So, you want to do graduate studies with us...
First, thank you for your interest. The goal of this write-up is to inform you about our expectations from graduate student applicants, what we look for when we make the decisions on who to accept to our graduate programs, and give you some tips that could increase your chances.
We will start with a general description of what we look for. When we look at an application, we try to answer four key questions:
* Is the background of the applicant strong enough to carry out the graduate work?
* Does the applicant have a more-or-less clear idea about what he/she wants to work on?
* Is the applicant enthusiastic about graduate study?
* Has he/she contacted a faculty member before the interviews and gotten a reference?
For each applicant, the significance of the answers to these questions (i.e. the weights they carry) may differ. In general, you need to have a strong academic background to carry out graduate research at our Institute. What "strong academic background" means depends on what program you are applying to, and what topic you would like to study for your thesis. However, there is one major element that is common to all: Math. We look for candidates that can prove that they either have a strong background in math (for instance, good grades in certain courses), or have shown a potential (for instance, through independent or guided research with a professor in the form of a research project or senior thesis/project).
Knowing what you are interested in and what you want to focus on through your graduate studies is very crucial. Sometimes, we see applicants that state they are interested in computers, or software, or information technology. When you say that, what we hear is "I have no idea what you do here, I just want to get in a graduate program, and I will definitely be a pain-in-your-back when the time to choose a thesis topic comes." What we expect you to have done is to carefully go through the roster of our faculty, try to understand what topics they focus on, and decide on a potential thesis advisor based on our expertise and your interests. We like to hear a clear and well-thought description of what you intend to do for your thesis, and with whom (as an advisor). We are very likely to reject applicants who did not contact any of our faculty well-before the decision week.
We are a very diverse institute in terms of research fields. However, we have limited number of faculty, and hence limited number of seats for graduate students. This means that the topic you want to study has an effect on your chances of acceptance, depending on the available number of students each faculty member is willing to accommodate. Naturally, this may lead to a disadvantage if you are interested in a field that is very popular. It is, therefore, very important that you contact the faculty member that you might want to work with to express your interest, and learn whether there are any available seats in their research group. If that is the case, the professor might inquire what you are interested in, what your background is, and what your capabilities are. He/she might also want you to present evidence of interest and experience in research, such as past projects, and might even ask you to complete a small pet project as a test to gauge your level of understanding. The best way to initiate contact with us is through e-mail or direct visits at office-hours. If you are in Turkey, you might also meet with the professor after an email exchange if the professor is interested. We strongly advise you to get in touch well before (around 6 months before) the application deadline so that you can establish a rapport with the professor, and he/she will have sufficient time to get to know you and provide the reference in the official application.
Another important issue is how you approach graduate studies, and whether you are willing to put in the work. When applying, you need to know we will not just hand you a degree even if you are accepted into the program. Every year, many students are dismissed due to a number of reasons such as low GPA, failing to complete coursework within allotted time limits, etc. You need to understand that we do not tolerate external factors as excuses for your absence from classes/exams/meetings, low grades, etc. We try to be lenient with health issues and/or familial problems to a certain extent, but we make sure every student that is awarded a degree has completed the required the coursework and produced a thesis that is of a certain quality level that we maintain at our Institute.
When it comes to work (i.e. your job), however, we put absolutely no stock in it as an inhibitor to your graduate coursework or research. If you miss an exam or get a low grade, we will refuse to hear how much your supervisor made you work that week, or how you needed to meet a deadline at work. Therefore, when interviewing Turkish candidates (we do not interview foreigners and decide on file alone), we specifically ask whether they work or plan to work, and whether their employer is sympathetic with their graduate work if the answer is in the positive. This is not to say that we reject applicants with jobs, but it is an advantage if you will be able to devote your full-time attention to us. Choosing to work alongside your graduate work is a choice and you are definitely entitled to it, but make sure you really understand how demanding graduate work can be. When evaluating PhD candidates, we put more significance on this issue, as a PhD study is much more intense than an MS study. There are cases where your job actually becomes an advantage, when what you do at work closely aligns with your thesis topic. This is a highly desirable, albeit a very rare case.
