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Worth going to MIT, Stanford or Harvard for undergrad?

hffighterhffighter Posts: 36Registered User Junior Member
edited February 2011 in College Search & Selection
Is it worth it to go to one of those prestigious schools (Harvard, MIT, Stanford) for undergraduate studies in CS? I've been reading a lot of conflicting viewpoints on this, and how it's better if you just go to these schools for graduate school.
Post edited by hffighter on
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Replies to: Worth going to MIT, Stanford or Harvard for undergrad?

  • sentimentGX4sentimentGX4 Posts: 1,679Registered User Senior Member
    I'm not going to argue that these schools are better for graduate school, except Harvard (which is an awful choice for CS for both grad and undergrad); however, do note that these universities offer grade inflation as well as lofty reputations that may help you through to grad school.

    Also, few private schools could match the financial aid these universities would offer. So unless your alternative is your state school, HSM are still solid choices for undergrad.
  • onecircuitonecircuit Posts: 637- Member
    I'm not going to argue that these schools are better for graduate school, except Harvard (which is an awful choice for CS for both grad and undergrad);

    sentiment, when you make a comment like the above about Harvard's Computer Science department...what exactly do you mean?

    maybe this will refresh your memory a bit:




    NRC 2010 Graduate School Rankings
    COMPUTER SCIENCE
    1---Stanford
    2---Princeton
    3---MIT
    4---Berkeley
    5---Carnegie Mellon
    6---Cornell
    7---Harvard
    8---UC Santa Barbara
    9---Penn
    10--UCLA
  • AlexandreAlexandre Posts: 21,433Super Moderator Senior Member
    Of course it is worth it. MIT and Stanford are two of the "Big 4" Computer Science programs (the other two being Cal and Carnegie Mellon). Harvard is also excellent in CS (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg anybody?). Of course, "worth it" is relative. Do you mean is it worth paying $250,000 to attend those schools when you can attend a school such as the Universities of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Maryland-College Park, Texas-Austin, Washington, Wisconsin-Madison etc... (which are also excellent in CS) for free? Most likely not, unless if your parents are wealthy. But if cost is not an issue, then yes, they are most definitely worth it.

    0necircuit, the NRC rating is not that accurate, nor is it meant to be used as such. The NRC is more of a range than a ranking. For instance, Princeton is not quite as strong as Cal, CMU, MIT and Stanford in CS. It is on par with Cornell and UIUC though. But I agree that Harvard is strong in CS.
  • sentimentGX4sentimentGX4 Posts: 1,679Registered User Senior Member
    @ onecircuit
    It's called USNWR, the most well recognized ranking authority in the United States.
    #17 Harvard

    Regardless, even at #7, Harvard is hardly on par with MIT or Stanford.
  • datalookdatalook Posts: 645Registered User Member
    Computer science world ranking by Shang Hai Jiao Tong University, based on publication and Turing awards


