Experience of Applying for Admission to Graduate Programs

Background Information

Bottom-tier 211 University, majoring in Big Data at the Computer Science Department, ranked (2/99), CET6 (553), three project experiences, no published papers, some minor awards;

Summer Camps

The basic situation of the summer camps can be seen in the following image:


Of these, I entered 13 camps, excluding some that were just for promotional purposes and did not offer admission and the Chinese Academy of Sciences series (did not contact any professors), I participated in 5 summer camps in total. The experiences of these 5 camps are presented in a narrative manner below.

Jilin University Software College

The summer camp assessment took place remotely on June 18-19, starting with a self-introduction of no more than 500 words (not exceeding 2 minutes) for each participant; then a question was drawn for them to answer; finally, experts would ask questions, which the participants had to answer.

English: How to improve yourself in the future? Computer Networks: What is the format of the email protocol? Operating Systems: During an IO interrupt, how is data input? Project: What is the ultimate goal of this? Has anyone done it before, domestically or internationally?

Nanjing University Computer Science Department

After registration, there is a preliminary screening, followed by an online test. Only those who pass the online test can participate in the on-site computer test and interview. The preliminary screening only filters out a very small percentage of applicants; most are eliminated during the online test. The online test took place on July 9, and those who passed were invited to participate in the computer test and interview around July 20.

The online test covered a wide range of topics, including traditional computer science subjects like theory of computation, Linux kernel, number theory, group theory, discrete mathematics, principles of compilation, probability theory, logical reasoning, and lateral thinking puzzles. The test had a large volume of questions and wide coverage. Here is the real test from 2021 2021 Nanjing University Computer Science and Technology Department Undergraduate Open Day July 8 Online Assessment.pdf, Some questions from the 2021 test still appeared in 2023.

After the online test, there was also a psychological assessment and an academic questionnaire with questions like:

  • Which course do you find most interesting and believe you have the best grasp on in the field of computer science?
  • Regarding this course, what kind of training have you undergone both in and outside of class, and what achievements have you made?
  • Do you plan to engage in research related to this course? Why?
  • Do you possess good coding engineering ability? How can you prove it?
  • Some instructors have pointed out that many undergraduates participate in paper publishing, competitions, and innovative projects mainly to enrich their CVs rather than to undergo genuine high-standard scientific research training. They think that such an approach to quick success might turn many competition experiences into negative points. Briefly describe your view on this matter based on your own experiences.
  • The research direction you plan to pursue
  • The prospective Nanjing University Computer Science Department research groups or supervisors you aim to apply to, listing no more than 2
  • Briefly describe the process of contacting these supervisors and their feedback, can be listed separately for two supervisors
  • Briefly describe the aspects of the supervisors that attract you, including but not limited to their representative research, published textbooks, etc. Please provide as much specific detail as possible.
  • List an important research question in your proposed research area that has the potential for a breakthrough in recent years and briefly describe the basic research methods of your proposed research direction.

Failed the online test, hence no follow-up.

Gaoling School of Artificial Intelligence, Renmin University of China

Personal Impressions

First, a rave: Established in 2019, Gaoling has achieved remarkable results with its small scale and young age, backed by Hillhouse Capital and Renmin University High School, by attracting leading experts from various fields. Perhaps in a few more years, Gaoling will become the first choice for scientific research just below Tsinghua and Peking Universities. The faculty at Gaoling includes returnees from Harvard, as well as scholars from MIT and the University of California—individuals not only with strong academic abilities but also connections to Microsoft Research Asia, Tencent, etc. The saying “Gaoling, a place with no pitfall mentors” is not an exaggeration at all.

“The grandeur of a university lies not in its spacious buildings, but in its grand masters,” and Gaoling has both. Below is a picture overlooking Zhongguancun from inside the Gaoling Building.


I applied for the direct PhD program and was enrolled; the competition for master’s programs is fierce. In the end, I was placed on the waitlist, 22nd for direct PhD and 15th for master’s. Gaoling has left the deepest impression on me out of all the summer camps I’ve participated in.

