PhD Graduate Admissions

Applying to our PhD

We’re thrilled that you are interested in our PhD program in Computer Science! This page provides an overview of the application process, some guidelines and answers to specific questions. Please email with any questions not answered here.

Our program accepts a large number of applicants each year from a diverse range of backgrounds. Our applicants come directly from undergraduate or masters programs, as well as industry positions. They come from the United States as well as numerous countries outside the United States. You can learn more about our applicants by looking at our PhD program statistics.

The Application

Whiting School of Engineering Graduate Admissions information can be found here.  To start an application to our PhD degree program, begin here.   Applications are due December 15th for Fall admission.

Some general advice. The most important question we ask when reviewing applications: will this individual excel at research? Every part of your application is helpful insofar as it answers this question. The 4 major components of an application are statements, letters, grades and GRE.

Statements. This is one of the most important parts of your application. It lets us get to know you, and creates a narrative of your academic career and future plans. Before you write your statements, start by thinking about what you want us to learn about you. Make a list of important achievements, perspectives and goals. Build the statement around this list. We are looking for students who have made the most of the opportunities they have had, who are smart, creative and motivated. Keep in mind that we also have your CV and letters, so we don’t necessarily need a list of all accomplishments. However, the statements can fill in the narrative around what you did, specifically, why you did it. What motivates you? What are your research interests and why? These details aren’t found elsewhere in your application, so focus on them in the essay.

There are a few things we suggest not including in the statement. While it’s tempting to give a rationale for why you are applying to our program, don’t include it if it’s uninformed. Consider: “I want to apply to Johns Hopkins because it’s one of the premiere academic programs.” We know that already! If you do have specific reasons to be interested in our program (e.g. location, specific project, faculty, etc.) be sure to mention them.

In terms of motivation, be specific! Don’t write: “I’ve wanted to do a PhD in CS since I was 6 years old.” We don’t trust that 6 year olds make good career decisions. If you write “I have always found AREA X fascinating”, why?

Letters. The two most important factors of a letter: 1) Select someone who knows you well and 2) Select someone who knows how to write a letter.

First, it’s tempting to ask Prof X. to write a letter for you because they are a well known person in the field. While we can better contextualize letters from people we know, it’s only helpful if the letter contains meaningful information. If Prof X writes, “I’ve met the applicant a few times and they seem sharp” that’s not useful information. It’s more important to select someone who knows you well, and can discuss your achievements in detail.

Second, the letter writer should know how to write a letter. Academic research programs look for different things than a company. We often read letters from work supervisors that say nice things, but don’t speak to the qualities we find most important.

Of course, it’s a balance. You want someone who knows you well, but they still need to know how to write letters.

We understand that three letters are a lot, especially for an undergraduate applying directly to a PhD program. We don’t expect each candidate to have three amazing letters. Your choice is about balance. You want people who know you well, can write good academic letters, and know the research field. Use your choice of three people to create this balance.

Grades. There isn’t much you can do about this; you have the grades you have. We DO NOT use any grade cutoffs or thresholds in admissions. We want to see that you did well, and excelled in whatever program you were in. Did you push yourself to take upper level classes? Did you do well in classes most directly related to your research area? If you have special circumstances that explain some of your grades, include a description in your statement.

GREs. These are the least important part of the application. We DO NOT use thresholds. GREs are helpful in filling in background otherwise missing from the application. If you have many accomplishments, those outweigh how you did on a standardized test. If you have had fewer opportunities to demonstrate potential, we need to rely more on grades and GREs. In short: try to do well, but don’t let a bad GRE score get in your way. If you are unable to provide GRE scores, see the relevant question below.

In response to the test accessibility issues caused by COVID-19, the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) has decided to make the GRE exam optional for the 2021 admissions cycle. This only applies to graduate applications for  the following start terms: Spring 2021, Summer 2021, and Fall 2021. For those applicants that have GRE scores ready, we will accept them. Please note, there will be no admissions advantage in submitting GRE scores. Likewise, there will be no disadvantage to any applicant for not submitting GRE scores. Our programs engage in holistic admissions review, and we expect many competitive applications will not include GRE scores this year.


All non-native English speakers must take the TOEFL exam or IELTS. Neither the TWE nor the TSE is required, but is recommended.  Graduate Affairs and Graduate Admissions will grant waivers only to students with citizenship from countries where the official language or language of instruction in higher education is English, or if the student received or are about to receive a bachelors or master’s degree from an institution in the US or a country where English is the official language.  Policy details here.

The institution code is (4655) for the GRE and (C559) for the TOEFL exam. Our department code for TOEFL is (78) and for GRE is (0402).

There are many helpful guides for PhD applications. A few we recommend:

For more information, click PhD FAQ.

Application Deadline:

The deadline for Fall is December 15th. (No recruiting for Spring admissions)

The application will be available for submission on or about August 15.

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