    Academic Ranking of World Universities in Computer Science - 2010


    Methodology | Statistics
    World Rank Institution* Country Score on Alumni Score on Award Score on HiCi Score on PUB Score on TOP Total Score
    1 Stanford University 90.7 86.6 100.0 80.9 97.9 100.0
    2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 54.2 100.0 89.2 87.8 89.3 94.8
    3 University of California, Berkeley 100.0 96.8 42.9 76.7 86.1 82.7
    4 Princeton University 68.6 71.8 60.6 63.0 94.7 78.7
    5 Carnegie Mellon University 42.0 79.1 55.3 85.4 75.4 76.4
    6 Cornell University 42.0 57.3 55.3 57.3 85.5 67.9
    7 University of Southern California 0.0 39.5 65.5 68.4 86.8 66.6
    8 The University of Texas at Austin 42.0 39.5 55.3 70.4 77.2 66.3
    9 Harvard University 97.0 0.0 42.9 65.5 93.7 65.6
    10 University of Toronto 24.3 53.0 49.5 71.1 78.3 65.5
    11 California Institute of Technology 59.4 0.0 60.6 46.8 100.0 63.0
    12 Weizmann Institute of Science 54.2 72.9 49.5 37.0 78.6 62.8
    13 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 42.0 0.0 49.5 81.7 81.5 62.5
    14 University of Maryland, College Park 0.0 0.0 60.6 81.5 84.9 61.9
    15 Technion-Israel Institute of Technology 34.3 0.0 49.5 76.7 84.3 61.1
    16 University of California, San Diego 0.0 0.0 65.5 68.0 81.3 58.5
    17 University of Oxford 24.3 53.0 42.9 60.0 66.6 57.5
    18 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor 54.2 0.0 49.5 63.5 76.2 57.4
    19 Purdue University - West Lafayette 0.0 0.0 49.5 82.7 75.4 56.6
    20 Columbia University 0.0 0.0 49.5 61.5 95.3 56.2
    21 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 24.3 30.6 49.5 46.4 79.4 55.4
    22 University of Washington 0.0 0.0 49.5 62.7 89.6 55.0
    23 Georgia Institute of Technology 0.0 0.0 42.9 77.9 79.6 54.6
    24 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich 24.3 53.0 0.0 72.8 85.3 54.4
    25 University of California, Los Angeles 42.0 0.0 35.0 66.4 80.5 54.1
    26 The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 0.0 0.0 35.0 67.0 89.6 52.2
    27 The Chinese University of Hong Kong 0.0 0.0 35.0 75.5 79.0 51.6
    28 National Taiwan University 34.3 0.0 24.7 74.7 74.0 51.0
    29 University of British Columbia 0.0 0.0 35.0 62.1 89.8 50.9
    30 University of Cambridge 24.3 30.6 24.7 59.6 71.9 50.2
    31 Tel Aviv University 42.0 0.0 22.6 62.0 79.2 49.2
    31 Yale University 34.3 0.0 42.9 44.5 79.6 49.2
    33 University of Colorado at Boulder 34.3 0.0 42.9 44.9 78.3 49.0
    34 Duke University 48.5 0.0 35.0 41.1 84.1 48.9
    35 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 0.0 61.2 0.0 50.8 89.8 48.3
    36 National Chiao Tung University 0.0 0.0 24.7 80.1 72.1 48.2
    37 University of California, Irvine 0.0 0.0 35.0 61.3 80.3 48.1
    38 The Ohio State University - Columbus 0.0 0.0 42.9 56.7 76.2 47.9
    39 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick 0.0 0.0 49.5 51.8 72.8 47.4
    40 University of Massachusetts Amherst 0.0 0.0 63.1 49.2 59.1 46.7
    41 University of Pennsylvania 0.0 0.0 35.0 52.0 84.2 46.6
    42 The University of Manchester 0.0 0.0 24.7 66.2 78.9 46.3
    42 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 0.0 0.0 30.3 58.5 81.0 46.3
    44 University of California, Santa Barbara 0.0 0.0 42.9 54.1 69.3 45.3
    45 City University of Hong Kong 0.0 0.0 0.0 83.7 81.6 45.1
    46 National University of Singapore 0.0 0.0 0.0 87.7 77.6 45.0
    47 Ghent University 0.0 0.0 24.7 67.1 72.7 44.8
    48 University of Oslo 34.3 68.5 0.0 43.0 65.8 44.6
    49 Brown University 0.0 0.0 35.0 42.4 84.9 44.2
    50 Northwestern University 0.0 0.0 35.0 44.3 82.5 44.1
    50 University of California, Davis 0.0 0.0 24.7 57.4 79.7 44.1
    52-75 Arizona State University - Tempe 0.0 0.0 24.7 58.8 71.1
    52-75 Eindhoven University of Technology 0.0 43.3 0.0 72.4 60.7
    52-75 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology 0.0 0.0 24.7 72.7 60.0
    52-75 Nanyang Technological University 0.0 0.0 0.0 80.0 75.1
    52-75 National Cheng Kung University 0.0 0.0 0.0 79.8 78.6
    52-75 New Jersey Institute of Technology 0.0 0.0 24.7 46.2 82.5
    52-75 New York University 0.0 0.0 24.7 48.4 81.1
    52-75 Polytechnic University of Turin 0.0 0.0 49.5 46.7 57.6
    52-75 Rice University 0.0 0.0 49.5 36.3 71.2
    52-75 Technical University Munich 0.0 0.0 35.0 53.9 68.2
    52-75 The University of Edinburgh 0.0 61.2 0.0 59.3 60.7
    52-75 Tsinghua University 0.0 0.0 0.0 100.0 61.5
    52-75 University of Alberta 0.0 0.0 24.7 62.0 74.1
    52-75 University of Amsterdam 24.3 0.0 24.7 50.1 73.9
    52-75 University of California, Santa Cruz 0.0 0.0 55.3 38.1 61.5
    52-75 University of Copenhagen 24.3 68.5 0.0 41.1 60.6
    52-75 University of Florida 0.0 0.0 24.7 61.9 74.8
    52-75 University of Houston 0.0 0.0 42.9 42.7 68.3
    52-75 University of Illinois at Chicago 0.0 0.0 24.7 48.9 87.6
    52-75 University of Montreal 0.0 0.0 24.7 59.9 64.8
    52-75 University of Pittsburgh 0.0 0.0 24.7 47.4 76.0
    52-75 University of Utah 34.3 0.0 0.0 51.6 89.6
    52-75 University of Virginia 34.3 0.0 24.7 39.5 82.8
    52-75 University of Wisconsin - Madison 0.0 0.0 24.7 54.5 78.3
    76-100 Bar-Ilan University 0.0 0.0 24.7 40.3 72.6
    76-100 Boston University 0.0 0.0 24.7 41.5 80.4
    76-100 Catholic University of Leuven 0.0 0.0 0.0 68.1 71.2
    76-100 Harbin Institute of Technology 0.0 0.0 0.0 63.7 77.0
    76-100 McGill University 0.0 0.0 17.5 51.0 75.7
    76-100 Michigan State University 0.0 0.0 17.5 41.3 77.2
    76-100 National and Kapodistrian University of Athens 0.0 0.0 24.7 55.8 63.9
    76-100 National Taiwan University of Science & Technology 0.0 0.0 0.0 65.1 72.3
    76-100 North Carolina State University - Raleigh 0.0 0.0 24.7 51.6 70.1
    76-100 Pennsylvania State University - University Park 0.0 0.0 17.5 56.6 73.0
    76-100 Shanghai Jiao Tong University 0.0 0.0 0.0 84.5 61.4
    76-100 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne 0.0 0.0 0.0 70.2 71.2
    76-100 The Hong Kong Polytechnic University 0.0 0.0 0.0 73.9 71.1
    76-100 The University of Hong Kong 0.0 0.0 17.5 54.9 73.3
    76-100 The University of Tokyo 0.0 0.0 0.0 73.2 65.3
    76-100 University of Arizona 0.0 0.0 0.0 55.6 85.6
    76-100 University of Bristol 0.0 0.0 24.7 42.2 74.4
    76-100 University of Calabria 0.0 0.0 24.7 39.3 75.3
    76-100 University of California, Riverside 0.0 0.0 24.7 38.4 76.5
    76-100 University of New South Wales 24.3 0.0 0.0 58.2 72.5
    76-100 University of Tennessee - Knoxville 0.0 0.0 17.5 43.2 78.9
    76-100 University of Waterloo 0.0 0.0 0.0 76.7 69.2
    76-100 Utrecht University 0.0 0.0 42.9 38.7 56.2
    76-100 Yonsei University 0.0 0.0 0.0 63.3 73.7
    76-100 Zhejiang University 0.0 0.0 0.0 78.4 65.3
    * Institutions within the same rank range are listed alphabetically.
  • tk21769tk21769 Posts: 7,131Registered User Senior Member
    Regardless, even at #7, Harvard is hardly on par with MIT or Stanford.

