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How To Get Into an Elite Comp-Sci Program 297

alphadogg writes "With early applications to elite colleges at an all-time high, the nation's highest-rated undergraduate computer science programs are bracing for an uptick in applications between now and January. High school seniors are facing stiffer-than-ever competition when applying to the nation's top computer science programs this fall. But admissions officers and professors at elite tech schools can offer tips aimed at helping your child get accepted come spring."
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How To Get Into an Elite Comp-Sci Program

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  • Missing the point. (Score:5, Informative)

    by masternerdguy ( 2468142 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:35PM (#38125176)
    In the end your own talent matters more than where you go.
    • by magsol ( 1406749 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:37PM (#38125206) Journal
      Where you go sure can help, though.
      • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:39PM (#38125238) Homepage Journal

        It might help on applying for your first job, but after that I presume that your experience will matter a lot more. I wouldn't actually know since I'm still technically on my first job.

        • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:08PM (#38125570)

          yes and no.

          my college years were in the early 80's. I planned on graduating but after transferring a few times (life sometimes happens..) I found I was missing some credits and after my 4 or 5 yrs (co-op schools had an extra year) I just wanted to be done. I accepted my first computer job (after 'finishing' college) and for most of my career, the lack of an actual degree was not a show-stopper. been at a few boston companies and now in the bay area. until recently, it has not been a problem finding a job and the lack of degree would be something I'd have to explain but my experience (25+ yrs) would be why they would hire me.

          problem is, now, extra experience means you expect higher pay and they don't WANT to pay high anymore. there's 100 younger guys willing to be abused, work longer hours and be on call 7x24 for their bosses and there's little reason for companies to hire folks like me. even if I did have a degree, it would not matter much at my age. my age is what works against me, not my 'lack' of education or experience.

          when you are fresh out of school, school is all they can look at to evaluate you. if you don't go to a co-op school, where you get assigned (or nearly assigned) a company to work for for 3-6mos then having the degree will matter a lot. but if you are able to fit in some work experience, the degree matters less and less.

          what does matter is that you present yourself as willing to be abused and used by the company. THAT, they love. they just love that shit. they'll take a yes-man over a smarter guy most of the time, these days.

          • by kirillian ( 1437647 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:28PM (#38125838)
            I've been out of school for about 4 years now and already see that attitude. My company highly values the work I do (probably because I come very cheap compared to what it would cost to replace me) because I've adapted to the bullshit that has gone on here for four years. I'm already working an average of 50-60 hours a week, but my last review from my boss was "I need you to be available more". My jaw pretty much dropped to the floor. I'm salaried at way under my paygrade and have been a workhorse for the past few years just making the things that others break work and spending my evenings for the company. All the company has to say is "You're not doing enough". Damned companies.
            • by NoSleepDemon ( 1521253 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:45PM (#38126036)
              Why the fuck do you still work for them? You have four year's work experience, time to move on!
              • Oddly enough...I am :) My wife and I recently decided that it was just plain a good time to move on (after the review). I just recently started posting my resume and am looking. Thanks for the affirmation though. I was just posting my personal experience to supplement the parent comment.
                • Good on you, the last place I worked at inflicted similar work hours on one of the senior devs who was just too damned nice to tell them no, so they walked all over him. When they lost the client he was most often scheduled to do work for, they simply let him go. The poster below sums MBA types up pretty nicely, and I'm pretty sure that the company's resident MBA played a role in cutting the senior dev loose.
              • by spads ( 1095039 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:27PM (#38126492)
                More important than moving on, he needs to stand his ground, or the situation will just repeat at the next place. Just start going home earlier. Only accept reasonable, SHARED after hours responsibilities. (I will only ever do as much as my co-workers are doing. "What's right for the goose is right for the gander", etc.) Being a "good guy" and trying to accommodate your boss's ("asshole") is just about the slipperiest slope you're ever likely to find anywhere.