Summer Camp Assessment

The assessments at Gaoling are among the most standardized, with detailed content available on the official website, mainly comprising written exams and interviews. Meeting the CSP standard can add 10 points to the written exam (definitely attempt the CSP if possible);

Day 1 Written Exam:

The written exam mainly covers data structures and algorithms, English, and mathematics (linear algebra, matrix theory) as well as the basics of artificial intelligence; the exam roughly consists of these three parts. The first part includes fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions on the fundamentals of data structures and linear algebra probability, with difficulty similar to final exams. The second part involves translation from Chinese to English (worth less than a single fill-in-the-blank question), and the third part offers a choice between algorithm design (requiring pseudocode) and mathematical proofs.

Day 3 Interview Process:

Before the interview, there’s a session on morals, intellect, physique, aesthetics, and labor, lasting 5 minutes, where the following questions are asked:

  • Please introduce yourself (in Chinese).
  • You mentioned the projects you’ve worked on; could you talk about what you found to be the most challenging aspect and how you addressed it?
  • What type of person do you dislike the most, and how would you deal with them?
  • If, during your master’s program, you find that others have published many papers while you have none, what would you do?
  • If you have disagreements with your advisor during your master’s program, how would you handle it?
  • Have you ever had conflicts with your parents, and how were they resolved?
  • How do you handle difficulties or problems in life? Do you sort them out on your own or…?
  • Do you have any recreational activities?
  • Do you have close friends? Can you talk about them?
  • What traits attract you to them, and have you learned anything from them?
  • Would you participate in club activities during your graduate studies?

Afterwards, move to another conference room for the interview, which is strictly timed, and failing to finish on time is not acceptable:

English Assessment:

  • Introduce yourself, one to two minutes.
  • How to achieve your short-time goal and long-time goal?

Professional Interview:

  • Dean Wen: There are envelopes numbered one to five, choose any.
  • Comprehensive question: Introduce the project that left the deepest impression on you. What difficulties did you encounter during the project, and how did you solve them?
  • Algorithm question: There’s a graph with red and blue points, possibly with self-loops and parallel edges. Find the shortest path from node 0, alternating through blue and red points to every other point.
  • Math question: How should histograms be constructed, what’s the impact of too low resolution, and what’s the effect of too high resolution? Is there a way to make the resolution adaptive?

Other candidates’ interviews covered topics like real analysis, advanced algebra, and their applications in artificial intelligence.

The interview process was very organized: drawing lots onsite, waiting in a “black room” where phone use was prohibited (hence the need to print out review materials), persons who completed their interviews were not allowed to contact those waiting, and the whole process was monitored; unlike at certain universities where candidates wait together outside, with later candidates potentially learning the entire question set from the examiners.

Day 2 Academic Fair: Interviews with professors during the day, being interviewed in the evening

Activities on the second day are not included in the assessment and primarily provide an opportunity for mutual exchange; during the daytime academic fair, teachers or their students introduce their research directions at their booths. At this time, campers could also submit their resumes and add WeChat contacts. I saw Teacher Song collect countless resumes, and the gentleman from Xi’an Jiaotong with Area A papers was promised to be accepted as long as he was from the outstanding camp.

The official statement for the evening interviews was that they were meetings, which required scheduling in advance with the teachers. In reality, they were interviews, mainly aimed at securing a good advisor. However, advisors generally could not promise an offer due to the highly competitive COM.

Central South University Big Data Research Institute

The Big Data Research Institute is not a king of the sea like the Computer Science Faculty, but the outstanding camps and alternates are on the same list (20-30 people for the outstanding camp, 10-20 people admitted). The feeling from the summer camp was that the academic level was average, there were many horizontal projects, and the research atmosphere was weird, relying on the resources of Xiangya Hospital.

The assessment includes a written exam, a computer-based test, and an English+PPT interview, with any score below 60 considered failing (in reality, many people passed the computer-based test with 2 out of 5 questions).


Written exam covers four subjects: Computer Organization, Operating Systems, Data Structures, and Database, each with one paper, lasting a total of 2 hours. The question types include multiple choice, judgment, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer, and the volume of questions is manageable, with the difficulty level of the final exams.

