What kind of qualifications should I have to apply to UVa?
For the dept. of Computer Science, a good GRE score of 2200+ helps. Also, a
TOEFL score in the 600s is recommended. The dept. requires you to take or
have taken AGRE, and a percentile score of 75 should be good. Work
experience is welcome, but not mandatory. Good performance at the
undergraduate level is necessary. Typically, people in the dept. have been
in the top 25% of their class.
For students applying to other depts., I can't tell you much except to
inquire from students or faculty in that dept.
Can I get more information from somewhere?
Before I came to the States, I had written a little book giving
information of the kind you ask. Unfortunately, that book is in Bombay,
which may be kinda distanced from where you are. If you are in Bombay, I
recommend calling up 567-4351 and asking my mother to loan you the book. If
you do borrow the book, feel free to copy parts of it for your use.
However, do not damage or alter the book in any way, and
do return it promptly; others need to use it too.
From where can I get information about the research and professors?
You can visit our many Web pages. I recommend visiting the University of
Virginia page (http://www.virginia.edu/
and the Department of Computer Science's page
Follow the links off this page in order to read about the various projects
and the general research. You can send email to professors. Some may
answer, some may not depending on their time, inclination and availability.
However, expressing interest in their research can do no harm, especially
if you genuinely are interested in their research. From the dept. pages, you
can go to student pages to find out about each student.
What is UVa's ranking? Or the Dept. of Computer Science's ranking?
I'm sure you understand that, like most ranking systems, the ranking of
universities is a subjective matter, and doesn't capture everything about
the university. For example, the ranking does not tell you much about the
size of your department, the research atmosphere, the stipend given to
students, the safety of the city in which the university is, the cost of
living, the weather, the quality of the football program, etc. All or some
of these may influence your decision to come here, and many of these will
determine how happy you will be here. With these caveats, let me launch
into an explanation of what the ranks mean.
The University rankings tell you how good the
university's education system is as a whole. Of course, this ranking
compares public universities (government-funded, such as State University
of New York or Ohio State Univerity or University of Virginia) and private
universities (privately-funded, or Ivy League such as Harvard, Stanford or
CMU). This comparison can be unfair because private universities typically
get more funding than public universities. Moreover, it also compares
uni-disciplinary universities (such as MIT or Georgia Tech or Virginia
Tech, which are engineering schools) with multi-disciplinary universities
(such as University of Virginia, which has engineering, law, medicine and
business, among others). This comparison can be unfair because you're
essentially comparing apples with oranges. To make matters more muddled,
the rankings include assessments of how good the undergraduate program is,
which may be of scant interest to you. Typically, a larger department will
be ranked higher, although there is empirical evidence to show that smaller
departments have a better research atmosphere. To belabour the obvious,
rankings are somewhat important, but they are not your only measure.
Understand what the rankings mean before attaching importance to them.
With that understanding, here are some numbers. UVa is
ranked in the top 20 universities in the US. Until recently, it was the top
ranked public university, but recently it slipped to second place. UVa's
undergraduate program is rated one of the best in the country. UVa is an
expensive school, but the (subjective) education-quality to expense ratio
at UVa is supposed to be first or second in the country. UVa's business
school (Darden) is among the top 5 or 10 in the country. UVa's medical
school is among the top 10 in the country. The medical school has the
benefit of being attached to a hospital (UVa hospital), where incidentally,
students can get treated. UVa's English dept. is the top ranked in the
country. Other schools, such as nursing, arts and sciences and commerce are
reasonably-ranked. The engineering school is in the top 30 in the dept.
(unsure about this). Computer Science is a part of the engineering school,
and is ranked in the top 25. The dept. is making every effort to break into
the top 10. Charlottesville, where UVa is located, was rated as one of the
best places to start a family in the US. This ranking means that C'ville
is pretty safe, if a bit small-townish.
Do I have to get a PhD? Can I get a Master's?
You can get out with one of two kinds of Master's. The Master of
Computer Science (MCS) degree is got after 9 classes and one final project.
The Master of Science requires 8 courses and a rigorous thesis. You can
either stay for a PhD or leave after that. If you stay, you must take a
Qualifying exam and pass the oral and written in a maximum of two attempts.