                Dip ship MBA (types) are just about the closest work place equivalent of "jocks". The only thing that interests them are bullshit intimidation games like chicken. What's more, they are usually pretty seriously buggered themselves, have no guts, backbone, or substance, and are quick to roll over, "happily" even. Most importantly, even when you beat them, never lose your ability to sneer at the whole thing. You don't want to get sucked in. It's like a bottomless cesspool.
                • Yes - this is very true.

                  Every company will push you as far as they can. If you can't stand up to your boss and say 'no, this is not ok' then I can almost bet your next company will do the same thing to you. Of course if you're going to do that then you had better be prepared to leave straight away, because some bosses will be unwilling to work with anyone that is willing to stand up to them.

                  Get your resume polished up, start looking and then try it. You never know, you might find you get to keep your cur

                • Bosses have something that developers don't.

                  The power to hire and fire as they damn well please, and corporate contact with the clients.

                  And also the power to give you an ugly reference if you don't kiss their ass.

                  Sometimes an insane captain would rather sink his own ship rather than let one rat escape undrowned.

            • I had a similar experience to yours. I was under my pay grade and under-appreciated for the value I provided. I knew their legacy codebase well enough that I could save other developers days of work with a quick conversation. Since management wasn't willing to put in the time to refactor/rewrite the issues (MOAR FEETURES!!) you had to know the ins and outs of all the crazy interactions the system made (very high coupling.. not uncommon when when procedural programmers decide to do OOP for the first time). B
            • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
              So pick a number that you'd be willing to work for and ask for a raise. Don't make a big deal if they don't give you one, just start sending your resume around and see if you can pick up some interviews. If you get a job at the number you want and then your current company makes a counter-offer, your response should be "you had your chance."
        • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:22PM (#38125768)

          It might help on applying for your first job, but after that I presume that your experience will matter a lot more.

          Ah yes, cue the endless stream of /. folk saying it doesn't matter... I graduated from one of those schools and 30 years later it still helps ;-) Experience counts very much of course, but some degrees confer instant credibility before anyone starts the process of examining your experience.

          Or, to put it another way, I start with the assumption that all MIT CS graduates are "fizz-buzz capable", and I've never been disappointed...

          • Well, for those who actually enjoy computing, they'd all be capable before going into Computer Science. I couldn't believe how many fellow students in 3rd and 4th year just didn't understand programming. When anyone asked for help I tried to give them hints without giving the answers to our assignments, but some clearly didn't care about learning for themselves. They should have been doing liberal arts degrees, or working at McDonalds.. well, they probably are doing that now, but with a nice student loan de

        • by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:46PM (#38126042) Homepage

          As someone who's done some hiring, and who's competed against others in being hired, I'd say it depends. If you went to a third tier school and I went to a fifth tier school, it probably doesn't matter once we both have five years or so under our belts. If you went to MIT or Stanford... That's a whole other ballgame. Names like that matter well into your career, possibly for your entire career. In the end a guy from MIT might not always get the job: interviews matter, experience matters, even advanced degrees might matter, but there's definitely a little wow factor added to your resume with that degree even 10 or 15 years down the line (might definitely make a difference in making the cut to get that interview).

          That's what this article is about. Getting into one of those 5 or 10 schools where having the name on your resume matters, and will likely continue to matter for a while.

      • Where you go sure can help, though.

        True, assuming you can do it without incurring huge student loan debt.

        • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:03PM (#38125498)

          Where you go sure can help, though.

          True, assuming you can do it without incurring huge student loan debt.