Computer-based test was held in the new campus on the second day, 4 hours for 5 questions, including one check-in question, three graph theory questions (two of which were similar shortest path problems, at the Dijkstra template level), and one DP problem. The overall difficulty of the computer-based test was not high.

Interviews were conducted on the third day, including English Q&A and a PPT interview, each in a different classroom. Besides the regular Q&A, the English interview might also cover professional knowledge (guided by you, not tricky, such as classic network models in computer vision). The PPT interview began with a presentation followed by expert questions, generally about project experience and outcomes.

After all the processes, I played in Changsha for two days, which is really suitable for tourism.

Southeast University Computer Science Faculty

Southeast University always starts its summer camp the latest, with others almost beginning their recommendation. The process is of the recommendation standard, with only an interview, including travel time, totaling only three hours. Although it starts late, it is still necessary to contact teachers and PALM early. Like last year, a teacher’s recommendation is needed in 2023, followed by selection by the faculty to join the camp. Last year there was also a cutoff based on subject evaluation, which seems to be not applied this year.

Prepare a PPT for the interview, start with a PPT introduction, followed by English Q&A, and finally the teachers’ questions, mine are as follows:

  • The innovation of the project?
  • Under what background was it done?
  • The hardest work?
  • Your contribution?
  • Research progress domestically and abroad, how does it compare with others in terms of performance?
  • You studied optimization, so what to do if the loss plane is discontinuous or non-differentiable?

Early Recommendation


Due to the concentrated timing, I only participated in three early recommendations, which were Zhejiang University’s data science project, the Institute of Computing Technology, and the Institute of Man-Machine Interaction.

Institute of Computing Technology

This is the official notice

Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences 2024 recommendation for master’s program interview process -Distributed Systems Research Center First, the head of the interview panel announces the start of the interview, asking candidates to state their name, ID number, undergraduate school, and major. (The interview lasts about 20 minutes) 1、English test (panel experts have free rein. Mainly assesses the candidate’s listening and speaking abilities) 【About 3 minutes】 2、Professional ability interview:【About 17 minutes】

Candidates are asked to introduce personal information with PPT. Such as: undergraduate courses, professional interests, research experience, and aspirations (about 5 minutes)

Panel experts ask questions, and candidates respond. The panel sets the topics. Primarily assessing aspects such as professional abilities, overall qualities, and ideologies (about 12 minutes).

Candidates need to prepare the following materials: 1、PPT (Email by 12 o’clock on the 13th to *@ict.ac.cn) 2、Electronic materials mentioned in the third item of the Institute’s official website’s recommendation free admission guide (please prepare 5 copies, double-sided, black and white printing) 3、Short-term accident insurance (covers the period of the interview, not necessary if already owned)

The interview was casual, and the teachers seemed not to care much about the specifics of the project.

English Speaking:

  • Introduce the person you admire the most and why?
  • Introduce your hometown
  • Introduce your family
  • Share your growth experience

Three minutes of speaking, all questions asked in Chinese (a first encounter), last year, it is said, there was no speaking session at all.

Presentation based on PPT.

15mins Q&A:

  • How does your project achieve cloud-edge collaboration?
  • What is cloud computing?
  • Your project uses Kafka; why choose it over other middleware? How does Kafka achieve message distribution? Do messages land on the disk? Are there any ways to improve performance?
  • What was your role in the patent? Drafting or contributing? What work did you do?
  • Do you have other offers? Why choose here?

Eventually, I received and signed the offer but ultimately reneged. So, if any juniors are reading this, I’m genuinely sorry; the Distributed Center at the Institute of Computing can be omitted from your list, but other labs at the institute are still worth considering, as a senior from the previous batch went to VIPL.

Xi’an Jiaotong University School of Artificial Intelligence (Human-Machine Institute)

During the interview, according to the interview order, every five students form a group and enter the Tencent meeting waiting area in advance. Students in the waiting area turn on the camera to join the interview, starting with self-introduction (no more than 3 minutes each), followed by experts’ questions. The total time for each group does not exceed 30 minutes. Good luck to everyone!

