Every serious computer science student quickly realizes that there is more to selecting a graduate program than just rankings.
Although name recognition and ranking are important, several other factors must be considered before choosing a master’s or doctoral program. These factors include program specialization, faculty research, location, and financial support.
Choosing the Right Program for You
With computer science encompassing such a wide range of sub-fields, you will want to select a program that specializes in the area you are interested in researching.
Interested in theory? Then MIT and Cornell would be better choices than Yale or Caltech.
Is machine learning the area you’d like to specialize in? Then you cannot beat Carnegie Mellon, home of the world’s first machine learning department, with over 40 core and affiliated faculty in this area of research.
Take time to find the top programs that are also strong in the area you want to study. Choosing a school based on area of specialization will provide you with more research opportunities and be a better fit academically.
Additionally, you will want to choose a school with faculty working on research projects that interest you. Getting accepted to a top program does not guarantee that you will find a project you can become passionate about; you additionally need to find an adviser whose particular research interests coincide with yours.
Graduate school is the opportunity to learn and conduct research under the brightest minds in your field, so make sure the school you choose has a good number of faculty working on projects you find personally interesting.
Moreover, you will want to take practical matters, such as location and financial support, into account. If you are a die-hard surfer from Orange County, California, a move to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, may not be an option for you. Location should be lower on your list of priorities, but still relevant in making your decision. Computer Science Doctoral programs last anywhere from four to seven years, so be sure to visit any campus you are seriously considering before you make your final selection.
More important than location, financial support should rank chief among your concerns when selecting a program. Graduate life is difficult, and financial anxiety will only compound any academic stress you face.
Avoid schools that offer minimal or no financial support, and avoid piling up debt in the course of your graduate education. There is no point in accumulating debt when many good programs provide full financial support through teaching assistantships and research fellowships. Find programs willing to provide financial support for students of your academic background, and ask about duration and continuation guarantees when assessing any offer.
Taking these factors into consideration will help you choose a program that is right for you and provides the best opportunity or you to succeed as a graduate student.