          Which means you have to get an elite level job to pay for the elite level loan. This can have some severe issues WRT quality of life, if you take a "small" pool of jobs and make it even smaller by only being able to survive with the most elite of that already small pool. So you'll be the last STEM guy who's job is exported to India, who cares, you'll only be a couple years behind me, in the long run it won't matter to either of us... If you want to work 80 hour weeks and not recognize spouse/kids, go to MIT, if you want 40 hrs/wk like I have, then... don't. I caught a lot of flack 25 years ago telling my HS guidance counselor that I appreciate that he insists I should apply to more elite schools because of grades / scores whatever, but I don't want to go and want to attend state U instead (because I was obsessed with the then new-ish movie "Animal House", and I later re-enacted most of those scenes as a freshman, except for the motor cycle up the front stairs, but that's a whole 'nother (fun) story)

          • And how many "elite level" jobs are out there for software developers and engineers anyway, that can afford you to pay off the gigantic loans you'd need for a place like MIT? Heck, can you even get a loan large enough to cover that kind of tuition? I doubt it; you'd need a lot of extra money from your parents most likely. If your parents don't have that kind of money, or worse, have plenty of money but are bastards and refuse to help you with your tuition (which effectively keeps you out of college becau

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In the end it is not where you went to school. But more of what you have learned and can you apply it.
        I have seen people, from notable schools, that just did not have a clue of what was asked of them on the job.

        • But their job would be paying much more than someone who knew what they were doing, but from a less notable school (atleast for the 1st few years)
      • Where you go for your undergraduate work is largely meaningless. If you're concerned about wasting money then just don't. Save it for your graduate work at such a university.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:12PM (#38125624)

          Sweet Jesus, do not go to grad school in comp sci if wasting money is your concern. (In other disciplines, I agree that the undergrad institution doesn't matter if you plan to go on.)

          However, if you plan to work as a developer immediately after college, there are three important things to consider in an undergraduate institution: networking, networking, networking. Alums who are hiring will always read the resumes of fellow alums more carefully, fair or not.

          • Whether to go to grad school for comp sci depends largely on what you plan on doing once you get out. If all you want to be is a sweat shop code-monkey then of course not. If you can hack some sh*t PHP/Python and JavaScript together your golden. But on the other side of the pendulum you have the R&D and/or embedded device (particularly DoD contractor) type jobs where you won't even be considered absent 5-6 years of prior or a master's/PhD..
    • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:39PM (#38125236)

      Yes and no. Yes, your talent is the most important long term factor. But the elite universities take a very different approach to teaching, especially for sciences and engineering. Compare the CS curriculum at MIT to that at your state college. MIT's is far more hardcore, and with much greater emphasis theory. Same for other fields. There is a qualitative difference between a top tier school and the rest of the pack.

      • Penn State is pretty hardcore.
      • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:45PM (#38125294) Homepage

        I'm not so sure that a place like MIT is any more theoretical than some land grant college. It's certainly more stressful though. It's also a lot more expensive. You will likely be saddled with a much larger debt when your done.

        What advantage you get might not be worth the cost.

        • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:57PM (#38125440)

          I'm not so sure that a place like MIT is any more theoretical than some land grant college.

          Not always. Some places, especially smaller colleges, treat CS as IT/Software Engineering, when we all know they are very different. The result is you come out of school with a degree in "computer science", but you lack foundational knowledge like calculus. All you really did was get a degree in programming.

          It's also a lot more expensive.

          Also not necessarily. Stanford is free for lower income families. I went to CMU and they gave me a grant (aka never have to pay it back) that covered half of tuition. In the end it cost me less than going to state school.

          • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:41PM (#38125990) Homepage Journal

            Not always. Some places, especially smaller colleges, treat CS as IT/Software Engineering, when we all know they are very different.

            This. I went to a college-style Ivy, so I didn't have to declare a major until sophomore year, so getting in was just a matter of applying early decision.

            But... after taking CS there and then talking to a friend who was going (a decade later) to a small school in Boston, I was shocked at what they were teaching for 'computer science'. They got none of the fundamentals, just run-at-the-wall programming.

            There were kids having trouble in those classes /because/ they lacked the fundamentals. It wasn't their fault, but I wonder how this group of professors managed to come up with such a hair-brained curriculum (or how they got to be CS professors in the first place). Even in IT, CS fundamentals are essential for proper understanding.

            It wasn't a college with a poor reputation, either. There's no reason a community college couldn't have an excellent CS program either - they cost next to nothing to implement (heck, a fundamentals CS program could be taught on anything with an MMU).

