Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Open Letter to Georgia Tech's Online Masters in Computer Science Program

NOTE - This situation has now changed. I leave this post here because I do not believe in shying away from my own words. I think that many of my points are still valid, the brash tone notwithstanding. Look up posts with label "Georgia Tech" for more information

To whom it may concern,

I just received my application decision, and I was turned down for admission to the online Masters in Computer Science program. I must say that I was surprised. From the FAQ on the OMSCS web site, I see the following requirements:

Preferred qualifications for admitted OMS CS students are an undergraduate degree in computer science or related field (typically mathematics, computer engineering or electrical engineering) from an accredited institution with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants who do not meet these criteria will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; significant professional or other work experience with supporting recommendations may qualify as an adequate substitute for the appropriate academic credentials, however work experience will not take the place of an undergraduate degree. Georgia Tech will not admit applicants into the OMS CS degree program without the minimum qualifications for success. The Georgia Tech minimum criteria used in determining each applicant's eligibility for consideration shall include:

  1. Evidence of award of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent (prior to matriculation) from a recognized institution, demonstrated academic excellence, and evidence of preparation in their chosen field sufficient to ensure successful graduate study; and
  2. For international applicants, satisfactory scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
In essence, the requirements applicable to me as a domestic applicant are: A bachelor's degree in computer science with a GPA of at least 3.0, demonstrated academic excellence, and preparation in the field sufficient to demonstrate successful graduate study. Let's cover each of these in turn:

A bachelor's degree in Computer Science - Achieved.
A GPA of at least 3.0 - Achieved
Demonstrated academic excellence - I have a master's degree from DePaul in computer graphics, which I completed with a 3.93 GPA while working full time. In other words, I graduated with distinction from a challenging program that I underwent while working 40 or more hours a week. I am pretty sure that demonstrates academic excellence. Not to mention that my undergraduate GPA was more than sufficient to earn me an invitation to Upsilon Pi Epsilon and would have given me the opportunity to graduate with honors, had I received the paperwork early enough.
Preparation in the field sufficient to demonstrate successful graduate study - Aside from 10 years experience as a software engineer, I have shown evidence of previous successful graduate study by successfully performing graduate studies. Setting aside my letters of recommendation, my success in my master's degree and my continuing efforts as adjunct faculty at various colleges should sufficiently demonstrate this requirement.

In short, I have met your base requirements, I have experience as a professional in computer science, and I have a demonstrated track record of academic excellence at the graduate level. So why, I ask, was my admission denied?

Let's look at your letter, which I assume was a form letter:

"Admission to the program is extremely competitive, and I am sorry to report that we are unable
to admit you"

This is the first thing that caught my eye. Here is a direct quote from the OMS CS website:

"Applicants who meet the minimum criteria will be conditionally admitted into the degree program and must pass their first two OMS CS foundational courses with a grade of B or better to be fully admitted."

One of these things is not like the other. You can't have an "Extremely competitive" admission, and then turn around and say you will conditionally admit all applicants who meet the minimum criteria. That is not how the English language works - accepting everyone who meets the minimum requirements precludes the words "Extremely competitive". Not to mention that the letter I received directly contradicted this statement (not the first time that your information conflicted during the admissions process, either). Moving on:

"While you may have some experience in computing, we do not believe that you are currently prepared for success in this program, which is extremely demanding in a broad range of Computer Science"

Some experience in "computing"? Like a graduate degree in "computing", and ten years of experience as a developer across a variety of industries? And you judged my ability in this area based on what - transcripts from a bachelor's degree? Did I not mention Big O notation, or list my favorite data structures? Perhaps it's the fact that I have been teaching students in this area for over two years - did that result from me not having sufficient computing experience, or not being prepared for success? I highly doubt your judgment on my "computing" experience when you have seen no samples of my work, and when you use terms like "computing" to describe the actual study of "computer science."

"We encourage you to take courses in Computer Science that may better prepare you for a future application of admission to this program."

How is it determined that I need to take more courses in Computer Science, anyway? Did someone test my knowledge when I wasn't paying attention? Did they see samples of my code that I wasn't aware of? What part of computer science do I need a refresher on? Should I just pick a class at random and go for it?

In short, one of two things is happening: I missed some secret requirement that I didn't meet, or my application was not sufficiently evaluated. I would like to request more information on my denial of admission, or more specific feedback (you've had three months to respond to people - a three months which you have repeatedly pushed back for questionable reasons - more than sufficient time to personalize the responses to less than 2,000 people (much less, given that this was a second round of admissions)) on how I can better improve. Were my grades too excellent in graduate school the first time around? Did I have too much employment experience?

Thanks for your time, and while I am extremely disappointed in your shortsightedness I do wish you the best of luck with the OMS CS program. I had hoped to be an advocate for this novel way of presenting the course, but after going through the application process I now have serious doubts about how it can succeed when handled as it has been.

Matt Billock


  1. You should send this to the dean of the program. Or the school newspaper. Bypass the admissions office and go to someone who can give you real answers.

    1. Just did. What is funny is that their college website has issues that prevents email addresses from being copied properly. I should also note that I found other cases where students were rejected that should have qualified - such as other Georgia Tech graduates, or females who graduated from top 25 schools in computer science (a sought-after demographic).

  2. My guess is that you are overqualified. Perhaps you should have spent more time drawing stick men.

    1. Maybe an Evil Graduate Man is just what the doctor ordered!

  3. Who did you end up sending it to? And did you get a reply back?

  4. Ditto. Met all base qualifications, have over 19 years industry experience, and am currently pursuing Stanford University's graduate certificates. I hoped OMS CS would offer a lower cost alternative with similar rigor, but received the same response letter.

  5. Interesting, I kind of fit your criteria, except I work for Georgia Tech Research Institute and planned on applying for the OMS CS program. I have a Masters in Software Eng @ 3.5 GPA, and 7 years experience as a developer.... we will see if I make the cut!

  6. I got the same letter from GeorgiaTech . those people are fraudsters who are doing an worldwide scam.