If it looks and quacks like a CS Degree, then is it a genuine enough CS Degree???
July 23, 2008 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Does it really matter where you get the Computer Science degree from?

I am currently going to Washtenaw Community College to (of course) save money while getting the all important education. Currently majoring in Math and Science with a concentration in Computer Science.

At the moment I have pretty much put my future plans on going to the University of Michigan just a little further westward (which, if you have not heard, is a pretty reputable University other than being part of the Big Ten, as far as I have known).

MUCH closer (I live just barely east of downtown Ypsilanti, MI) to home is Eastern Michigan University. Going there would undeniably save money on not only tuition and supplies but also gas using the car. For either university, I would be commuting to them.

Now I make the following realizations no matter what the decision:
- The CS biz changes practically daily, so I know I will have to constantly learn new stuff.
- As far as I know, computer scientists are in high demand (at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- The education I get at college lays a foundation more than anything (doing a pretty deep google search confirmed this) and anything in industry will have to be picked up along the way.
- Having noted that, I already know people without CS degrees already in the industry (particularly with .NET).

Therefore, it really comes down to the money, quality of college education and risk with sacrificing either, and thus why I ask MeFi: does it really matter where I get the CS degree from??? I have done a lot of research into this decision and I am more than anything looking for the final factor (which I cannot seem to grasp) that will set the decision in stone.

Trivia: Currently 19 years old, holding a 3.97 GPA (only shy of a 4 thanks to an A- for some reason), and have put myself through two semesters (Fall 07/Winter 08) of 18 credit hour loads (for a total of 36 in the college career).
posted by JoeXIII007 to Education (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What is the actual content of your coursework? Are you learning data structures, algorithms, compiler design, operating systems, principles of software engineering, database theory, discrete mathematics, probability, or other serious academic subjects of long-term value? Are you taking interdisciplinary courses that will help you connect your computer science knowledge other subjects and thereby make it more useful in the real world -- examples include cognitive science, human computer interaction, interface design, product management, or new venture development? Or are most of your courses focused specific technologies, programming languages or libraries, such as programming courses in .NET, Oracle or Ruby? If the former, great, you're in a legitimate computer science program that will prepare you for the future. If the latter, you're just receiving vocational training in the technologies of the day, and are short-changing yourself.
posted by lsemel at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not really.

I mean, a degree from CMU or Stanford or one of the other known-for-CS schools is worth more than one from State U. But what you can do, and what you've done, is so much more important as to largely eclipse it. Now, I don't know anything about either of your two options. Certainly, your actual education matters - one may be better than the other for, y'know, actually teaching you the basics of computer science. But if you're paying your own way, and if you're a driven student - which your GPA and research would imply - I'd definitely suggest taking the cheaper educational route, and spending some very serious energy on learning things on your own - find an open-source project you can care about, and put some work into it. That kind of thing.

To summarize: As Isemel points out, what you learn matters a lot. What you can do matters a lot. What you actually choose to do matters a lot. Whose name is on the piece of paper really doesn't matter that much.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:31 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are good enough, no. Otherwise, certainly yes.
posted by jcruelty at 8:34 PM on July 23, 2008

They're probably all the same. That's why ITT Tech and U of Phoenix pick up so many students.
posted by spamguy at 8:36 PM on July 23, 2008

The appropriate answer here depends entirely on what you want to DO with your CS Degree. Some cherry-picked examples:

If you want to go into academia, the reputation of your undergraduate CS program will play a role in determining how good of a graduate program you can get into.

If you want to become a patent agent, a CS degree is only valid from a list of schools with a specific accreditation.

If you want to just go to work, more important than your degree, per se, will be the opportunities that the university you choose helps you create to get your foot in the door for your first job. Career services and all that.

All other things being equal, go to the most prestigious university that you can get into and afford -- you won't regret it, but you might regret cutting corners to save a few grand and missing out on opportunities afforded by a more reputable program.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:37 PM on July 23, 2008

Go to UMich - what I'm about to say smacks of a certain elitism, but b1tr0t is right. The prestigious program will open doors and help you make connections, regardless of how great your abilities are. There are companies (and recruiters) who will look at your resume from UMich, but will toss it if you're from Eastern Michigan. Again, as an individual you might be great, but the reputation of your school matters a lot in the first few years after you graduate and if you choose to move and work farther from the school.
posted by universal_qlc at 8:46 PM on July 23, 2008