            I suppose an independent rating system of some sort would be helpful here.

          • I think that's it right there - if you are admitted to an elite school but only on the basis you pay full fare, they don't really want you, and you likely don't really belong there. Go to a cheaper school. But if you not only get admitted but they want you enough to give you a deal, well, what are you waiting for?
          • The result is you come out of school with a degree in "computer science", but you lack foundational knowledge like calculus.

            I'm sorry, what part of "computer science" requires calculus?

            Automata/FSM theory? No calc
            Computability theory? No calc
            Computational complexity theory? No calc
            Cryptography? No calc
            Grammars? No calc

            The maths most important to CompSci, *by far*, are discrete/finite math and combinatorics. Maybe some linear algebra.

        • Well, as long as you stick to compsci and seek a compsci job, then you can't really lose with an MIT degree. It's like a Harvard law degree or a UNC basketball scholarship. They will want you, until you mess it up, not the other way around.

      • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:56PM (#38125426)
        I take it you didn't take statistics from an elite school. Since 'elite' schools have tougher acceptance criteria, it only makes sense their students would perform better. To my knowledge, there has never been a true 'double blind' study, where students with similar grades and performance levels in high school were compared between community colleges and 'elite' schools. Please post one if there is one.

        I will admit that there are a few companies that specifically seek out and recruit from elite schools, but they will see through anyone that doesn't have talent. So, at best, going to an elite school really only provides someone a slight edge. And they will only take 'the best of the best', so unless someone is sure they are in the top 10% already, good luck with that degree really amounting to more than from a community college.

        As long as someone can click on the box 'I have a degree', that's all HR will care about. The manager might be impressed by an elite degree, he might be intimidated by it, or he might turn it away because of expected salary costs. These things can work against you also.

        I remember talking with a VP of programming about 10 years ago, wondering why someone with a masters in marine biology would want to be a computer programer. He didn't even interview the kid. But then again, the VP had his PhD in neural networks, and was working for a financial company and was fired after two years because he had terrible people skills. A lot of good his degree did him, he was one of the worst managers I'd ever seen. The company I worked with hired a financial wizard from some elite school with a very impressive background, and just fired him 6 months ago for the his lack of people skills and terrible work ethic.

        If someone has the money to blow, there is nothing wrong with an elite school. But I sure as hell wouldn't spend a lot of money I didn't have in the hopes of making up for it later.
        • Since 'elite' schools have tougher acceptance criteria, it only makes sense their students would perform better.

          Well, thats kind of the point, and that alone may justify the presumption that a graduate of an "elite" school will be more talented. In general, if you're smart and prepared to work hard, I'd recommend going to the most selective school that you can get into (and afford, after whatever aid may be available). The level that your peers are at will determine the level at which your classes are taught, how much is expected of you, and ultimately where you set the bar for yourself.

      • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:00PM (#38125458) Journal

        And the contacts you make. Networking is as important as anything else. The old axiom of "it's not what you know, it's who you know" certainly comes in for a lot of abuse and cynicism with people making the connection of "jobs for the lads", but it's more than that.

        If you went to school with someone whose family connections got them an interview at a prestigious company, you now have a connection. With so many applications to weed through, and high competition for any kind of position in a poor economy, it can be immensely helpful just to have a foot in the door. And that foot in the door often is someone who already works there who (a) will get a bonus if they refer someone who ends up getting hired for a position, and (b) thinks "hey, Steven would be good for this job, and I know he was a hard worker at school so I may as well recommend him".

        • It could also be someone who was just plain chummy with the contact or who paid him off with a favor to make him look good.

          Negative references work both ways as well. The boss might not be in a position to know if Eve's torpedo on Alice's being hired was because Eve genuinely thinks Alice sucked at her last job or because Eve is pissed that Bob slept with her instead of Eve.