The interview is extremely important and decisive for Turkish applicants. We outright reject no-shows without even looking at their documents. Try not to be late as tardiness will be considered as a sign of irresponsibility. At the interview, we will ask you why you want to do an MS/PhD. I will not give you examples of good answers here (that's for you to figure out), but "Bu alanda kendimi geliştirmek istiyorum." or "Bu alanı çok seviyorum, çok ilgimi çekiyor." are definitely not good ones. One common misconception is that one can learn certain tools and methods to use at work with an MS at our Institute. Graduate study is not the way to learn/improve at a programming language, or to learn how to use a database system, or a specific device. In fact, we do a lot of theoretical work that would go in the opposite direction, and most of the time, we expect students to already be proficient at certain tools, such as programming. Another question we usually ask at the interview is whether you have decided on a research area, and whether you know which faculty member(s) work on that area. If you enter the interview having already established a relationship with a faculty member, it will be quite easy for you to answer these. This will not guarantee you a seat at our Institute, but it will greatly improve your chances. We occasionally ask technical, theoretical, and mathematical questions to obtain an idea about your background.
For foreign applicants, statement of purpose (SOP) is usually the most significant document we peruse. We are aware that there is a plethora of samples and templates floating around on the web, and most of these are based on applications to universities in the USA. As a result, we encounter a lot of SOPs that outline the life story of the applicant, how he/she had been interested in computers/technology/software/ since early ages, but with very little information on their research interests and how those matches with ours. What we would like to see in your SOP is your achievements that demonstrate your level of knowledge on areas that will enable you to complete your graduate studies, such as your senior project, or other independent projects. If you were part of a group, it would be helpful to clearly state your responsibilities and achievements in the project. Any conference or journal publication is a big plus. References are very important to document your background, as we do not know you at all, and we value opinions of professionals that do. In general, but not always, references from professors carry more significance than those from colleagues/supervisors from work. It is also worth noting that diversity is not a criterion in our admittance policy. We do not favor any gender or nationality, and select purely based on a potential and capability. This, unfortunately, also applies to those applying from disadvantageous regions. However much we sympathize with your life story or the conditions in your homeland, we cannot hand you out a place in our graduate program if we are not convinced that you can produce high quality research. For the foreigh applicants, it is also very important to get in touch with our faculty members beforehand, and provide their reference letters as well.
There are some fringe issues you need to know regarding the application procedure. Be sure to submit everything required, and also finalize your application online. These sound like they should go without saying, but many an application is discarded due to missing documents, references, etc. Secondly, the quality of the documents you upload matters, at least to a certain extent. Of course content trumps cosmetics, but a photographed transcript or a poorly scanned document will discourage the panel to review it. Try to upload best quality digital documents if you have them, and high quality scanned documents otherwise. Make sure they have the correct page orientation, and the correct page order. If it is difficult for us to read your transcript, we will move along chalking this up to your lack of enthusiasm, and will not try to make out your letter grade for a course we deem important. Make sure you provide at least two references. Especially for foreign applicants, one important thing we have difficulty with is establishing the quality of the education the applicants received as we know next to nothing about most institutions abroad. Your referees, if they are professors, might provide brief information about the institution you received your earlier degree(s). You can also provide information in your SOP, along with links for online information, if applicable. This would greatly help us understand the quality level of your previous education.
A very subtle point about graduate applications for Istanbul Technical University is the three slots for your choice of graduate programs. The admissions panel can see your preferences and usually this is taken into account. Some applicants may not realize that their choice of applications and their order could be used as criteria for admissions. First of all, you may indicate one, or two, or three choices (meaning that you may leave one or two blank). For instance, a single choice might be interpreted by the panel as strong enthusiasm about the program applied. Also, choices that are too diverse (say, for example, Economics along side Computer Science, and Meteorological Engineering) might indicate that the applicant is just fishing for an admission and may not devote the required attention to graduate studies. This also is the sign of a hesitant mind in terms of research goals. Hence, we recommend not marking a choice if you are not sure whether you can commit to graduate studies under that program. Furthermore, the order you make your choices is relevant, both procedurally and contextually. If you are admitted by multiple programs (which can happen since panels for each program are different, and they may not exchange information about their decisions), you will be registered to the program that you chose above the other(s). This in turn affects the decisions of the panels, which might prefer applicants that chose the program at a high spot. Our institute offers multiple programs with different contents. Regarding MS programs, compulsory course lists differ for different programs. As for PhD programs, there are no compulsory courses, but the courses you would face in the PhD qualification exams differ. Therefore, you have to know precisely what you are getting into when applying to a program.
In summary, the most useful advice you can take from this write-up is getting in touch with faculty members that you think you can work with, if you are really serious about graduate studies at our Institute. It does not guarantee you a spot in a program, but you will at least get a clear idea about what kind of work we do here at the Institute, and shape your post-graduate career more effectively.