Masters in United States – Selecting Universities

Often, I get questions whether it’s worth attending school where you’re certain to get some sort of funding VS some other place where you certainly won’t get any funding. The questions are usually like “I have an admit from UF (with the aid) and one from UXX. I would like to know, if graduating from a college like UXX is worth the money we have to pay in the long run or graduating from UF comes to the same in terms of jobs and credibility”. I will base my answer on USC, as I know a few things about that school: I agree that USC is ranked higher than UFL. But I don’t quite agree that MS from USC is better than MS from UF. Why? USC is ranked higher than UF because of the research work that goes on there. Now, as MS students, you hardly get to participate in that research unless you manage to get some kind of assistantship (this was hard to get the last time I checked). USC has the location advantage — lots of companies in the area, i.e. lots of potential job offers. UF, unfortunately, does not have this benefit. Yes, we do have career fairs every semester, but it’s hard to say if that will get you a job. As I’ve said earlier, you have to get your priorities right – what is more important to you? Job? Degree? Cost? Weather? Beach?
You need to evaluate all factors and decide if it is worth paying extra. In my opinion, if you are good, you ARE good. Doesn’t matter if you graduate from UF or USC. Both, USC and UF are good. USC MIGHT help you get jobs. UF will lower your overall cost. You should get jobs at UF too, but not sure how easy that would be. Finally, a job is NOT guaranteed no matter where you go. You have to think about the short-term, long-term benefits and your priorities here.

Following are some real conversations I have had with prospective students. Hope you find them useful.

Scenario 2 (02-Jun-2011): N writes in, “I have to choose between UFL (with an AA) for MS in CE and NCSU for MS in CS. My priority is quality of education and I want to be taught by really good teachers who are passionate about their field . I also want to choose the university with a better reputation in the US. I would appreciate any inputs on this from your side. Also did you find it tough to get an internship/job after you completed your masters from UFL? Some info about me: BE in Computer Engg from Mumbai University; 1450 in GRE; not sure whether I want to pursue research or not, most likely i won’t but still have kept an open mind about the same; interested in computer security and AI.”
Shreyas: My perspective towards higher education and universities in general has changed quite a bit since I started writing this blog. Most companies have tie ups with universities when it comes to internships (through career fairs). Going to school in a city with lots of companies certainly helps in finding job opportunities. For example, there is a decent university in Boston, let’s call it XYU, which guarantees a co-op/internship for Masters students. Now, is that school better than UF? I doubt it. So how does XYU pull it off? Location and contacts. Unless you go to an Ivy League school, I doubt if the school reputation matters that much. It’s mostly the location. But yes, the quality of education does matter indirectly. Because it teaches you things you should know and helps you grow.
I did have to struggle quite a bit to get an internship offer. I applied online and tried the career fair at school. I finally got a call through one of my online applications. It took about 2 months from the time I applied to the time I got a response from an actual human being that they received my resume and would be interested in interviewing me. I didn’t have many full time offers, and finally got one from the company I interned with a couple of days before I graduated. Yikes! and Wohoo!
By the time I graduated, there were some who had multiple job offers, some who had just one, and some who had none. I don’t know what the campus recruitment scene is today, but I do believe that if you are good, you are good. You should be able to apply online or network with peers/professors and at least get a few job interviews. Converting job interviews to a job offer may or may not be easy. That’s where the quality of education comes into play (and not your school reputation). Applying online is really easy. As long as you have the right keywords and target it to a specific job description, you should be able to at least get an interview call. I made the mistake of having a generic resume for all companies. Don’t do that. Tailor your resume for each job.
NSCU vs UFL: I can’t really answer that because I don’t know what NCSU is like. And I don’t care about their USNews ranking. It’s just a random number. Your best bet is to talk to current students and find out what the deal is. Look for red flags. You should also look at the courses offered for the CS and CE degrees. See if that is something you want to do. Both, NCSU and UF are good schools. You’ll be fine no matter what you select.
Don’t worry too much about campus jobs and living expenses. They’re are nothing but short term concerns. Look at the bigger picture. Look at your long term goals. Will this lead you in the right direction?

Scenario 1 (15-Jun-2010): Someone, lets call her S, emailed me a few days ago, and this was her dilemma: “I have received admission into the CE program at the University of Cincinnati with a University Graduate Scholarship which covers the entire tuition and the PhD program in ECE at the University of Florida with AA award. Although UC is ranked lower than UF I feel UC has some advantages in terms of the cost, class size and on campus jobs. I have heard that UF admits a large number of students and the class sizes are typically 200 or so. It also increases the competition for everything from on campus jobs to assistantships. UC has a LOT of on campus jobs. The only concern with UC would be the profile of the faculty and fellow students. Like you mention in your blog, UF probably has better professors and cutting edge research. But how much weightage would that carry? UC has some good professors who are doing great research. The students at UC have good things to say about it. But so do the students at UF. As far as I gathered, the placement scenes at both universities are comparable. In your opinion what advantage does UF offer?”
Shreyas: The topmost priority for me would be the course-work and the reputation of the profs who take that course. Simply because I want to have a good learning experience. Yes, this is subjective, you might have different priorities, like financial aid.
As I wrote earlier, UC will make sense in the short term. But, there is more to higher education than tuition and campus jobs. Quality of education SHOULD be important, and I can vouch for UF (and I’m not saying UC is bad, I don’t know much about UC). UF has really good profs, especially for algorithms, databases, compilers, bio-informatics. These are core CS subjects and I would really focus more on mastering them instead of worrying about campus jobs. That’s what I’m pursuing higher education for in the first place!
Sure, competition will follow you everywhere you go. If that scares you, UC might be the way to go. But, if you’re good, you will certainly thrive no matter what. And, campus jobs and assistantships are going to last just 2 years, right? How long would the things you
learnt in class last? Longer. Much longer! My theory is that even though you end up paying more for a better school, like UF, it is totally worth it in the long haul. You should be able to recover your tuition and other expenses easily once you find a full-time job. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t born with a silver spoon, and most of us had education loans. And most of us paid them off once we got a full-time job.
This is from my perspective. You don’t have to agree with what I say. Your priorities might be different. Consider making a list of things that are important to you, and see how UC and UF compare. And, look at the big picture (i.e. don’t stress out on campus jobs and

Scenario 0: Rank 75 University offering full funding VS Rank 40 University offering no funding.
Shreyas: In the short-term, Rank 75 seems like the obvious way to go, but in the long term, Rank 40 might make sense. Why? Chances are, Rank 40 has better professors, access to cutting edge research, good placements, etc.

Again, you need to get your priorities right – what is more important? Getting a job? Getting a degree? Learning something new? Cost? In the long run, paying a high price for your Masters wouldn’t really matter (assuming you get a job afterwards, as you would recover your tuition fees within a year or two). You need to evaluate all factors and decide whether it is worth paying extra for a good school (it usually is).

Note: To learn more about how UF compares to other Universities, please click here.

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One Response to Masters in United States – Selecting Universities

  1. Pingback: UF VS [USC, NCSU, SUNY-B] |

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