    • by LordNacho ( 1909280 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:43PM (#38125278)

      IMO the main point of going to a big-name school is it buys you a good rep, rightfully or not. You get one good glance at your CV if it has a name on it. Also, people simply think that I'm smarter than I really am, because they see where I studied. Working hard at proving them wrong.

    • In the end your own talent matters more than where you go.

      True, but having a degree from a prestigious university will open doors that talent won't always open.

    • by j-beda ( 85386 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:04PM (#38125524) Homepage

      And for "talent" one should generally read "drive/motivation/work". But to continue on this idea of "it's not the school" that can lay claim to success, here are some thoughts.

      Graduates of "elite" schools do go on to have more "successful" careers in terms of money and other measurements compared to other less "elite" institutions. However those graduates did not necessarily have that success because of the school - they might have had similar success had they gone elsewhere. The elite schools might be "creating" winners, or they might be "picking" winners.

      How could we find out? Well, we could examine the "success" of people who were accepted to an elite school but went elsewhere and see how the compare to those who did attend the elite school. Fortunately, people have done such studies: []

      "A decade ago, two economists — Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger — published a research paper arguing that elite colleges did not seem to give most graduates an earnings boost. As you might expect, the paper received a ton of attention. Ms. Dale and Mr. Krueger have just finished a new version of the study — with vastly more and better data, covering people into their 40s and 50s, as well as looking at a set of more recent college graduates — and the new version comes to the same conclusion."

      Basically, if you've got the chops to apply to these elite schools, you're very likely to be successful no matter where you go.

    • At the top schools I can say that this isn't totally true. I was talented enough to get into grad school at CMU but not undergrad. Aside from the obviously more rigorous and higher quality of courses taught here, students get an enormous advantage by having CMU tied to their resume. Even at the job fairs here, employers are practically begging students to visit their booths. Yes, you must be talented to be successful, but being at a big-name CS school will help you immensely.
    • but but but... it's the people you meet.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:37PM (#38125202) Journal
    My brother is an IT consultant, he says the contract job opening has been consistently high and the unemployment is quite low in that field. However his skill set is mainly in coding on the PeopleSoft API. Comp Sci degree is not required for that job. Wonder how many high school students flock comp sci thinking of coding jobs? How many are going to confronted with concepts like P and NP problem sets and equivalences and find that harder than calculus?
    • The issue is that IT is such a broad field that specialists in CS find themselves confronted with jobs that aren't really that related to what they learned how to do. My graduate program deliberately went after folks who DIDN'T have their undergraduate degrees in CS, because different backgrounds will bring in more well rounded perspectives to teams. Since most IT projects are done in groups (no one codes in a vacuum) you also need people who can think creatively, who can write English well, or who can th
    • However his skill set is mainly in coding on the PeopleSoft API. Comp Sci degree is not required for that job.

      Agreed. However, many HR departments use automated scanners to filter resumes and if you don't have CS or and Engineering degree, you won't be interviewed for the position. Some companies have made it difficult or impossible for managers to find their own people without the HR department.

      • Very few of his fellow consultants have CS degrees. They still manage to find contracts and the unemployment is quite low. Many of them run their own tiny companies, more like a group of doctors coming together to set up a practice. The best course for someone looking for plain programming jobs on APIs of these databases is to find these tiny companies, join as an intern and get trained on the API and get some practical training under these consultants. Then get a contract job and eventually make partner or
      • many HR departments use automated scanners to filter resumes and if you don't have CS or and Engineering degree, you won't be interviewed for the position.
        Mod parent up. Further, at least in the area where I live, they filter resumes for MIS majors, and filter out CS and Engineering majors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:37PM (#38125212)

    The world is as it is, but, it is my desire that these tips were directed at (and people expected them to be directed at) the "children" (adults) applying and not the parents.

  • Assuming your kid is capable of getting into an "elite" Computer Science program, how about instead he:

    1. Goes to a upper-tier state school (helps if there's one in your home state, but not necessarily a deal-killer),
    2. Does a paid internship (or two) before graduating,
    3. Graduates with the albatross of huge debt around his/her neck (and with some work experience).

