Help me decide on a grad school!
April 12, 2010 10:04 PM   Subscribe

GradSchoolFilter: I want to get a Masters in (Electrical and) Computer Engineering. I've been accepted to 4 schools (STILL waiting on my 5th), and the impending deadline is crippling my decision making abilities--help! joydivasian-specifics below:

I love electrical hardware, digital design, and computer architecture but can't decide where to get my M.S. I'm from the Midwest, but none of the schools in the area have shown me any love. Out of Cornell, UMass Amherst, Boston University, and Northeastern... where should I go?

I'm still waiting from Northwestern, would most likely attend there if I got in, but haven't heard from them yet (what is up with that?). If say, I accepted another school's offer and financial aid, what is the procedure for backing out of it and taking NU's if they ever get back to me? You can do this with job offers, but I'm unsure about school offers.

The general consensus is that graduate school isn't worth attending if you don't get funded--but that isn't necessarily the case for Masters candidates, right? I want to work in industry after I get my degree and am not particularly interested in researching at an academic institution. I don't have any undergraduate loans, so I don't mind taking out money for a year or two.

BU is the only school that showed me any monetary love in the form of 50% tuition. Is going to an Ivy League (Cornell) worth the price tag? Will going through the 1 year M.Eng program open doors for me that otherwise wouldn't be available, and is it even possible to take out Federal loans for the entire $57k/year?

Not being from the East Coast, I don't have a good awareness of area schools. Monetarily, I want to choose BU because it would be the most economic choice. Prestige-wise, I want to go to Cornell and have a completely different experience than at my undergrad institution. Comfort zone-wise, I love Chicago and already started fantasizing about where I'd live and what I'd do if I went to Northwestern.

I was planning on purchasing a vehicle upon graduating. Would a car be necessary in Ithaca or Amherst or would I be able to get by with my bicycle and public transportation? I've been to Boston a few times and don't think that it would be as car/bike friendly for me. I'll be interning on the east coast this summer and can go apartment hunting easily at any of these schools.

Any anecdotal experience, engineering wisdom, pro-con list points, or arguments for the programs at any of the schools is greatly appreciated.
posted by joydivasian to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
BU is public-transit friendly (spread out along the B branch of the MBTA Green Line) and goddamned huge. If you don't want the 37K-people on a very urban campus experience, don't do it. (I did it for undergrad and regretted it. I fit in very poorly, felt very alone, and eventually dropped out after serious psych issues.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:20 PM on April 12, 2010

Best answer: I did a year of graduate work at UIUC in EE (communications & DSP). There wasn't a Computer Engineering masters program when I started (Comp. E was my undergrad).

Anyway... I was accepted, but without funding. Turns out that the unwritten rule is that you won't get a research position and/or TA unless some professor takes interest in you. They used to just throw all the applications in a filing cabinet, and if a professor happened to need an assistant then he would then file through them. There wasn't any effort by the department to match you up with someone.

Point is, if you want an assistantship then you need to start contacting professors who you're interested in.
posted by sbutler at 10:37 PM on April 12, 2010

I want to work in industry after I get my degree and am not particularly interested in researching at an academic institution.

This strikes me as particularly strange. You will be doing research at an academic institution anyway as a part of your thesis, unless your school lets you get an MS with only classwork*. You might as well get paid for it as part of a research assistantship. The best way is to find a professor who has projects available that match your interests and go with them.

* (Mini-rant follows:) A classwork-only MS seems like a cop-out to me. Getting a master's is about specialization, and the school will likely run out of higher-level classes in your increasingly-specific area of study. There are specialized 'topics' classes and independent study, and at that point you might as well make it formal and write a proper thesis.
posted by zsazsa at 11:26 PM on April 12, 2010

Hi, (sort-of) CSE MS here.

An engineering MS will put you ahead of people without a MS in your field.

That said, my understanding is that many prestigious grad schools run their engineering Masters programs as mills. You don't get the same teachers, necessarily, and you don't mix much with the PhD graduate program. If your program is one year only, how much are you going to learn beyond your undergraduate degree? Courses, sure, but probably not a lot of specialized individual work or one-on-ones with professors.

So, I'd say, for each school that has accepted you where there's a professor you specifically like, and who you would like to work with, talk to them! Ask if you could be part of their research program, and ask if you could talk to one of their graduate students about the school. That may help you to decide.

Also ask if you have any teaching assistant or research assistant load. If you do, you should be getting a break on tuition at the very least.

(And if it were me, I'd pick Cornell first, then UMass Amherst and BU).
posted by zippy at 1:44 AM on April 13, 2010

There was a recent question about living in Amherst, which addressed the carlessness issue.
posted by serathen at 3:02 AM on April 13, 2010

I can weigh in a bit on the transportation question.

I was in Ithaca a couple months ago for a job interview at Cornell. Lots of bus routes serve Cornell, and parking on campus is very difficult (you might have to take a bus from where you park your car to where your classes are!), so a lot of people don't drive to campus even if they have a car. I got the sense that a lot of people had cars they drove once or twice a week. Walking or biking in Ithaca, though, is very annoying because there are big giant hills. I also spent a couple weeks in Ithaca this summer for a conference and wished I had a car. But take that with a grain of salt because I was staying on campus and the campus itself is dead in the summer.

An ex of mine lived in Northampton (near Amherst). She and most of her friends, undergrads, had cars. I can't say much more (I never really got a feeling for the area), but see the question serathen linked to.

I was an undergrad at MIT. You DO NOT want a car in Boston. You'll have no problem getting around on public transit unless you want to go out after midnight. My father is very much the sort of person who drives everywhere, and when he came to Boston he'd just park the car in the hotel parking garage and then act very confused on the subway.

Also, if you're deciding based on prestige, don't decide based on the prestige of the school, but on the prestige of the department.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:58 AM on April 13, 2010

I've lived in both Amherst and Boston, and I don't drive. You can get around without a car in both - public transportation takes you where you need to go, runs pretty often, and is clean and on time. Amherst is a little harder to live in without a car, because it's more spread out so walking's less of an option, and you're more likely to want to leave it. But it's still doable. More than half of my friends in Boston don't have cars.
posted by shaun uh at 6:19 AM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: is it even possible to take out Federal loans for the entire $57k/year?

I believe this is not possible.. You can take out max $20,500/yr between the Federal Direct Loan and Federal Perkins Loan, if I am not mistaken, which I very well could be since I haven't quite hit grad school yet myself.

Do consider the fact that since BU is so HUGE it also has a huge alumni base and probably has tons of people working in the area (networking possibilities!). I don't know how highly regarded it is for that program though.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 6:52 AM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: There's also the Grad PLUS loan for whatever Stafford loans don't cover.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2010

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