Also... you're going to be learning most of what's important on your own. If you just hew to the minimum that your professors assign you, you're not going to be learning very much and your education is not going to be as valuable once you graduate. There are a lot of computer science graduates who simply cannot program. You need to be creating your own side projects, writing your own games, working on an open source project, or starting your own web startup -- even if these go absolutely nowhere, these are the kinds of things that will solidify your learning and help you get jobs. In contrast to your classes, where you'll want to take hard-core academic subjects, your side project should be something you find fun. One major benefit of computer science as a field is that you get to create new things and implement your own ideas, so if you limit yourself to what other people (you're professors or future bosses) ask you to do, you're going to end up becoming an easily-outsourceable cubicle drone.
posted by lsemel at 8:54 PM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: Disclaimer: I grew up in Ypsilanti, went to Ann Arbor Public Schools ('01 grad), got into UM and EMU, and gave some consideration attending both. However, I'm horribly out of touch with the job/education scene in Michigan lately, but my family tells me things aren't good. I ended up attending and getting a CS degree from an excellent but small private math/science school in California. (No, not Cal Tech. Smaller, and a few miles east.)

Here's what I do know: I've been working in the software industry for the last few years and have interviewed and/or held jobs with a few different companies in LA and Silicon Valley. Despite having a good degree from a good school, not every hiring manager in the world knows about the program at my small school, and seem to think along the lines of "If I haven't heard of it, it can't be good".

That said, when people HAVE heard of my school, the response I get is overwhelmingly positive. On top of that, a good number of the career opportunities I've had have stemmed from cold-calls and emails from hiring managers at tech companies who troll Facebook for CS graduates from top colleges. It seems random to me at times, but I can't deny that it's nice to get that recognition, whether I deserve it or not.

For jobs listings that get a lot of responses, the school you go to can often be a matter of life and death. Every hiring manager has their own method of narrowing down a big pile of resumes to a list of people to actually contact, and unfortunately it often comes down to where your framed piece of paper came from. However, many good companies know to look for other things, like past non-school industry experience, contributions to open source projects, etc. I'm not sure who else will be in the same resume pile as you for the jobs you'll be applying to, but looking good in departments like this can only help you, regardless of the school you attend.

While I don't know for a fact that attending UM over EMU will give you a better life in the long run, I think it could give you a leg up (at least in the short term), depending on what you want to do after you get that piece of paper.

If you are truly talented and driven, and can prove it (perhaps the hard part), then you'll be fine either way.
posted by adamk at 8:55 PM on July 23, 2008

I think it matters. The benefits of going to a better known school are: 1) Recruiters are more likely to have a relationship with the campus career services, 2) You are more likely to be surrounded by similarly driven peers, who will challenge you in the immediate sphere and network with you when you're more established 3) I'm in the non-profit arena, but I do get a little extra tinge of interest if I recognize the school name in a resume, double-triple-quadruple that if the person reading your resume is an alumni.

College is more than a name and more than book learning, it's also about building relationships. Nobody told me that when I was 18 and I have a BA degree in CS/Journalism that was almost totally useless in both fields when I graduated, despite being able to hack (in both the CS and Journo senses) circles around most of my peers with respect to classwork back in the day.
posted by Skwirl at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2008

If you want to work at Google or perhaps even Amazon as an intern or straight out of undergrad, then going to a big-name school or a smaller place known for CS (Harvey Mudd, Waterloo or Olin, for instance) is typically an unspoken prereq. Same goes for those companies that ask for a "good" undergrad degree in CS.

Even if that's not what you're shooting for, you'll still run into the issue of interesting companies possibly not recruiting at a place like Eastern Michigan.
posted by thisjax at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2008

b1tr0t has it. For better or worse, there are quite a few people who won't even look at you if you're not coming out of Stanford/MIT. I'm not one of them, but I won't pretend the attitude doesn't exist, either. The biggest issue is getting your foot in the door and getting a decent body of work started. Pedigree programs offer that as a big advantage.

That said, I've been surprised more than a few times by pedigreed new hires that didn't live up to expectations. At all. And I've also been very pleasantly surprised by people who came from left field.

Your biggest problem will be with HR and hiring managers, who won't take risks. Your future co-workers generally won't care where you came from, except to make fun of you behind your back when you don't bring it.