    For an undergraduate Computer Science degree, I'm not convinced it's "worth it" to pay the big bucks.
    • why the "upper tier"? Why not save some money and send them to a local good two-year school, then go to state or good (not premium) university? Yes, do some interships. Tens of thousands of dollars not spent are a great thing.
      • Upper tier because you can get a degree from an upper-tier state school without breaking the bank, and a degree from an upper-tier state school is more marketable than a degree from a non-upper-tier state school. It feels like the sweet spot.
  • by olau ( 314197 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:55PM (#38125418) Homepage

    From the article:

    It also helps to be a girl. At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, for example, only 14% of the computer science majors are women, so it's easier for female applicants to stand out from the pack. [...]

    What kind of advice does that lead to?

    "MISC NOTES FROM APPLICANT: He walks like a girl, swims like a girl and talks like a girl! Also he likes being called Ada!"

  • Not Sure (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 21, 2011 @12:57PM (#38125442)

    I completed my BS in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University ( consistently ranked #2 or #3 in CS), and I'm currently in the master's program there. How did I get in? I'm not sure. I've never felt like I was smart enough to be at this school, and I think this is a common conception among students here. We all feel like the admissions staff made some kind of mistake. I think it all comes down to showing that you are really passionate about computers, and have taken initiative to do stuff on your own. What did I do in high school? Mostly, I just screwed around, but I did do a lot of programming projects on my own: video games, web apps, robots. That's what we talked about most during my interview. Not my grades, or my SAT scores (though they were pretty good.)

  • by ironjaw33 ( 1645357 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:00PM (#38125468)

    Looking back to when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted out of college or what I really wanted to do with my life. By my last year in high school, I had been an unpaid summer intern at a software company and taken AP Computer Science, but even then, I really wasn't sure. I _thought_ I wanted to study Computer Science, but I had no idea how hard the theory courses would be or if I had any hope of becoming a competent programmer. When I was in high school, I thought that after a semester or two of college CS courses, I might change my major after deciding it wasn't what I had hoped for. In the end, everything turned out well and I did get a CS degree, but that doesn't happen to everyone.

    As a highschooler, I also was misinformed about the quality of education I would receive at different schools. The misconception is that only at an ivy league school or other similarly ranked private school will I get a solid education. I applied to several top-level CS schools but ultimately went to an in-state highly ranked public school since it was much cheaper. There are plenty of good public schools that offer strong CS programs -- MIT, Stanford, et. al. are good, but there are many others that also meet a high quality threshold. I came out of undergrad as a strong programmer with a solid understanding of the theory of computation, in part because of my schooling, but also because I was willing to learn. Internships also helped -- these were especially helpful in gaining employment.

    • by alen ( 225700 )

      any elite program in any field is geared towards people who have a passion in that field by their teen years. not for someone who doesn't know what they want to do. all the elite CS programs are geared to people who make the jailbreaks and roots for mobile phones. not the people who download them and think they are cool.

  • Look at Mark Zuckerberg, do you think he managed Facebook because of the superior comp-sci education he got at Harvard? No, it was because of the connections he made and the people he collaborated with. It's the same with any of the 'elite' schools, the real value is that you will either get to know some very smart people, or some people with access to a lot of money or ideally both that is the real payoff for going to such schools.

    The other comments are correct that talent and a good mentor can give you what you need to build skill, and that the degree itself really just gets you into your first job with experience getting you your next job, but it's the connections these schools provide that help make the difference between getting a good job and building a world-class career or company.

  • by ThorGod ( 456163 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:07PM (#38125552) Journal

    Unless you're planning on getting one degree (bachelor's) and trucking out of academia for life, don't go to a big name university for undergrad. They're expensive and the material and lessons do not change enough to warrant the cost.

