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Computer Science at Yale

arfiepetarfiepet Posts: 40Registered User Junior Member
edited May 2012 in Yale University
I was wondering if any current CS students could tell me about their experience and provide their general thoughts on a CS education at Yale. I know that Yale isn't especially known for CS, and that their CS department is rather small with courses alternating in and out among the years. What're the pros and cons you've experienced from choosing to attend Yale for CS?
Post edited by arfiepet on
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Replies to: Computer Science at Yale

  • RudessRudess Posts: 587Registered User Member
    I would be interested in this.
  • Parent2015Parent2015 Posts: 31Registered User Junior Member
    I know a bit about Computer Science and I just took a quick look at the Yale CS faculty page. Here's where the first 5 listed (in alphabetical order) have earned their Ph.D.: MIT, UC Berkeley, CMU, Cornell, and Stanford. Not shabby, I'd say. If professors of this calbre couldn't educate or guide the research of a BS Computer Science student, or were somehow inferior in their qualifications to ones you find at any other school, I'd be surprised. Yale CS program is small, so we probably hear less about it. But quality-wise, it's probably as good as any!
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    We've looked into this pretty extensively since my son just decided on Yale for CS and math. He spoke at length with a Yale CS upperclassman and looked up the bios of the whole dept. If you continued down the list, you'd see that essentially all of the professors are PhD's from the schools mentioned above. The student my son spoke with had glowing things to say about his professors and the department as a whole. In particular, when asked where the graduating seniors end up going for grad school (which is my son's plan) the response was "anywhere they want". Those who go straight to the workforce end up at Google or Microsoft or any other company they pursue. Research opportunities are available as early as freshman year and we have been told that anyone with an interest will be able to work with a professor. Students can take classes from the graduate school as well, so there is little upper-bound on the level of education they can pursue as undergrads. Finally, it could be argued that since the department is small, students have a greater chance of standing out among the pack than at schools like MIT and STanford.
  • An0malyAn0maly Posts: 2,680Super Moderator Senior Member
    We've looked into this pretty extensively since my son just decided on Yale for CS and math. He spoke at length with a Yale CS upperclassman and looked up the bios of the whole dept. If you continued down the list, you'd see that essentially all of the professors are PhD's from the schools mentioned above. The student my son spoke with had glowing things to say about his professors and the department as a whole. In particular, when asked where the graduating seniors end up going for grad school (which is my son's plan) the response was "anywhere they want". Those who go straight to the workforce end up at Google or Microsoft or any other company they pursue. Research opportunities are available as early as freshman year and we have been told that anyone with an interest will be able to work with a professor. Students can take classes from the graduate school as well, so there is little upper-bound on the level of education they can pursue as undergrads. Finally, it could be argued that since the department is small, students have a greater chance of standing out among the pack than at schools like MIT and STanford.

    I agree with everything here, but I'd like to elaborate on some points. For the record, I am a CS student at Yale.

    1. You can take "classes from the graduate school," but most of the upper level CS courses (numbered 400+) are cross-listed as grad classes. So most of those classes have undergrads and grads in them (mostly Master's students, a few PhD students). What usually happens is that the grad students have extra assignments and higher expectations of projects and such, but the lectures are the same.

    2. You can definitely get into research as a freshman, but you'd have a hard time doing something publishable without a decent CS background first. Luckily CS 201/CS223 is enough programming practice to do meaningful work, but it'd be kind of hard to start first semester without good programming skills.

    3. The department is definitely hindered a bit by the fact that it's not as big (so it can't offer some electives every year) but there's still a pretty good selection every term.

    It's hard to describe cons because we don't really know what it's like at other places. I know one thing brought up a lot is that we're not as "practical" as Stanford and schools like that. Still, there's things like HackYale and the Internet if you want to learn about web development, and a growing tech scene on campus. Overall I'm very happy here, and I think the kind of students who enjoy Yale CS people are hackers at heart but also very interested in other things. If all you want to do is program all the time, then you'd enjoy CS at any good school, but you'd be wasting a Yale education.

    I suppose it's a bit late now that the deadline's passed, but I hope this helps for kids in the future.
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    @An0maly: In my son's case, he likes the notion of a more theoretical bent to the CS curriculum. He's already taken about 10 technical college & state university courses in programming languages, networking, general CS topics and advanced math courses over the last 7 years. He has spent the last 4 years as the lead programmer on his FIRST robotics team in addition to plenty of other programming. In math, he prefers the abstract to the applied there, as well.

    I agree with those who surmise that one can get an equally excellent education, especially at the undergraduate level, at any of the nation's top universities. What it really came down to for us is summarized in your comment: "If all you want to do is program all the time, then you'd enjoy CS at any good school, but you'd be wasting a Yale education". Too true. When decision-time rolled around, my son decided on Yale based on the entirety of what he'd get out of a Yale education (academics, EC's, community) rather than focusing solely on the national CS rankings.