After that you take 5-6 classes more towards your PhD. You can skip a
Master's altogether and do a PhD, but that's a bit risky.
By when should I get all my documents in for application?
Well, the "final" deadline for application submission for the UVa Dept.
of Computer Science is around mid-January. By that time you should get your
application in and documents that originate from you, like the Statement of
Purpose, for example. The GRE/AGRE/TOEFL scores can trickle in but must be
here by March or so (I think) so that the faculty can reach a decision on
you by mid-March.
How is the workload at the Computer Science department?
The course-load is the standard throughout the country. The first 2
semesters are a bit harsh, and no one really expects you to get research
done. But then on, the load lightens up and you will do research. You have
to take 8 or 9 courses to get your Master's and 5 or 6 more for the PhD.
Usually Master's students leave within 2 years. PhD students typically take
about 4 years more to finish the PhD. Most lower-level courses require
you to take 2-3 exams per semester. The higher-level courses will involve
research-related reading and usually have a project due at the end of the
semester. Students are co-operative about courses (when allowed) and
research. Students are competitive but not cut-throat.
Will I be funded?
Yes. The dept. doesn't admit students to the Master's or PhD without
some form of funding. You may choose to bring in your own funding if you
wish, but the dept. is almost certain to support you throughout your stay
as a student. However, the dept. can and will cut funding if your GPA here
goes below a C. Initially, all students are put on a Teaching
Assistantship. They have to help create and grade assignments, create,
proctor and grade exams, hold office-hours and generally help the students
in the class. Depending on how much funding your advisor can find for you,
in later semesters you may get a Research Assistantship, meaning you get
paid to do research.
Students coming to other depts. may be funded partially or not at all. UVa
is an expensive university, despite being a public one. If you can afford
it, fine. If you can't afford all of it, you can take up jobs at the
University, such as driving the campus buses, working at libraries or being
a consultant at the laboratories. These jobs are less preferable to
teaching and research assistants partly because they pay less and partly
because they tend to eat up into your time.
If I am funded, will the money be enough?
Yes. The money is not going to be fantastic, but you'll be well above the
poverty level. You'll have enough money to share an apartment with one or
two roommates, buy a car after a year or so, and spend normally. An India
trip will require saving for about a year. You'll be able to eat at
restaurants fairly frequently and take a few modest trips per year. In
other words, you won't roll in the moolah, but you'll do enough to get by.
Graduate student salaries are just at that level where a go-getter would
want to get out quickly while a lazy guy may want to stick around for a
How is the University in general?
Well, you will find this University to be very diverse. That is a good
thing though because in the course of your research if you need help
related to biology or math or chemistry, you may find the answers right
here in the Univ. The CS dept. is among the top 25 in the US and is rising.
The faculty-to-student ratio is low, so profs spend more time with their
advisees. We aren't short of equipment or resources. You are likely to have
your own desk and a machine on that.
What about the campus?
The campus is one of the most beautiful in the US. It is spread out and
has the usual conveniences like gyms, pools, a sauna and coffeehouses. The
weather is great most of the year. Winters are a bit of an annoyance but
not as much as if you went further north. Virginians are by and large very
friendly people and you will find the Southern hospitality charming.
How is Charlottesville?
C'ville itself is a very safe town. It has its share of coffee-houses,
beer bars and restaurants but not much of a night life. For that you may
have to go to Washington, DC (2 hour's drive away) or Richmond (1 hour's
drive away). Close to C'ville are the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. There're
places to hike, walk, jog or drive.
Are there many Indians and Indian events in Charlottesville?
The Indian community at C'ville is substantial but not overwhelming.
The graduate students tend to hang out together but separately from the
undergrads, but not necessarily so. Diwali is celebrated somewhat
enthusiastically. Potlucks, get-togethers and SPIC-MACAY functions are
common. An Indian store in town supplies most Indian spices and essentials.
I have received some material from the department. Should I go through
all of them? What is important and what is not?
I heartily recommend perusing all the materials you get from the dept.
and the University. Most of your questions can be answered by the
International Students Letter sent out in a packet from our dept. If you
haven't got it yet, you will soon after you are accepted for admission.