    If you *are* planning on getting one degree and trucking out of academia for life...still don't go to a big name U. You probably know exactly what you want to study, so apply to a program that's well known for that degree. There's still no need to hit a top 10 college in that case because undergrad material really isn't ground breaking stuff. (It can be, in the later classes, and in those cases you're walking the line toward further academia.)

  • One Way (Score:5, Funny)

    by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:15PM (#38125652)
    Just crack their admissions system and approve your application. While you're at it, give yourself a scholarship.
  • Here is how to get in. Insure your parents have made sizable donations in the past, then apply and insure that the next donation comes in only after you've been accepted.
  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:18PM (#38125702)

    If admissions are at an all time high, then why is Microsoft and Google still pushing for exceptions for more visas for foreign workers? Corporate officials keep complaining that there aren't enough CS grads and yet, the schools say otherwise.

    • Guess why admissions are at an all time high? Students are coming in droves from China and India. Then they either go back to their home country or they return here from jobs at Microsoft and Google.
  • You mean "come spring 2016 or later." If you're applying to schools now or in the next year or so, picking up anything new isn't going to matter, it might even hurt your chances at the top schools. Not only do schools care about what you do but they also care about how long you stick with it -- they want motivated people who can slog through the tough times, rather than dilettantes who join in a popular season. Freshman year of high school is probably the last chance you have of boosting your extracurricul

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:28PM (#38125820)

    I've managed to carve out a pretty successful IT career graduating from a big state university, in a completely unrelated field (chemistry.) The thing that seemed to help most was the practical experience I got during school (tech support was my student job), and graduating in the late 90s helped. That said, recruiters weren't falling all over themselves to hire me like they might a grad from CMU, UIUC, Stanford, etc. It took work to get my first job, it was a crappy one, but every job thereafter has been won based on skill (and decent interview skills.) I do systems integration work rather than software development, and a good part of my job falls back on critical thinking skills and the ability to creatively solve a problem without infinite money, hardware or compute time. You gain that experience IMO, by doing what I did -- riding out the dotcom boom in a "boring" field where I could learn as much as possible about a wide array of systems and concepts. I wasn't an HTML millionaire, but I managed to get through 2000-2001 with marketable skills that kept me employed.

    So, is a big-name school worth it for a CS degree? I think not, and here's why:
    - If you believe the IT field is shrinking, and you'll probably have to take a lower wage to do what you want, then you shouldn't blow all your money on an expensive school. Especially if you need loans, you'll be paying for that education for a very long time.
    - "Reputation enhancement" that you get from the big name probably isn't the same as what you get in other degrees/fields. If you graduate with an MBA from an Ivy-league school, you are almost guaranteed to make a few high level connections that will get you ahead faster than your peers. Some jobs like investment banking or management consulting are very difficult to get into without big-name school recognition, simply because they're a ticket to instant riches and kind of a closed club. Some "elite" tech companies like Google might place a premium on your educational pedigree, but unless you have your heart set on working there, it's probably not going to matter much.
    - Recruitment is easier at big name schools, because large corporations seem to just send people to collect a few new grads based on the fact that they went to that all levels of work. So, the difference might be "hand in your resume and watch the offers pour in" versus "hustle and pound the pavement yourself." If you can handle that for your first job, you don't have to do that for the second if you've managed to gain any marketable skills in the first.

    Here's something else to consider -- I didn't do CS, but knew a lot of people who did. Very few people end up working as "computer scientists" doing the low level theoretical stuff. In fact, the secret is that business IT is full of contractors/consultants who make huge amounts of money doing work in some obscure niche. SAP implementations, Oracle DBAs (good ones,) and guru level network guys come to mind here. Think about the places you've worked where they parachuted some consultant in to work on fixing some problem. That guy probably makes $150+ an hour, and works 8 months out of the year.simply because he fills an immediate need for some weird combination of skills. You certainly don't need to be a computer scientist to figure out Oracle's garbage dump of a documentation collection [1], or solve a thorny OS problem. You just need to have a head for problem solving and the ability to travel anywhere at a moment's notice (perfect for a recent grad.)