    For choosing a college, what is the significance of a #1 v. #7 spread in the graduate CS ranking? Or even a 1 v. 17 spread? The undergraduate CS curriculum is very similar from school to school. Class size and undergraduate research opportunities will tend to have a bigger impact on your education than small differences in graduate-level research output.

    Look at the whole college and the kind of education you want to get to support your goals, then weigh all that against the out-of-pocket costs. Few applicants have the luxury of choosing among Harvard, MIT and Stanford; you'll be lucky to get into even one. The OP more likely is asking to compare any of these very selective schools with his in-state public university.

    Consider the best of the public flagships for CS, which is Berkeley. Would it make sense for a prospective CS major to choose one of HYPSM over Berkeley? It somewhat depends on which school we're comparing, the cost spread, and on what kind of Computer Science person you want to be. But in general ... I would say the smaller classes, more selective and geographically diverse student bodies, among other factors, count for a lot in favor of the most selective private schools.

    We've discussed the Berkeley v. Yale CS choice in another thread.
  • nyquistnyquist Posts: 237Registered User Junior Member
    Just one more opinion:

    MIT - yes, definitely.
    Stanford - yes, definitely.
    Harvard - depends on what other options you have.

    Also, do not assume getting into MIT or Stanford's grad programs will be easy. It is no slam dunk. If you are holding an undergrad acceptance letter right now to M or S, take it, because you cannot count on ever getting one for grad school, IMHO. Also, the easiest path to get into a grad program at M or S, is to be an undergrad at those schools.
  • zenkoanzenkoan Posts: 1,118Registered User Senior Member
    >>Harvard is also excellent in CS (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg anybody?).<<

    Neither Gates nor Zuckerberg derived their expertise in CS from their brief stays at Harvard. Harvard may well be improving its undergrad CS department, but citing those guys is irrelevant, except maybe insofar as they might be donating $$ to support the department.
  • gadadgadad Posts: 7,747Super Moderator Senior Member
    Suppose that your passion is music composition. You've composed some works that have won you some local renown, but both you and your compositions are the product of your 18-year-old perspective which has been limited to the handful of places that you've lived. Now imagine that a world-famous organization for musicians has decided to initiate a worldwide search for the most promising young composers in order to bring them all together, introduce them to one another, and allow them to influence and inspire one another with their diverse musical traditions. You get an invitation to this gathering - do you think that your creative approach might be influenced, expanded and enhanced by that experience?