The interview at the Human-Machine Institute was quite unique. Due to limited time, group interviews were organized. Students within the province participated offline, while students outside the province participated online. After five people introduced themselves, 20 minutes had already passed. In the remaining 10 minutes, individual experiences were targeted, and some project-related questions were asked. The entire school values background highly, and there has never been a non-985 recruit in the past years for the Human-Machine Institute.

Zhejiang University Data Science Program

Personal Statement

Each applicant’s interview time is no less than 20 minutes, with the whole process being recorded. The interview includes evaluation of political consciousness and morals, personal statement, comprehensive knowledge in the major, and English Q&A. Applicants need to talk about their personal learning and research or engineering experience, achievements, awards, research interests, and development plans (the personal statement should be controlled within 8 minutes, including 2-3 minutes of coherent English content).

Professional Knowledge

Three envelopes, draw one, containing two questions, one mathematics problem, and one machine learning-related question;

The person before me drew:

  1. What is a continuous function?
  2. What is the KMeans algorithm? - The teacher further asked how the “cluster” in clustering is realized?

I drew:

  1. What is the singular value decomposition of a matrix?
  2. What is the gradient descent algorithm? - The teacher further asked what is stochastic gradient descent?

After the envelope questions, looking at my resume mentioning a perfect score in probability theory, the teacher asked, “What is a probability space?”

Political Evaluation

Do you practice **Kung Fu?


This part was more or less filling up the time, not lasting more than twenty minutes, with all sorts of questions. Previously, someone was asked, “Why do you want to come to Zhejiang University?”

The question I asked was about the project: Why do you use semantic segmentation for this task, can you introduce your network, and did you handle the signal processing and maximum likelihood estimation yourself?

It seems that English presentations during the PowerPoint presentation phase are optional, as I was suddenly asked an English question, which was: Introduce one of your favorite algorithms.

Overall, the assessment was extremely standardized, resembling the most rigorous kind seen in companies like Hillhouse Capital. All interviewees were gathered in a waiting room, where the use of electronic devices and communication with one another were prohibited. Interviews were conducted one after another, and candidates left immediately after their interview, drawing questions from an envelope.


Significant changes for postgraduate recommendation in 2023:

  • Transition from online to offline — Although some schools still conduct assessments online, and summer camps remain unchanged without ranking or papers, the difficulty of getting into these camps hasn’t decreased.

  • Increase in recommendation quota — Schools like Harbin Institute of Technology and Beijing Jiaotong University have even faced situations where they had to ensure placements for their own students, leading to incidents of reverse ghosting by students.

  • The first year of Strong Base Plan — Mainly occupying quotas from top institutions, doesn’t directly affect computer-related majors but still has an indirect impact.

  • The first year of the National Excellent Plan — With 30 universities involved, double degrees are offered without the obligation to become a teacher afterward, which personally, feels very appealing. However, many schools only recruit their own students, and even if they recruit from outside, it’s based on entry into their summer camps.

  • Engineering Master and PhD — Many more spots for engineering degrees were added this year. The first year involves class attendance on campus and the following two years are spent interning at companies, with a compete-not agreement required upon graduation (meaning you can only work here, and not for any competitors). Most companies involved are state-owned, including giants like Huawei (HUST) and Tencent (SUSTech). Many schools added engineering degree quotas at the last minute, even after preliminary exemption processes had ended in October, including top universities like Tsinghua and Peking University. Also, this recruitment process is organized not by the Ministry of Education but by the Organization Department, and has higher admission priority over specialized and academic master’s degrees — meaning those accepted for an engineering degree have their offers for other degrees nullified (based on hearsay, no official documentation found).

  • It’s best to contact supervisors early as many top-tier groups in Tsinghua, Peking University, and others had barely any internship spots left by the end of the previous year. If you don’t have a good ranking or anticipate not having any papers, you might try contacting supervisors for internships as many lab professors mention they are recruiting interns on their homepages. At USTC, CAS, Nankai University, and BUPT, the decision is up to the professor; at Xiamen University and Chongqing University, a recommendation from their own faculty is required.

Personally, I feel that one can start contacting professors for assessments or reviewing professional subjects during the winter holiday. Preparation of materials and final exams should be done in April and May, with various registrations and summer camps starting after June, leaving little time for extensive preparation.

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