    Also, as noted in many other places, the cost of a college education keeps going up every year. Big name schools can charge more. You have to think of it as an investment, in terms of future payback. Do you pay, let's say, $50K at a state school or $200K at a name brand school? Are you reasonably guaranteed to make back to $150K difference and way more? If not, then don't do it!

    [1] Oracle's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. First rule is that you can't properly install or tune an Oracle system without

    • Do you pay, let's say, $50K at a state school or $200K at a name brand school? Are you reasonably guaranteed to make back to $150K difference and way more?

      It's important to note that the $200k at a brand name school is a volatile number. If your parents don't have a ton of income and chose not to save money in a college fund, that might become $0 at the name brand school while the $50k remains $50k at the state school. Ivy League schools are giving loan-free financial aid to students with family incomes below about $70k, with some variation from school to school. I didn't quite meet those requirements and I ended up with loans, but $30k in tuition plus loa

      • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

        that might become $0 at the name brand school while the $50k remains $50k at the state school.

        In my experience, that's wrong. My state school moved very aggressively to help me with tuition. My tuition actually became negative...let's see a big name school do that for an average student. (And I was academically average.)

  • View from the top (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:28PM (#38125834)

    The advantage of going to a more elite school is that your peers, on average, are going to be smarter and generally more accomplished. This ripples down in many ways, including a faster paced, more in depth curriculum, better resources, better professors, and, perhaps most importantly, connections & relationships for networking that can last a lifetime.

    Not saying there aren't smart, capable people at the less elite schools, but generally those who claim it doesn't matter where you go are those who really didn't have a choice.

    • Networks and relationships come and go. People die or move away. You forget your course material after 25 years or so, or end up working in a different field.

      What really matters is the elite college name gets you interviews. And yes over a lifetime it's worth the $100K or so. I know from personal experience.

  • "How to get into big college debt for no good reason"

    I suspect almost every state in the country has an in-state college or university with a perfectly good comp sci program that costs 10's or even 100's of $k less than an 'elite' school. The notion that the name on your undergrad degree could possibly be worth as much as a house is ridiculous. Worry about where you go to grad school, what classes you take, what grades you get, not where your undergrad is.

    If you get a scholarship that makes going to MIT s

    • look at Mr. Elite University's $100k debt and have a good chuckle.

      Except schools like Stanford [] and MIT [] offer free tuition for families making less than $100k and $75k respectively. My university took 50% off my tuition for all 4 years. It ended up costing less than state school and I graduated with $15k debt for an "elite" degree.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:02PM (#38126216) Homepage

    I had the unfortunate experience of going through Stanford for a MSCS just before the "AI Winter". The "expert systems" (remember "expert systems []"? ) profs were running the department. It was becoming clear that expert systems weren't going anywhere, and the faculty was in denial about that. They'd set up a 5-year "knowledge engineer" program, with a combination of computer science theory, philosophy, and psychological interviewing technique to write rules for expert systems (Where are those people now?) I had one exam where a question was "Does a rock have intentions"?

    It took over a decade for the CS department to recover. After I graduated, the CS department was moved from Arts and Sciences, where it had been mostly autonomous, to Engineering, where it had adult supervision. It wasn't until the DARPA Grand Challenge forced Stanford to bring in machine learning people from CMU that the department really started moving forward again. Now they're making real progress.

    (This is not well known, but Tony Tether, the director of DARPA, used the Grand Challenge to kick some ass in academic AI. The schools receiving funding from DARPA were told that if the private sector did better than they did, DARPA was turning off their grant money in AI. That's why the big schools put entire CS departments on the Grand Challenge.)

  • Computer Engineering instead. You'll have a far better degree with more opportunities and a better understanding of computers, both practical and theoretical.
  • by Magius_AR ( 198796 ) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:40PM (#38127622)
    Step 1) Do exceptionally well academically
    Step 2) Don't be white
    Step 3) Don't be male
    Step 4) Don't have rich parents

    Welcome to the program.

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