    That's what MIT, Stanford and Harvard (et al) do in all their fields. You can receive excellent instruction from excellent teachers at many schools in addition to those, but the chance to be immersed in a four-year gathering of worldwide peer talent and accomplishment is a unique added value.
  • sirgerbilsirgerbil Posts: 142Registered User Junior Member
    Well going to Harvard for CS when UIUC, Carnegie and UMD are above it or right next to it is like flying to Italy to get a good hamburger... it may be great, excellent even, but there are easier and less expensive ways to get something just as good or better.
  • gadadgadad Posts: 7,747Super Moderator Senior Member
    Well going to Harvard for CS when UIUC, Carnegie and UMD are above it or right next to it is like flying to Italy to get a good hamburger... it may be great, excellent even, but there are easier and less expensive ways to get something just as good or better.

    That may be true if your goal for college is to simply take CS courses. But if you're in college for the full scope of personal and career development, there is a qualitative difference with Harvard.

    Harvard, occupying the top of the applicant food chain, gets something close to right of first refusal on the most talented, motivated, and interesting applicants from around the globe. They handpick a class that is multinational, ethnically diverse, brilliant, breathtakingly talented, engaging, etc. Then they set resources in front of them (world-famous speakers, faculty who are leaders in their fields, well-connected advisors, live-in faculty House masters and tutors), turn them loose, and offer stipends and subsidies to help make things like travel, programmatic ideas, and outside lessons easily affordable. As a result, you have the most spectacular extracurricular culture imaginable, all run by students. Students pull together professional touring-quality performing arts, run the only student-sponsored homeless shelter in the country, get funds to put on summer high school enrichment programs in China, operate a Model Congress program that draws high school teams from around the U.S. and the world etc. It's a campus-wide culture of accomplishment that goes far beyond degrees offered or the quality of instruction. And then for many students, its financial aid program makes it far cheaper than other private schools, and often cheaper than in-state publics.
  • hffighterhffighter Posts: 36Registered User Junior Member
    Maybe I should clarify my question a bit for those who are confused.

    I've heard that graduate programs are the more important, so that's when the prestige of an university will really matter. So basically, I want to know if the cost of these universities (Harvard, MIT, Stanford) is worth it for the undergraduate studies in comparison to simply normal state universities with a somewhat strong CS program, and THEN for graduate studies, go to prestigious schools such as MIT/Stanford/Harvard?

    Oh and about the Harvard controversy up there, I'm considering it not just for the strength of the CS department, but also for the social connections and overall environment at the school itself.
  • lesdiablesbleuslesdiablesbleus Posts: 746Registered User Member
    If the cost differential between Harvard/MIT/Stanford and your state schools exceeds $100,000 due to you being wealthy, then go to your state school (if your parents support this decision and don't want to fork over the extra money for these private schools). Otherwise, if your parents are willing to pay (regardless of the cost differential) or you are upper middle class or below where Harvard and co. will be cheaper than your state school option or only induce a minor additional expense (20-30k more over 4 years), the choice is clear.
  • hffighterhffighter Posts: 36Registered User Junior Member
    I'm going to need to rely on scholarships or financial aid regardless of which universities I apply to.
  • AlexandreAlexandre Posts: 21,433Super Moderator Senior Member
    LDB, one does not have to come from a "wealthy" family to have to pay full freight to attend Harvard, MIT or Stanford. A family income of $250,000+ will generally result in a student having to pay 100% at those schools. $250,000-$300,000 is hardly "wealthy" when you consider that after taxes, such families are left with $150,000-$200,000. With a single child, that may be manageable, but with 2 or 3 kids, financial concerns are legitimate.

    Furthermore, to such a family, spending $80,000 or $90,000/child more for a school like H, M or S over a school a school such as UT-Austin or Wisconsin-Madison is a waste of money. The average household has over 2 children. That would mean well over $150,000 for two kids and well over $200,000 for three kids. And what if those kids intend on going on to graduate school later on as most students of such caliber do? Who takes on that debt then?

    Finally, students strong enough to get into H, M or S will probably get close to a full ride at their in-state public flagship, so the cost differential will seldom be as low as $20,000 or $30,000 over four years, unless the student comes from a lower income family. In many instances, the cost differential would be in the $200,000, with the public flagship giving close to a full ride and costing the student $40,000 over four years and the private university costing close to full tuition.

    Regardless, to most upper middle income folks, the in-state option (assuming one comes from a state with strong public universities such as Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin) is far more reasonable an option than a school such as H, M and S. One must either come from a lower or middle income (under $200,000) household or from a wealthy family ($500,000 annual income) to be in a position to make such a decision. Households with incomes in the $250,000-$400,000 range and more than 1 child will probably be better off sticking to their in-state flagship, particularly if then are residents of one of the 20 or so states with solid-excellent public universities.
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