My advice? Screw hiring managers, and screw HR. Software has one of the lowest barriers to entry out there. If you're good, and catch a few breaks, you can totally write your own ticket. If you just want to cog away in some established code haus, go get pedigreed, otherwise go make your own noise.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:59 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been through the whole spectrum of computer science programs. Like you, I started out taking computer science classes at a community college, moved onto George Washington University to finish my undergraduate education (great school, but not strong in engineering), and eventually to a graduate degree from the School of Computer Science at CMU. I will tell you that those three programs were completely different in terms of quality of materials, instructor proficiency and classmate level. Not all programs are built the same.

The most noticeable of these will be the quality level of your fellow classmates. I'm not saying that everyone needs to know how to program in advance of joining a program, but it was night and day between my community college classmates who could barely check their email and my CMU classmates. Being surrounded by good students makes you a better student, especially if they're willing to share. I'm still grateful to whomever taught me how to do regex searches.

Lots of Computer Science programs involve a home-brewed infrastructure, both in terms of software and hardware. How well your programming courses are put together, and the thoroughness of instructors makes a huge difference.

I really liked my undergraduate education, but I had to fight to find classes where other students were just as dedicated as me. The benefit of being in such a small program was that professors were happy to bend rules for me and let me take graduate level courses. Without that attention and dedication I would never have been able to win as much scholarship money as I did and eventually make it to CMU.

The truth is that if you're planning on going to grad school, that is where you should worry about having a name-brand education. If you're nervous about getting lost in the shuffle, go with the smaller program, work your ass off and demand attention from your professors.. However, if you're planning on stopping after undergraduate go for UMich. It's a really great program and you won't have to worry about having to agitate for a better education.
posted by Alison at 9:22 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go to the best school you possibly can. Not only for the improved educational rigor, but you will meet people that will help you for the rest of your life.
posted by plexi at 9:23 PM on July 23, 2008

Here's a better question: do you want to work for a company where the prestige of your alma mater carries more weight than your knowledge and ability? No offense b1tr0t, but you are part of the problem.
posted by saraswati at 9:23 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I work at a reasonably large software company and we only recruit from a tiny number of schools, mostly because they're local to our offices and the college recruiters have relationships with professors there. If you're from one of those schools, alumni will be reading your resume - they'll know the professors you worked with, know if you opted to take tough classes or what it means when you say you were a tutor vs a TA vs a grader. They'll be impressed that you did a double major in two subjects known for low average GPAs and made it out with a high GPA.

If you're not from one of those schools, your resume goes into a big pile where someone who knows nothing about your school will look at your GPA and your experience. They may google you. The professors you've worked with mean nothing to them at all.

Depending on how much you intend to bullshit your resume, one or the other of these options may look more appealing.

You may also end up with a lower starting salary because the hiring manager and HR think you're risky, since your degree isn't a known quantity.

In any case, once you have a few years of work experience, none of it ought to matter.
posted by crinklebat at 9:27 PM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: Here's another data point that I hope will help you decide which way you'll go. My perspective comes from having associations with your current school and strong familiarity with EMU, U-M, Wayne State, and MSU.

First let me assure you that people in this area know WCC and its reputation for turning out top notch technicians is solid. But as many others have said above, if you want better connections and higher end potential, go to the biggest name you can afford, and that's the big Blue U-M.

lsemel gave indicators of what your program should offer: "learning data structures, algorithms, compiler design, operating systems, principles of software engineering, database theory, discrete mathematics, probability, or other serious academic subjects of long-term value? Are you taking interdisciplinary courses that will help you connect your computer science knowledge other subjects and thereby make it more useful in the real world -- examples include cognitive science, human computer interaction, interface design, product management, or new venture development."

U-M and Wayne State both offer this. EMU is a notch below. I'm not sure where Michigan State comes in, but if you live between EMU and U-M, you're not going to want to commute to EL every day anyway.

A family member got her CS degree at Wayne and her MS at U-M. She'd say that she learned more about programming at WSU and more about making connections at U-M.

But, as the contrarians have pointed out, if you aren't necessarily looking for the corporate gig where they won't even look at you unless you're from The Name, and you've got the skills & know what you want to do and how you want to do it, EMU is a great place to create your own program. And although anecdotal, I know an equal number of EMU alums as U-M alums working at AdSense/Google in town. And just as many cabbies from both, too. (Different kind of hack, I know.)
posted by beelzbubba at 9:31 PM on July 23, 2008

As you said, your degree is a foundation, and you'll be constantly learning throughout your career.

