For Prospective Applicants

Dear applicant considering study as a graduate student, post-doc, or intern in UC Berkeley's Computer Science Division,

Many faculty members at UC Berkeley receive a large number of letters and emails from prospective graduate students, post-docs, and (yikes) summer interns. Because of the volume of mail we receive, I offer this FAQ for prospective students and post-docs (adapted from one written by Doug Tygar). If you have written me, I will refer you to this note. I am sorry that I don't have time to answer your inquiries individually.

Q: I've already been admitted. Does this FAQ apply to me?

A: No. If you've been admitted, congratulations! Admissions at Berkeley are highly competitive. If you're good enough to earn admission, we want to treat you well and make sure we meet your needs for information and discussion about your research opportunities at Berkeley. If you've been admitted, I will certainly make time to answer your personal inquiries. Please don't hesitate to call or send email.

Q: I am applying. Does this FAQ apply to me?

A: Yes. Because of the flood of email we receive from applicants, I cannot respond individually to applying students, so I am using this FAQ.

Q: What is your research?

A: Scientific computing, computational geometry, mesh generation, numerical methods, and physically-based animation. If you wish to join the Computer Science Division and work with me specifically, I recommend you look at my Research Overview and perhaps some of my papers to learn more details about the work I've done.

Q: Can I be your post-doc?

A: Post-docs are expensive, and I almost never have the money. The only time I've ever had a post-doc was when he, his graduate advisor, and I wrote a successful NSF proposal together to fund him beforehand. Because of the level of commitment involved, I will only consider you for a post-doctoral position if I know you personally or if you are recommended by an established researcher I know well. And a big wad of research cash falls on my head.

Q: Can I be your summer intern?

A: We do not offer internships!!! To anybody!!! It's just not part of the program. Please don't ask.

Q: Can I be your graduate student?

A: In my department, professors do not admit students. Departments admit students; once the students are here, they hook up with advisors. Applications are handled by an admissions committee that evaluates all applications. Normally, I only try to recruit students once they have already been admitted to Berkeley by the committee.

Please be aware that a general interest in, or previous experience in, scientific computing is not enough to make you suitable for admission. Students should have some formal training in computer science (not just programming), preferably including an upper-level course in Algorithms. A background in engineering or science in which you did a lot of programming is probably not enough to get you in. However, there are no iron-clad rules. Outstanding accomplishments on your part will make up for lack of specific experiences.

Once you're admitted, if you want to be advised by me specifically, you should have a strong interest in problems in geometry, numerical analysis, or physically-based animation. Also note that I prefer prospective doctoral candidates over those who only wish to obtain a Master's Degree (and so does the rest of the Computer Science Division).

Q: Who is on the admissions committee?

A: We keep that information private. At any rate, spamming the committee would not endear them to you. For information on applications, see the Graduate Admissions Web page. For answers to questions not covered there, you can contact Graduate Admissions at When you apply, be sure to include detailed information on any research you have conducted, including links to publications and good unpublished manuscripts. The committee often looks at these closely.

Q: Can I enter in January?

A: No. New graduate students are admitted only for the Fall semester. You must apply by the beginning of the calendar year to be admitted in the Fall. (Post-doctoral positions can start any time of year, but arrangements usually begin about a year in advance.)

Q: What are my chances of being admitted?

A: About 9% of applicants to Berkeley's computer science graduate program are admitted. We are eager to accept the best, most intellectually exciting students. If this is you, I encourage you to apply.

Q: What does Berkeley look for in deciding admissions?

A: From most important to least important: whether you've already published a first-rate paper or gotten a great result (only a rare few students have); letters of recommendation; undergraduate grades (filtered through our estimation of the quality of the schools you attended); good (but not top-rate) publications or results; GRE and TOEFL scores; personality. One particularly important point is evidence of your ability to do research. If you have already done research, your odds of admission are far better, and I recommend describing the results you obtained in detail in your application. We rarely admit students whose grade point averages are lower than 3.5 (half-way between an A and a B), and only a few are below 3.75.

About one-third of the students who apply have published papers (or papers soon to be published). If you're one of them, please include Web links and citations for the papers—this really helps your case, especially if we learn something new. Also, let us know if you've contributed to any significant software product or freeware. However, don't despair if you've done no research at all; we admit many students who have done none.

Q: Can I apply without submitting GRE scores?

A: General GRE scores are mandatory. This is a campus-wide requirement, which we are powerless to waive.

Q: Will sending email to professors help my chance of admissions?

A: No. Most faculty receive a large amount of email regarding admissions. An email contact will not persuade a faculty member to pursue an application. There is a place on the application to mention contacts with Berkeley faculty, but that refers to extended contacts—not just email contacts.

Q: What about financial aid?

A: We provide financial support for all Ph.D. students. If you are accepted, we will contact you about this. For M.S. students, funding depends on the circumstances of the student, and Berkeley will discuss this with you after you have been accepted.

Most Ph.D. students can count on being funded—including tuition and a stipend you can live on—for their entire stay at Berkeley. You will almost certainly not need student loans. However, you may need to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) for undergraduate or graduate courses at Berkeley. The amount of TAing you'll have to do will depend largely on how much grant money your advisor has. (Theory students usually wind up doing more TAing than systems students. So far, my students fall somewhere in between. As of 2005, funding for engineering has gotten tight.)

Post-docs, of course, are paid a salary—one of the reasons we don't have very many of them.

I hope this FAQ answers most of your questions. Good luck with your applications and studies!

Jonathan Shewchuk