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Computer Science at WPI vs. UMass Amherst

Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
I have applied to both of these schools, for computer science, and should be hearing back from them within a month or so. They are probably both my top picks, and I feel that it is pretty likely that I will get into both. Assuming I get into both, I am trying to decide which school I would pick.

My first area of comparison is the quality of the computer science undergraduate programs. I know that WPI is known for its experience in technology fields, and would expect a great computer science undergraduate program. I have heard though from someone who has worked with UMass Amherst computer science majors that their undergraduate program is very impressive as well. I also know a UMass Amherst graduate who was a comp-sci major, and found a job shortly after graduation, getting paid around the median starting salary which WPI boasts. With further research, I found that UMass Amherst seems to have a higher computer science program ranking nationally, and a very impressive ranking at that. Some rankings were based on the graduate programs, but I am assuming that this is still somewhat reflective of the undergraduate programs, and I may continue to graduate school anyways. From what some people say, UMass Amherst isn't known as great school in general, but I do know that it has definitely been improving, and I have heard just as many people or more say that it's a great school.

Another area of comparison is the factors affecting my future career. I am unsure which school an employer would rank higher for a computer science major. From what I have gathered, UMass Amherst seems to be better known nationally for its computer science, but would an employer base their personal ranking on another factor, by evaluating the schools by other statistics such as SAT scores, etc. Would the employer even need to evaluate both, or is it known that one program is better than another already?

Social life is also something which, from reading reviews on this forum as well as elsewhere, seems to be drastically different at either school. I can assume that at UMass Amherst, I will be able to make whichever types of friends I want, party when I want to, and that there will be generally a lot of fun things going on. From what I have heard about WPI, it is said that most students hang around their dorms most of the time, and that many of the students may not be considered socially "normal" or fun to hang out with. I think because of this, as well as the fact that the male:female ratio is miserable, and also that the people going to a tech school may not vary as much as those at a widely ranging school may make my experience less enjoyable. I was thinking that joining a frat may be a solution to this issue, and would probably let me hang out with people attending a lot of the other nearby schools more often than otherwise. I do not have any real knowledge on the frats at WPI, how time consuming being in one may be, or if I would even want to be in one. I definitely could see myself fitting in fine at WPI, since I am a very tech-oriented person, but I'm not sure that it will be worth sacrificing the general "college fun" which can be had at another school.

Finally, a necessary difference to compare is that of tuition / expenses. WPI is much more expensive than UMass Amherst. Does the amount more being paid really have an equal value when it comes to getting a job? Is there even a difference between both schools when it comes to ease of getting a job (evaluated locally, and further away) and starting salaries? I think that I will be able to pay for both schools without taking out any loans, or possibly some for WPI, but nothing huge. Will the extra money saved by attending UMass Amherst be important after graduation (possibly for graduate school), or even during my time there?

Thank you to all who took the time to read through this and give input!
Any insight or opinions are welcome, but it would definitely be helpful to back them with some sort of source (a friend, someone you know, or statistics) so I know that your opinion is based on something.
Post edited by Walker1 on
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Replies to: Computer Science at WPI vs. UMass Amherst

  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
  • jessiehljessiehl Posts: 3,328Registered User Senior Member
    UMass Amherst has a *fantastic* computer science program (I work in CS, by the way), probably top 20 in the nation. If you want to do AI, it's even better, one of the very best schools in that subfield. Definitely more prestigious than WPI, although WPI isn't shabby either.

    That said, the people that I have met from WPI are interesting and fun to hang out with. It's possible that my sample is skewed, but it at least suggests that there are some cool people somewhere at the school. Also, I went to a tech school (not WPI) and their student bodies are often more varied than you might think. :)
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Thank you very much for your input jessiehl! It is very much appreciated.

    You definitely reassured my confidence in UMass Amherst's computer science program. I do not yet know what I will be focusing on, but AI definitely may be a possibility.

    You also helped me get a clearer view of what WPI may be like.
    Since it appears that you rank UMass's program to be more prestigious than WPI's, it reassured my already leaning preference towards it.

    I do feel like I still have a lot of unanswered questions, and am hoping I can find some more answers from users here, so please post up!
  • BrownParentBrownParent Posts: 7,574Registered User Senior Member
    Your future job prospects are not going to rely on which of these schools you attend, so put that aside please, especially if you are just going to be a freshman in college. Your grad choices may be equal, but there are stats on that so check that out.

    UMass-Amherst is well regarded in CS PhD programs, so it is expected in this area that it trickles down to undergrad programs. but check that out. In big state schools, it is normal for undergrads to take back seat to grads for research, but that is not always the case, so check that out. At U-Mass+Amherst, you can cross take classes at 5 prestige colleges, EVEN the WOMEN'S colleges like SMITH. But a friend told me the best class he had, while at an LAC, was at UMass.

    Often tech institutes give better undergrad experience, exposure to profs, research experience, but check that out yourself.