A better school, with more thoughtful peers and better faculty, will give you a better foundation and a deeper and broader knowledge of not only your major, but whatever areas you study outside your major. Elite companies like hiring from the better-known schools because they can expect those graduates to have this better foundation, and a less narrow understanding of "the world".

Community college tends to teach you how to use tools and programs other people have made. A deeper education will help you understand why those tools are what they are, what went in to making them, and how you could make something similar.

You'll also have a similar conceptual base to others from this kind of background, and that will make it easier for you to communicate with and work with these folks. This is important if you want to work on projects with others.

Finally, the broader understanding I mentioned above will help you, later, branch out into other areas, like management, or to transition into a completely different field if you want.
posted by amtho at 9:59 PM on July 23, 2008

I agree with what a lot of people are saying; a University is a part of a community. The better the name, the more desirable the community. You will have more opportunities if you go to a "better" school via the relationships that are in place. It is not a requirement to getting a good job. If you have personal connections then you are golden, otherwise, a good university with strong ties to technology companies is a must. I would choose my school based on its co-op programs.

I went to a second tier school for my masters degree and fortunately I had a personal contact that connected me with the ideal co-op placement that lead to a great job that I absolutely love. I know many folks in my program who had run of the mill co-ops that haven't found a job seven months after graduating. That is a very shitty position to be in because you start get a bit of a.. stigma.
posted by dobie at 9:59 PM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: Isemel: Definitely not short changing myself, this year in fact I will be taking classes in object features and data structures, and after transfer the rest of the classes dealing in computer interaction to any degree will likely be taken (since currently I am trying to knock off the gen-ed goods). Plus I am trying to keep myself from getting complacent with a few languages here or there for the reasons you mentioned.

Generally: Am I looking to get into a top company? No. If there are any good government jobs out there dealing in CS, that's likely where I would be looking, other than the smaller companies nearby in MI and in the US. Academia is also not out of the question. So I am basically wanting to make sure I get the right stuff for a decent sustainable career, while not intentionally aiming for Google, MS, etc etc.

The other couple tidbits I forgot to mention: I am a member of the .net user group in Ann Arbor, been to a couple of Day of .Nets and user group meetings, which brought some pretty good exposure, but I am not at all sucked in quite yet. The other thought that I have been tossing around is to get a minor in law (if possible) considering how the two have come together in recent years. In that light the UM weighs heavily as a must go to school.

In many cases, I think I have to convince myself that the investment in a (slightly) more expensive school will pay for itself pretty effectively in the long run. That's the biggest hurdle in my mind right now.

Much thanks and appreciation for the pointers. Keep'm comin.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:03 PM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: In my experience, YES, it matters. I didn't think it did back when I was in college, but man am I glad I went to a good school.

If I'm hiring a developer, and I see applicants from smaller, unknown or second tier schools, I'm going to be way more critical of them because of my personal experiences in the workforce.

Anyone who says it doesn't matter is probably someone who attended a school with a lower tier CS program. Most CS programs are essentially programming language trade schools. Good CS programs have a basis in theory. You learn a lot of math, abstract algebra, algorithm design/theory, graph theory.

You take classes on data structures, not "Programming in C."
You take classes on finite automata, not "Coding in Java."

A few other notes:

Big corporate gigs are easy to come by even if you went to a crap CS school. I call BS on anyone who says otherwise, unless they're talking about corporate entities that are tech based. You wanna be a programmer at a bank? No problem. You can go to a low tier public school and get a CS degree and you can get hired and move all the way up the chain because a bank doesn't know a good programmer from a hole in the ground.

With an education based in CS theory, the changing landscape won't affect you much. If you go through a "programming" education where all the classes are about programming in some language, you're going to be screwed in a few years.

Don't get me wrong - some of the best programmers I know never went to college. Alternatively, they went to college for something other than CS, and did CS stuff as a hobby/passion and got into it as a career. I'm not saying you must have a formal education that's theory-based to be a good computer scientist, write good code, etc. What I am saying is: Statistically speaking, the vast majority of people I've worked with who went to Joe Random School for a "Computer Science Degree" write horrible code, aren't great problem solvers, and would be totally screwed if their job suddenly demanded they learn a new language.

