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Whats The Difference Between A CompSci Degree In A Liberal Arts College Vs Tech University?

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Replies to: Whats The Difference Between A CompSci Degree In A Liberal Arts College Vs Tech University?

  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    edited August 12
    Still looking for that list of the top 5 LACs for CS. If you ask people for the top 5 CS schools outside the LAC sphere most lists look very similar. Just wondering what the LAC list looks like.

    Then comparisons can be drawn.
  • yikesyikesyikesyikesyikesyikes Registered User Posts: 1,447 Senior Member
    edited August 12
    @Rivet2000

    Harvey Mudd for sure, but it seems to be an anomaly because I literally cannot find another LAC which focuses so much on engineering/CS AND is highly selective.
  • simba9simba9 Registered User Posts: 2,474 Senior Member
    edited August 12
    In surveying CS programs, the Association for Computing Machinery observes both a trend toward intradisciplinary specialization and a trend toward interdisciplinary programs.

    If I had to do it all over again, I'd avoid getting a straight CS degree. Instead I'd go for a degree in something like computational biology, computational math, computational linguistics, data science, scientific visualization - something more interdisciplinary and applied, and less theoretical. That's just me and it isn't meant to be general advice. Most of what I've used throughout my software career was taught in the first three or four classes of my CS program, or was self-taught. I've rarely used the theoretical stuff from my upper-level CS classes.
    I think it would be interesting to consider the top 5 LACs for CS. Can someone who has good background on LACs post a list?

    If a genie granted me one wish that was to be applied to College Confidential, that wish would be to ban lists of top colleges for particular subjects, or at least for CS. People need to pick the college and learning environment that suits them, and not pick based on any kind of subjective rankings.
  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    edited August 12
    ^^That doesn't help people sort through all the options. It's interesting that a top LAC CS program list has never been discussed or debated.

    Harvey Mudd is always mentioned so can we all agree it should be slotted in at #1 LAC for CS?

    Now, if we could only find contenders for #s 2-5............
  • simba9simba9 Registered User Posts: 2,474 Senior Member
    edited August 12
    Not sure how listing the top 5 LACs for CS helps people sort through all the options. Rather, it limits what schools they look at. People are far too obsessed with lists on CC.

    I read that LACs only produce about 1% of all the CS graduates in the US, so they're really a minor player in all this. I suppose that's why nobody has bothered trying to come up with a list.
  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    ^^ Actually if they were interested in finding the best LAC CS program, it would help them zero in on the best LAC programs.

    Would you not mention HMU?

  • simba9simba9 Registered User Posts: 2,474 Senior Member
    edited August 12
    Might as well ask what are the top five movies of all time, or the top five books of all time, or who are the top five doctors in the US.

    I didn't mention HMU because I don't believe in the idea of top schools for CS. That's because I've worked long enough to have seen that where you went to school doesn't correlate well with how productive you are in the workplace. From what I can tell, the people who think otherwise tend to not have relevant work experience in software development.
  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    Telling.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 60,928 Senior Member
    Seems like the thread is now veering into the question: are elite LACs better/worse than elite RUs for CS?

    Which is probably a question that most college-bound students will never get to answer even if they tried (by applying), since very few will be admitted to elite LACs or RUs (or their CS majors, in the case of elite CS majors at schools not otherwise considered elite).
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 2,284 Senior Member
    Some things are not quantifiable.
  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk Registered User Posts: 633 Member
    "That doesn't make sense. I'm here in the Bay Area. Mudd is extremely tiny, and I only know two graduates from there. Yet I know several dozen Ivy League graduates. I'm scratching my head trying to figure out how you know more Mudd graduates than Ivy League graduates."

    Let me clarify - I also know more ivy league grads than HMU, I was saying compared to a couple of ivies individually, I've come across more HMU grads. And this includes my stint at a s/w company in Seattle.
  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk Registered User Posts: 633 Member
    @tk21769 "A little farther away at Johns Hopkins University, yes, a student would have even better opportunities. Until a few years ago, if one met the prerequisites, maybe a JHU undergrad could have gotten into a course with a guy who helped invent the field of statistical NLP for speech processing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Jelinek).
    Or, one could enroll in the kind of LAC where you'd get full attention from professors who studied under top people at places like JHU, and still have very good (if not paradigm-shifting) research opportunities."

    First off Jelinek graduated from MIT and taught at Cornell and JHU, all superb research universities. Your argument for a LAC is that you could get lucky and get a professor who learned under someone like Jelinek at JHU. Well why not just go to JHU or Cornell or MIT and learn from the master himself or similar people? Any reason Jelinek didn't do his groundbreaking NLP work at a LAC?
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 2,284 Senior Member
    @theloniusmonk asked
    Any reason Jelinek didn't do his groundbreaking NLP work at a LAC?

    He'd be too busy grading tests and holding office hours.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,637 Senior Member
    edited August 13
    @theloniusmonk
    Absolutely, if you're the kind of student who could thrive at JHU/Cornell/MIT, those are great options. One of the features that makes a top RU attractive (compared to a LAC) is the opportunity for exposure - direct or indirect - to top scholars like a Frederick Jelinek. I'm not disagreeing with you about that.

    However, typically, for the "average" student at those schools (who would be above average at most other schools), most of the exposure will be indirect. S/he won't be getting much face time with scholars of that caliber. S/he might be hearing their lectures, or getting discussion/lab sections with their graduate students. When I refer to "[LAC] professors who studied under top people at places like JHU" I'm thinking of where they got their doctorates.

    My own undergraduate degree is from UChicago, not a LAC. One thing I love about that place (and a very few others) is that it more-or-less combines the best of both worlds (LAC and RU). Students get the resources of a major research university, but also the small classes of a LAC. Its CS department is a notch below the cream of the crop (and it doesn't have EE) but if Stanford/MIT isn't an option, then one might find a good alternative among relatively small private research universities like that (including the Ivies, but also places a bit less selective like Rochester.) Or, consider a LAC. For me, or for one of my kids, the greater student-faculty engagement at a LAC would tend to trump the greater course selection at a state university. But again, you have to compare individual schools and programs (plus costs etc.)
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,637 Senior Member
    edited August 13
    As for listing the "top 5" LACs , that is difficult not only for CS but for most other majors. Virtually all department rankings are graduate program rankings. They generally are based on bibliometric data (publication/citation volume) or on peer assessments (academic opinion polls, which I suspect are based much more on research production than teaching/mentoring quality). You'd first have to define a good basis for comparison, then a way to measure/assess it.

    For most good HS students, I wouldn't advise choosing a college primarily for CS (or other major) strength. Look for colleges that meet more general criteria (overall quality, net price, admission selectivity, location/size/other personal preferences), then narrow down to the ones with strong programs in your intended major. Among the US News top LACs, schools that seem to have relatively strong CS programs (in terms of course selection, student-faculty research activity, outcomes) include Swarthmore, Pomona, Carleton, and Barnard (women only). Number 5? I dunno, maybe Oberlin or Wesleyan. Or Reed (even though it's a new department with limited course offerings). Bucknell if you want the engineering program. Williams seems to be very good, but being out in the boonies might be a disadvantage for internships. Or any number of other places, depending on what you want to do -- like double major with something else.

    Suppose you wanted to combine CS with Geology in a double major.
    Some of the Keck Consortium LACs would seem to be good for that
    (https://keckgeology.org/member-schools/).
    In the 10 years from 2006-2015, tiny Carleton College generated more alumni doctorates in Earth Sciences than any other institution (in absolute numbers, not per capita). It seems to have a decent CS program, too.
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