    How much money diff we talking about? It is worth a little to pay up but not always a lot.

    btw, my daughter was an accidental CS/Math grad. She always wanted to be a scientist, but she got the CS bug through doing a lot of mathmatics classes via physics. she is not the traditional CS type student in that she didn't do CS or anything computer before and she was late to declare major. but she is a smartie pants type that always had a posse of smart guys she hung with in HS. In college, she was an adviors for freshmen CS concentrators. She is in grad school now at UW-Madison.
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Thanks for your response BrownParent.

    WPI seems to base most of their high prices on the ease and salary stats for jobs, and I do think it will have an effect on my future career, especially because I do not yet know if I will even be going to graduate school.

    Your info on the computer science at UMass Amherst is helpful. I'll look into research experience for undergrads.

    I still do not know what the final prices will be, or if there will be a scholorship at WPI, but it looks like around a $32,000 per year difference right now. (UMass being the less expensive school)
  • NortheasternkidNortheasternkid Posts: 170Registered User Junior Member
    I would disagree and def opt with wpi umass is a party school and wpi heavily concentrates on fostering a good undergrad environment especially with small classes and great faculty
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Thanks for your opinion Northeastern kid.

    I am wondering if your opinion on my ideal decision would stay the same with consideration to the following:
    - WPI may cost around $30,000 more per year
    - I am personally interested in the college life at UMass Amherst
    - UMass Amherst's computer science program appearing to be ranked higher and more highly regarded

    Do any others have any insight about NorthEasternkid's advice about the environment and class size affecting my experience?
  • IndianPwnerDudeIndianPwnerDude Posts: 628Registered User Member
    As a current WPI freshman undergrad, this is my comparison between the two schools. I had to decide between them last year.

    Undergrad Education:
    I would say WPI wins here. Compared to what I hear from students at UMass, faculty here are really more accessible for undergrads and all of them have regular office hours. All courses are taught by professors at WPI. The class sizes are somewhat smaller at WPI than at UMass but at the upper division, they may be more similar (class size is not as important as it sounds by the way). At UMass, the CS courses are all taught by the faculty since the department is very large (faculty size) and the student to prof ratio is not that high as the department is well funded although this is not the case for all the majors.

    Research:
    UMass wins here, especially in CS. If you are interested in information retrieval (think Google -- mining unstructured data from text or translating queries), UMass has a lot of active research in this area. They have a lot more funded research although the vast majority is done by grad students. WPI CS also has a good deal of research though and as an undergrad doing research, I think UMass doesn't necessarily offer more opportunities but the breadth of opportunities to choose from at UMass is probably greater. At WPI there is a good deal of research in HCI (human-computer interaction) and in educational data mining and electronic tutoring systems. The robotics program at WPI is also better than that of UMass (although robotics is not CS). Also, since there are much fewer grads students at WPI, undergrads have a better chance of working on many of the most challenging aspects of research projects.

    Postgraduate Placement:
    For grad school placement, it is up to you and your talent and creativity. Where you go to school doesn't matter a great deal in a field like CS. Both schools are overall respected similarly in industry, although the career services and advising at WPI are probably more personalized (which may/not be a big deal for you). Most students at WPI are placed into a job soon after they graduate (I don't know about UMass). However, UMass has the bay state fellows programs where students automatically get into a tuition free MS program if they get at a 3.6+, which is convenient. There is no similar guarantee of a free MS program at WPI although motivated students are definitely able to get into the very top MS and Ph.D. programs.

    Campus Aesthetics:
    WPI wins here. The campus is old but it looks better than the boring brick and mortar buildlings at UMass. The UMass CS building is good looking and has good facilities though.

    Location:
    UMass wins here. While Amherst is not very exciting, it is a very scenic college town with many other colleges nearby. Worcester is also a college town although it is not very attractive and it has clearly decayed since its peak as an industrial city. Walking out at night in Worcester outside of the campus can be quite sketch at times.

    Student Quality:
    Here, WPI wins, although not by too much. You actually learn more from your peers than your professors so this is somewhat important. The average student at WPI is significantly stronger than the average student at UMass but in CS and Engineering the gap is less. Furthermore, the lower division req's at UMass filter out many uninterested students from the major (although the same also happens at WPI to a lesser extent) and by the time students graduate, the difference is not that great.

    Culture:
    Many students at WPI play video games although the music programs are excellent as well. I would say leadership opportunities are easier to attain at WPI. It is easier to focus on schoolwork since the partying culture is isolated and most students tend to do more nerdy things. This is one of the main reasons I selected WPI.

    Overall, I would say that if you get a scholarship which brings down the cost difference to less than $10k, I would go with WPI because I personally would not be able to focus as well in a large environment. If WPI is cheaper than UMass (say you get a full scholarship), I would definitely not pass on what. The CS programs at both schools are similar at the UG level although at the grad level, UMass comes out stronger. Fit and the type of experience you want as well as cost are much more important than the differences in educational quality (which are probably not that great). Why not visit if the two schools are nearby?
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Thank you very much IndianPwnerDude for the in-depth response and assessment! All of your information was helpful, and addressed many of my questions and concerns.