    I hope my son gets the chance to meet you next year! I'm sure you'd have a lot of great insights to share :)
  • 4thfloor4thfloor Posts: 676Registered User Member
    Robotmom, with so much advanced preparation in Math and CS, where do you expect your son to start in the Math and CS course sequences, and have you found the Yale Math and CS departments fairly reasonable and accommodating in terms of initial placement, if you have broached the topic with them?
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    ^Current students could likely speak to this with more authority, but from the conversations my son had with several professors when he attended YES Weekend addressing this exact question, it seems that taking whatever courses he is ready for would not be a problem. They assured him that with his background he can certainly begin research as a Freshman (which is important to him). Essentially, as long as a student can demonstrate (through past course work, a discussion with the professor, etc) that they are prepared for a class, they can attempt it. It all seems quite flexible and informal.

    I'm not sure exactly where he'll start in CS (I just don't know enough about the various courses in CS) but I would imagine he'd start with Math 230 or one of the 200 level courses. He's taken Multivariable Calc, Linear Algebra, and two other upper/grad level courses in math at the University here and taught himself and tested out of Algebra II, and AP Calc AB/BC a few years back. His approach has always been a bit unconventional and he teaches himself on the side constantly. (He just picked up a copy of Multivariable Mathematics: Linear Algebra, Multivariable Calculus, and Manifolds-Shifrin and is about a 1/3 of the way through it and really likes it). Bottom line: he feels that Yale will bend over backwards to be accommodating and has no concerns that he'll be stuck taking classes where he's already mastered the material.
  • anon2432anon2432 Posts: 17Registered User New Member
    UHLENHUTH: Making Yale comp sci relevant | Yale Daily News <- Read this

    Yale is good at marketing itself. And Yale Computer Science is fine quality-wise if you want to do theory. However, it is not a strong undergrad CS department relative to Carnegie Mellon, Brown, Stanford, Rice, etc.

    One of the problems with Yale CS is that Yale does not really encourage an entrepreneurial environment, engineering culture, professional skills, etc. There is a reason why you see fewer successful Yale tech start-ups relative to other schools.

    So if you are just interested in theory then it's probably good but it is not really the best place if you want to go into the industry, engage in a strong CS/engineering culture, etc.
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    Brown? It doesn't even make the top 50 in CS. And no MIT? Hmm
    World's Best Universities in Computer Science; Top Computer Science Schools | US News

    My son does agree, however, that students at Yale would probably benefit from having a few applied/programming courses available, especially for non-majors who would simply like an introduction to web design, etc. HackYale is something he'll likely get involved in.

    And as for marketing themselves, I think all the schools do pretty good job at that! ;)
  • 4thfloor4thfloor Posts: 676Registered User Member
    In terms of high-tech start-ups, Stanford and MIT are probably at the top in terms of culture and sheer number of people, with UIUC doing pretty well also. Harvard has Gates and Zuckerberg, among others, and Princeton has Bezos, among others.

    From Yale I know about Spolsky (Fog Creek); this talk is pretty hilarious: Talk at Yale: Part 1 of 3 - Joel on Software

    There must be a bunch from CMU and Cornell as well; I just can't think of any off-hand right now.
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    @4thfloor: Enjoyed the article --very funny. Thanks for posting. :)
  • CCParentCCParent Posts: 42Registered User Junior Member
    4thFloor, though those three articles that comprise the talk are humorous, there is an incredible amount of substance and wisdom there. All CS students, especially those planning to head to industry, would be well advised to read them. Thank you for posting this.
  • booyakshabooyaksha Posts: 243Registered User Junior Member
    robotmom1414, I am a Yale graduate who works at Google.

    The "ranking" thing you cite does not indicate relative strength of undergrad computer science departments or relative presence at top companies. For example, while you are right that MIT has a great CS department, anon2432 is also right that Brown has a great CS department.

    While I enjoyed my time at Yale, I have noticed in my time in the industry that Yale is poorly represented in Silicon Valley and at top tech companies relative to other schools. If you are truly set on engineering or computer science, Yale is not really one of the best places for it. That said, there are plenty of great reasons to go to Yale, it still offers a good program, and I enjoyed my time there a lot.
  • robotmom1414robotmom1414 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    ^ Interesting comment. Did you major in CS at Yale? Do you think that Yale isn't as represented in Silicon Valley and top tech companies because the department is small or do you feel the department small because students receive a sub-par computer science education there?
  • 4thfloor4thfloor Posts: 676Registered User Member
    FWIW, here are the numbers of CS bachelor degrees granted by various schools, according to College Navigator - Yale University :

    The Big Three:
    CMU: 171
    MIT: 159
    Stanford: 86

    The Ivy League:
    Cornell: 90
    Penn: 76
    Columbia: 57
    Brown, Harvard, Princeton: 36
    Dartmouth: 20
    Yale: 14

    So I guess the question is, whether Yale's representation in Sillicon Valley is in proportion to its number of CS graduates or not. There might also be a geographic effect that favors Stanford, Berkeley, and perhaps CMU, especially since even without Wall Street, hedge funds in the East Coast continue to hire CS talent.
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