate in a research project, which may culminate in a thesis, but typically this applies only to those M.S. students who do so exceptionally well in classes that they get "noticed" by a professor. In some rare instances, the professor may even pay the MS student a salary and/or take over the student's fees. But this is extremely rare and most certainly will not be decided until you have been at the university for a considerable amount of time and have made a personal impression on a faculty member. Most M.S. students do not write a thesis and do not ever participate in any research. As an M.S. student, you should expect to pay your full tuition and your cost of living out of your own pocket.

Conversely, if you are admitted as as Ph.D. student, we typically will pay all of your tuition and fees and even pay you a monthly salary. At present, the Computer Science department at UCI promises to fully support all admitted Ph.D. students as long as they are making "satisfactory progress," with no explicit time limit. That is a promise potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a consequence, admission to the Ph.D. program is orders of magnitude more competitive than admission to the M.S. program. Many applicants who are rejected from the Ph.D. program would have been accepted if they had applied for the M.S. program instead. But it is either or, so choose wisely. You may also want to read Doug Comer's very relevant web page “Notes on the Ph.D. Degree”.

If you are interested in applying to the Ph.D. program at UC Irvine (or any other university for that matter), do yourself a favor and take the following pieces of advice from me:

Having said all that, I do welcome legitimate questions from prospective graduate students. To answer the most common questions in advance (and repeating the most important one on funding):

If, after reading all of this, you still want to get in contact, please send me an email and mention the code word “Hogwarts 2.0” in your subject line. If you omit this keyword, I will assume that you haven't read this page and that your email is “application spam” — and I will report you to our admissions committee as an “application spammer”.

Good luck with your application,
Michael Franz