Your skill level and talent are going to come from your passion (or lack thereof) to learn the deeper underpinnings of Computer Science (and a bit of Computer Engineering, too). However, a school with a theory-based curriculum is going to help you dig into that stuff a lot more easily, and because of my real world experience in the workforce, I'm going to put the UIUC, MIT, CMU, UC Berkeley, Stanford etc resumes on the top of the pile. The [cardinal direction] [state name] [university/college] resumes? Bottom of the pile. I know it sounds harsh, but after 10 years in the workforce ranging from tiny companies to corporate behemoths, I'm putting major stock in a theory based curriculum.
posted by twiggy at 10:26 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I nearly forgot to mention: At a visit maybe a year or two ago to my alma mater, I was quite jealous to learn of a kind of hybrid CS/Business program. It still had the good, theory-based CS classes, but also threw in what was basically almost like MBA-prep classes. I believe it was called Technology Management, or something like that. The program sounded really interesting, and I wish I'd had it back in my day. I'm much more of the "get out and do stuff in the real world, and solve business problems" type than the "up 'til 6am drinking mountain dew coding away" type...
posted by twiggy at 10:44 PM on July 23, 2008

The college confidential Engineering discussion board might be helpful for you as well. It tends to be a good place for more insight into this sort of question.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:46 PM on July 23, 2008

My husband went to Waterloo for his masters and it still turns heads, even though he's fairly senior by now. Have you looked at the CS program at Waterloo? It's about $9k a year for international students, but I believe that international students can take part in the co-op program, which pays pretty well and gives you great experience. Top companies recruit from Waterloo. Waterloo is only about 4 hours from where you are now (I think).
posted by acoutu at 10:47 PM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: I studied Computer Science at a big school not known for its CS program.

There weren't a lot of mutants of my stripe there, and had I not gotten my grad. degree elsewhere (and found two great advisors), I would have been clueless about the dot com world and most of the interesting things I now know about computer science. I certainly wouldn't have been on my current career path.

So in my case, the school mattered.

It's not that going to a lesser school necessarily consigns you to the slurm pits, slaving away for some alien overfiend. It just means you have to do more work right out of school to prove yourself and to meet like-minded geeks.

I would recommend applying to a top school for the following reasons:

- you probably will pay a fraction of list price, so it may be completely affordable.

- you will be more likely to take classes with other intense computer geeks.

- some of your professors will be tremendously knowledgeable about, interested in, and influential in their fields.

- on graduation, you will be more likely to find out about, and be offered, the most desirable jobs. The same will be true of your classmates. Your network of classmates and professors can help tremendously. Building this network on your own is possible, but it takes time. If you go to a top school, it's included with the tuition.
posted by zippy at 10:52 PM on July 23, 2008

i have found that the connections i made through my first job and participating in open source projects were vastly more important than any i made in college. a few years out of college, and it was what i had proved capable of doing that mattered far more than what college is on my resume.

knowing a lot of computer science theory is nice, but in my career path, i have found it vastly more important to be able to work with a team, manage myself within a schedule, and interact with people across all aspects of the business. that's something the program i went through did a pretty poor job of doing, at least at the time.

some of the best people i have been involved in hiring didn't have a computer science degree at all. they just knew the limits of what they already knew, and how to keep exceeding them.
posted by jimw at 11:32 PM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: I would have to agree with a lot of what twiggy said, but with a caveat: it matters less and less as you get more experience in the industry. If I'm looking at a resume, and the person is just out of school, where they went to school matters a lot to me. Did they go to a school that is renowned for their CS curriculum? Great. Did they go to a random state school? Not so great.

The reason for this pretty much boils down to one thing: do I really want to take a chance on someone? While there are no guarantees, someone coming out of a good CS school is more likely to work out than someone coming out of a no-name school. That doesn't mean that you can't find talented developers from the no-name schools, but the odds aren't anywhere near as good.

As you get more experience, though, I start to care less and less. If you have 5+ years under your belt already, honestly, I will probably barely even notice where you went to school. All I'm looking at on that sort of resume is where you've worked, what you've done, and whether it sounds like you have been in positions that required a lot of skill and intelligence. And at that point, I'm far more likely to simply try to get you on the phone for a preliminary phone screen and feel you out a bit, as opposed to assuming a lot about you based on the college you graduated from years ago.

All that said, twiggy is right about the type of education you will get at a better school. Regardless of what hiring managers may think, you will be better off from the get-go coming out of a better school simply due to the fact that what you will have learned is truly Computer Science, not simply "how to program in X". That kind of background will serve you well, and the people who truly "get" this are the people who rarely worry about the changing landscape of the industry, because they are ready to adapt to it.
posted by tocts at 4:32 AM on July 24, 2008

Best answer: tocts: Based on my personal experience, especially when I was working in the banking industry, I'd still actually care about someone's background even 5+ years after college. Some of the biggest detriments to the teams I was on were 30-40 year olds who'd been in the workforce plenty of time, but since they basically went through a programming in [x language] trade school program, they were often clueless about how to solve problems in efficient ways...