    I think that an area in which I differ from you is that I feel that I will probably prefer the "culture" and general feeling of UMass Amherst.
    Overall, I would say that if you get a scholarship which brings down the cost difference to less than $10k, I would go with WPI because I personally would not be able to focus as well in a large environment. If WPI is cheaper than UMass (say you get a full scholarship), I would definitely not pass on what. The CS programs at both schools are similar at the UG level although at the grad level, UMass comes out stronger. Fit and the type of experience you want as well as cost are much more important than the differences in educational quality (which are probably not that great).

    I don't think I'd consider WPI unless there was less than a $10,000 difference, in which case I may.
    Why not visit if the two schools are nearby?
    I have already taken a tour of WPI, and heard a lot about UMass Amherst. I'm going to wait to see which I get into, I have a feeling it will be both, and then go on some sort of accepted students visit to both.
  • kwukwu Posts: 4,759Registered User Senior Member
    Choose UMass.

    Being the state flagship of Massachusetts makes UMass a more reputable school than WPI. The town of Amherst is very pleasant place to be, and transportation makes reaching malls, Northampton, and the other four colleges a breeze.

    Besides, if UMass costs X and WPI costs X + $32,000, it's really a no-brainer.

    Even if the price difference were 10,000 (which becomes 40,000+ over four years), you would be hard-pressed to choose WPI over UMass, since UMass does have both the stronger program and a better reputation.
  • Math4breakfastMath4breakfast Posts: 90Registered User Junior Member
    First off this comparison is a complete joke. Clearly WPI is the better school. In terms of academic rigor WPI wins hands down. Look at their curriculum it may not be for you. In terms of student body they are completely different. WPI is quirky and UMass, well they don't call it the zoo for nothing. I know a couple students who will be at WPI this upcoming August and are turning down Georgia tech, and RPI the peer schools of WPI which was ranked in the top 50 at one point. I looked at WPI but decided not to apply because the program looks too intense for me. I would easily opt for WPI but if costs are an issue then go with UMass. People on this thread saying Umass is more reputable than WPI is on something. No exaggeration i know of at least three kids with sub 3.0 going to UMass.

    Also WPI won this years NASA robotics competition where schools such as Cal tech and MIT compete. Clearly WPI is not ranked in this category which goes to show how much rankings mean jack.
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    Thanks kwu and Math4breakfast for your replies.

    Math4breakfast:
    The accomplishment of the robotics department at WPI is pretty impressive.

    Do you have any insight on the computer science programs at UMass Amherst or WPI?

    It didn't seem to me that you were comparing the computer science programs at either school, but rather other departments, or the admissions office. Also, the graph of students from my school who were accepted to each school in the last 5 years (from our school's Naviance site) had around the same number of sub 3.0 GPA students accepted.

    Since their acceptance standards are pretty similar for in-state residents, I think my preference would be best based on the quality of the schools' departments which I will be going into.

    Their courses seem fairly similar:
    Fall 09 course descriptions | Department of Computer Science
    Department of Computer Science - Course Descriptions
  • Math4breakfastMath4breakfast Posts: 90Registered User Junior Member
    I would opt for WPI and yes I think they have a better comp sci program due to a better student body. Teachers are arbitrary and WPI offers a better academic environment. Average 50th percentile SAT's based on Math and Critical Reading:

    WPI: 1210-1420
    Umass: 1060-1280

    A clear disparity. You can excel at Umass and i'm sure its a fine program but its upsetting to here that people think so lowly of WPI and I don't even go there. I also liked WPI's campus when i visited.
    '
  • IBclass06IBclass06 Posts: 2,846Registered User Senior Member
    yes I think they have a better comp sci program due to a better student body
    Unless students are teaching the courses, I fail to follow your reasoning.

    NRC CS ranking
    #18 Mass-Amherst
    #102 WPI

    USNWR CS ranking
    #20 Mass-Amherst
    WPI is listed but unranked, meaning it falls below the lowest ranked school (UT Dallas at #72).



    I am not a fan of rankings, but to dismiss such a good program out of hand based on a SAT difference and campus attractiveness is foolish. U Mass is a great option, especially if a scholarship is not in the works at WPI.
  • Walker1Walker1 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    I'd bet that if you took the computer science students at each school, the SAT scores would be pretty much the same. UMass Amherst is a huge school, with many different departments and majors. WPI consists in the majority of comp-sci, engineering, or other science majors. Students in these fields usually do test better.

    As I said in my last post:
    Walker1 wrote:
    It didn't seem to me that you were comparing the computer science programs at either school, but rather other departments
    and
    Walker1 wrote:
    I think my preference would be best based on the quality of the schools' departments which I will be going into.

    EDIT: I also agree with IBclass06.
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