This article is most suited for individuals who would like to pursue a Master’s degree with a focus on machine learning/data science and need some guidance on their decision making. It highlights the best universities, their respective programmes, my experiences regarding the admission process, and the results.
One year ago, I have decided to apply to the best universities across Europe. The first task was finding the best universities. The easiest way of doing so was through university rankings. While rankings can’t fully capture how good a university is, it is useful information for the initial screening. Based on three very different university rankings — QS university rankings, CSRankings, and Shanghai Ranking — I have made a top 10 list. The list is based on machine learning/computer science ranking.
- University of Oxford
- ETH in Zurich
- University of Cambridge
- Imperial College London
- University College London
- Technical University in Munich
- KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Delft University of Technology
- University of Amsterdam
Many great universities didn’t make it into the list and I was therefore also researching other top universities that were recommended to me by my friends and colleagues from previous internships. Namely, Politecnico di Milano, Technical University of Denmark, and Czech Technical University in Prague.
The most important factor for me was the actual subjects/courses offered by the university. After extensive research of these 13 universities, I have decided to apply to 6. They were: ETH in Zurich (Data Science), University of Cambridge (MPhil in Advanced Computer Science), Imperial College London (Advanced Computing), Technical University in Munich (Data Engineering and Analytics), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Machine Learning) and Czech Technical University in Prague (Artificial Intelligence).
The application was somewhat similar. Except for TUM and CTU in Prague, all universities required two letters of recommendation. Except for CTU in Prague, all universities required a motivational letter and a curriculum vitae (CV). Also, all universities required a transcript of records and proof of English proficiency.
Now the fun differences. KTH and Cambridge required a list of publications. I gladly submitted my list of one publication I had at that time. I wrote a project proposal for KTH and Cambridge, which wasn’t an easy task. Proposing something novel and interesting is never easy. Despite this, I had a very pleasant experience applying to KTH, everything was done online and the application was free. TUM required a 1000 word scientific essay, which was actually much simpler to do, than making a project proposal.
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What wasn’t fun was applying to ETH. In the online application form, I had to fill out by hand every course I had taken, including grade, credits, etc. Then, I had to pay around 140 euros just to apply. Print out every document and finally send it to Switzerland by postal service. In 21st century.
As months passed by, decisions started rolling in. First came a rejection from Cambridge. That wasn’t too bad. I knew I was aiming high with Cambridge, but I am glad, I have tried. Next came rejections from Imperial and ETH. These hurt. I felt I had a real shot at getting into these institutions and the rejections affected me greatly. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I knew my grades weren’t perfect, but I thought that my extracurricular activities (like being published as a bachelor student) would play a bigger role. Maybe if I had applied to a different programme, things would have been different. After about two months I got the results from KTH. Waitlisted. Things were finally starting to turn for the better. While a waitlist is not acceptance, it meant that out of more than a thousand people that applied that year to the machine learning programme at KTH, I was better than most. Knowing how good chance you actually had felt much better than a rejection without any feedback. After a few weeks, I received acceptance letters from TUM and CTU. I was ecstatic. I got into a great university, where I can continue pursuing my passion. And that’s all that matters.
In the order the decisions arrived, here are the results:
- University of Cambridge: Rejected
- Imperial College London: Rejected
- ETH Zurich: Rejected
- KTH Royal Institute of Technology: Waitlisted
- Technical University in Munich: Accepted
- Czech Technical University in Prague: Accepted (based on grades)
As a true data scientist/machine learning enthusiast I offer more data. I am willing to share with you my application profile. Then, you can evaluate your own chances and apply accordingly.
I had a GPA of 1.55 (where 1.0 is the best and 4.0 is the worst), or 3.45 if 4.0 is the best. As mentioned earlier, I had one publication, more than a year of research experience including an internship at the European Space Agency. I had an exchange experience in Singapore. I also tried to highlight my achievements in competitive programming (ACM ICPC) as an extracurricular activity (together with two of my teammates we were the best team at our university and our university even sent us to train in Russia). Finally, I had two strong letters of recommendation, one from my research supervisor at CTU and the other from my former boss at ESA.
Here is my CV and one of my motivational letters. But most importantly, I selected all these 6 universities based on courses I could be taking, I felt I had a real motivation to study there.
Overall, I am happy I can continue pursuing my passion at a top university. That said, I am also a bit sad because I thought I would get accepted by more of these institutions. Personally, I believe that my GPA caused the rejections. Another factor might be the fact that I wasn’t applying from the best university. CTU in Prague is a great school, but most people who apply to pursue a Master’s degree at Cambridge are the bachelor students at Cambridge (and the rest are also from mostly prestigious universities).
What schools are you planning to apply? Share your thoughts below 🙂