I think it depends on the industry, though... and of course there are exceptions to the norm.
posted by twiggy at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2008

I'm a UMich alum, with a BS in Computer Science and English. So I may have some bias.

I cannot speak particularly well about hiring processes at companies of all shapes and sizes, but I have found that being an alum of a large, well-known school has helped me in two ways.

The first is name recognition on your resume. As others have said, you can get this from your alma mater as well as places of employment. But when you're looking for your first job outside of school, the name of your school is all you have. If you're planning on staying in Michigan, then this may not matter so much, but I promise you that UMich has better name recognition outside of Michigan than does WCC.

Second, a large body of alumni can also help open doors for you. Even after having been out of school for over ten years, this does feel a bit slimy to me; I'm not a member of my alumni association and don't have any plans to join. Still, a lot of people along the hiring chain see your resume, and if one of them thinks more highly of you because you both went to the same university, then you may have already gotten your money's worth for the extra tuition you paid.

Finally, to riff a bit on what lsemel wrote: time and time again, I have seen that having solid skills outside of pure coding -- whether those skills are business skills, communication skills, or others -- are critical to being a good developer. Few professional software projects exist in a vacuum, so developers who can understand how the software they are writing will help someone make money -- and can communicate with the people who want the software and will interact with it when it's finished -- will be much better developers.

I'm not saying that you couldn't get your dream job and be happy and successful with a CS degree from WCC, but if you can nudge the odds a bit in your favor, then why not?
posted by timing at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2008

FWIW: my partner returned to school 8 or 9 years ago to study programming after a short career as a librarian. He took as many classes as he could at Lansing Community College, which gears its program so closely to the Michigan State program that required classes even have the same course number. He took his higher-level courses at MSU. Some semesters he was taking classes at both places.

He's had no trouble finding employment in the Lansing area (and elsewhere, as a telecommuter--he's worked for one company based in New York and one based in Pennsylvania). Right now he works at a webhosting company here in Lansing that is trying to expand his department, but they've been having trouble finding qualified people for over a year now (in fact, he had at first turned down the job because the pay wasn't high enough, and they called him six weeks later, desperate, with a much higher offer). The new guy in his department just moved here from Utah for the job.

I don't know whether you dream of a career path that might require that U-M degree, or whether you might want to go to someplace where programmers are less in demand (though, really, is there a weaker economy than Michigan's anywhere in the US right now?). But my partner has been happy with his decisions.

This might not relate to you, but a friend of mine has her social work degree from Michigan. In retrospect, she thinks it would have made sense to get her degree at another area university, because Michigan cost so much. Michigan has a really good reputation in social work, she says, but it's not so much for producing excellent social workers as for academics--Ph.D. social workers, people who are going to go into academia. She believes she could have been just as well prepared for her real-world work as an MSW with a degree from another school. In her case, she paid for the U-M reputation but feels like it wasn't necessary and didn't do her any good in regard to, say, salary differential or job opportunities. I don't know whether there's anything similar in CS, but I do know I've watched friends get degrees in, say, engineering from Western or Lawrence Tech and do just fine in their careers. I don't think everyone needs to pay the Michigan Premium Price.
posted by not that girl at 10:47 AM on July 24, 2008

At any school, you're building your network. These are people you should stay in touch with for many years. You'll help each other find jobs, you'll be in professional organizations. Your network is critical for getting good jobs, so make sure the other students are high caliber.
posted by theora55 at 11:36 AM on July 24, 2008

Well, I didn't used to think it mattered, but lately I'm finding myself changing my mind. I interview a few people a week and I'm consistently amazed at how few people know anything about real programming theory. People are applying for senior-level positions and they can't even implement a linked list with a pen and paper.

That said, I'm a college drop-out who is now a senior engineer, so it doesn't have to matter. I think with programming in particular, it matters a lot less about your education and a lot more about what you know. Interviews tend to get very technical, so you can't fake your way through it and it therefore doesn't really matter if you went to Stanford or community college as long as you know what you're talking about. Just make sure that no matter what, you have a strong basis in CS theory.

Having said that, I think good schools are good for one thing: networking with other smart people who will probably eventually get you good jobs.
posted by atomly at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2008

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