Should I get an insurance policy in India?
Do NOT buy a policy from India. We'll set you up with inexpensive and
valid insurance when you arrive. UVa probably dislikes international insurance.
Besides, if you did get injured here, the insurance limit in India will be too
small, because medical expenses here are high. Also, you will need quick
reimbursement, which suggests that you want to take local insurance.
What clothes and personal items should I bring?
Within a few months of your arrival, Fall will be upon us. Get warm clothes
- a couple of sweaters and some thick socks. A big jacket would be great for
winter, but if you don't have one there, you can buy really good ones here. Oh,
there really is no need to bring Nirma washing soap. *grin* Get enough clothes
and underthings, since you should expect to wash once in about 10-15 days.
Jeans and T-shirts are recommended, but get maybe one set of formal clothes -
light shirt, tie and trousers. Non-stick cookware is a must. Getting a few
spices and non-messy foodstuff is a good idea. Some sweets for me is a
fantastic idea. *grin* Just kidding. When packing, keep important papers on
your body or in the carry-on luggage, NOT in the baggage that goes in the hold.
What books should I bring?
Books are very cheap in India. Bring any academic (or otherwise) book
that you think you'll need here. The following list is useful:
Computer Architecture - A Quantitative Approach:
Hennessey and Patterson
Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages and
Computation: Hopcroft and Ullman
Introduction to Algorithms, Cormen: Leiserson and Rivest
Programming Languages - Concepts and Constructs: Sethi
Operating Systems OR Modern Operating Systems: Tanenbaum
Advanced Concepts in Operating Systems: Singhal
Computer Networks: Tanenbaum
Compilers - Principles, Techniques and Tools: Aho,
Sethi and Ullman
How will I find housing and room-mates?
Yes, that is your biggest concern, but it's no big deal. You'll find a
roomie and apartment probably within a day or two of your staying here.
Meanwhile, you can stay at the International Centre at $20 a day, or with one
of us. Living alone is expensive, so you may not want to do that initially. Do
NOT ask for University Housing - just ignore that letter when it comes in. I
think someone local would be really the best person to help you with apartment-
hunting, so don't trouble your relatives/friends. We could find you an apt.,
but we don't know what exactly you are looking for. Do you want a cheap place
or a pretty one? Do you want smoking roomies, drinking roomies, roomies with
pets? Since an apartment is a rather personal matter, it's best you hunt one
yourself when you get here. Don't worry, we'll give you rides and certainly
advise you, but you have to make the final call yourself.
Are there any tests I have to take on arrival?
Yes. The dept. administers a Computer Science pre-test that tests
incoming students in the core subjects of Computer Architecture,
Programming Languages, Computer Algorithms and Theory and Operating
Systems. The results of this test do not influence your admission status.
However, based on how you do in these tests, the faculty may recommend that
you take undergraduate-level make-up courses in some of these fields. In
very rare cases, you may be asked to skip the graduate course altogether.
In addition to this test, there is an English Language test administered on
a University-wide basis. Make sure you attend that. On top of that, there
may be a TSE test that you will have to take. If you have been speaking
English most of your life, do not worry about the last two tests; they're
really easy. As for the pre-tests, they are slightly important, but not so
much that you should spend sleepless nights over them.
Any other important advice?
The most important advice is that the University does not pay you till
mid-September. You must bring enough money to last you till then and cover
initial expenses, which may initially be high. Try to come here with
$1200-$1500 to tide you over till the 1st of October. UVa has a honour loan
facility by which you can borrow up to $250 and repay it within 30 days. You
can avail of it in the first week of September in case you cannot bring
enough money. If you need anything more, get in touch with me.
Will someone be there to receive me and pick me up from the airport?
Are you coming in to Charlottesville or to one of Richmond, Washington or
Baltimore? If it's Charlottesville, anyone can give you a ride from the
airport into town. If it's one of the latter, a little planning is
required, but it can be managed. However, you should know that getting
rides from one of the bigger airports is non-trivial. One-way driving
distances from these airports are: Richmond: 1 hour, Washington Dulles: 2
hours, Washington National/Reagan: 2½ hours, Baltimore: 3 hours.