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Two Ridiculously Good Options: Rice (Major Scholarship) vs. CMU for CS

mathhappymathhappy 115 replies15 threads Junior Member
This is so surreal to me, but I have the (very fortunate) problem of selecting between CMU and Rice for CS. CMU is obviously the holy grail of CS schools, but I like Rice's culture more and through a combination of need and merit aid, Rice would be completely free the first year, while CMU expects about $7k (plus federal loans and work study). My need-based aid will be reduced at both schools over the years (one parent got a significantly higher-paying job recently), but I think it's safe to say that Rice will remain the more affordable option, especially with the merit scholarship ($15k per year) that stacks on top of need-based aid. My family is able to afford both options, however.

Pros of Carnegie Mellon:
- Top CS program in the country (with all of the benefits that entails)
- Strongly encourages (actually requires) depth in learning via required concentrations or minors
- Unique minors of interest to me (Tech & Policy, Human-Computer Interaction, and Language Technologies all peak my interest, although I don't have much experience in any of them)
- Tons of research opportunities across many sub-fields
- 50% female representation in CS (I'm female)
- My ideal college size
- CS classes are apparently easy to register for
- Closer to home (not a huge deal for me)

Cons of Carnegie Mellon:
- Very high-stress environment
- Less social student body (?)
- More expensive
- CS has a very high percentage of international students; I think 40%+ (not that I have any problem with that, per se, but I do wonder what effect that has on department culture)
- Limited school spirit

Pros of Rice:
- Flexible distribution requirements
- Better financial aid
- I really could feel the "Culture of Care" that they're always talking about
- Student body felt like my kind of people
- Residential college system
- Warmer weather (that's not going to be a big factor for me)

Cons of Rice:
- A little smaller than I prefer
- Fewer available minors (and majors, for that matter, as I do want the flexibility to transfer to another major if necessary)
- CS department not as well-resourced as CMU, fewer research opportunities
- Fewer elective options within CS and in general
- Some overcrowding in CS, particularly in intro classes

Both are reputed to have excellent professors, collaborative culture, very high quality academics and lots of opportunities to explore other disciplines

I don't have a lot of information about Pittsburgh vs. Houston, so please let me know if you have insight on that or if there's anything else I should consider.

I had very short visits at both of these schools (at Rice, it was during orientation so they weren't even in session), so I was banking on admitted student days to help me better assess the academic and social environments. What do you guys think and why?
25 replies
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Replies to: Two Ridiculously Good Options: Rice (Major Scholarship) vs. CMU for CS

  • sunshuttlesunshuttle 68 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Wow, Good job! I wish I had as good of a situation as you
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  • Bill MarshBill Marsh 483 replies5 threads Member
    You can’t go wrong at either one. CS is very strong at Rice and it too has residential colleges.

    Rice has a beautiful campus, is located in Houston’s museum district and near the theater district.
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  • QuietTypeQuietType 712 replies17 threads Member
    Based on your comments regarding affordability (my number 1 question/mandate/emphasis) of either school, my question is where do you see yourself satisfied in three years from now?

    Which school would you select without concern for finances?

    Pittsburgh has snow and cold and cloudy days (and I'm a PIttsburgh resident). Houston has humidity and hurricanes and hot temperatures. And both cities are beautiful in the spring.

    Is there either school you could anticipate thinking that "dang, I should have gone to "______"

    Let's face it, a degree from CMU or Rice will get attention.
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  • mathhappymathhappy 115 replies15 threads Junior Member
    Hmm, that's a tough one. I feel like I could think "dang I should have gone to __" for both of them, just for different reasons.
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  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science 4220 replies34 threads Forum Champion
    As mentioned here by others but just backing it up - there's no bad choice here and congrats on the great offers!

    This is just how I read it, but it seems like you like the Rice culture a lot (and everything I know of Rice backs your assessment up). My guess is that while you would make the most of and adapt to CMU, having things be just more with your grain can be valuable. Along with that value + the literal financial value, I'd say that would be where I'd lean if anywhere if I were you.

    My only other note is generally that while named and specific minors show a depth and focus often not needing as much scrutiny, schools without the names of degrees doesn't mean they don't have the classes or space in their schedules to allow for a similar curricula. Look up the classes in the those interest areas at CMU and see what Rice offers in those areas - you may be able to take a similar path there. The courses are what matter - employers are not going to care what your diploma says at the end of the day, and plus, it sounds like some of those have more personal than professional value.
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  • saarinensaarinen 24 replies0 threads Junior Member
    It's a no brainer, choose CMU. They have an incredible CS program - the best in the nation! Rice isn't even on the list of top 20.


    The price difference isn't that much, so I'd choose based on academics and whichever school is closer to home.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6408 replies1 threads Senior Member
    I would not worry about the difference in rankings. Rice is very good for CS, and Texas has an up and coming high tech industry. CMU is of course VERY highly ranked for CS.

    I also would not worry about the high percentage of international students at CMU. If anything I would consider this a plus. If you work in high tech in the US, you are going to be working in environments where the majority of your coworkers are from outside of the US (for me it is probably about 90%). You might as well get used to it. You will gain a broader perspective on the world. There is also a value in understanding the often subtle differences between cultures -- and the way that cultures blend.

    I think that this might come down to where you want to be, and the cost. Personally I am very reluctant to take on debt.
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  • MWolfMWolf 2379 replies14 threads Senior Member
    The general advice I have heard for this is to toss a coin, and make your decision based on that. Then see how you feel, and change your decision of the previous decision doesn't feel right

    Looking at your post, however, you really seem to have clicked a lot more with Rice. Although CMU is the top CS school, and, as you wrote, it has a great M/F ratio, you do not seem to have had an emotional connection to it.

    When you write about the pros of CMU, your list seems to match that of their college profile, while when you write about Rice, it sounds like you are telling us what you like about it.

    I am sure that you will do very well at either college, and both are amazing choices. However, I lean towards thinking that you may enjoy Rice more.
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  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science 4220 replies34 threads Forum Champion
    @saarinen CSRankings.org looks at research output by volume and nothing more. It is not an exhaustive list of CS schools nor does it consider teaching quality at all. It can be helpful, but it is limited. Rice operates very much focusing on teaching over research and is very well respected in the CS world.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6565 replies10 threads Senior Member
    Pittsburgh is a great city for students - tons to do, friendly. I'd pick it over Houston. It shares its neighborhood with Pitt so it's a pretty fun and young part of the city.

    At a certain level, it's also about the experience you want. I suspect you will find Rice a bit more of a "traditional " college in that regard.

    The great thing here is that there is no bad choice.
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  • coolguy40coolguy40 2883 replies8 threads Senior Member
    I agree that's a tough one, since both are offering similar financial aid packages. You mentioned "Student body seemed more like my kind of people," and "Culture of care." It sounds like rice is the cultural fit, and that's a lot more important than prestige. Too often, students run to "ranked" prestigious schools and more often than not, wind up miserable for four years. I vote Rice.
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  • me29034me29034 1938 replies94 threads Senior Member
    I agree that Rice seems to be the best choice for you. Rankings are really not that important. High school kids tend to give them much more credence than they are worth. Rice seems to be the best fit for you and it’s less expensive. It’s sounds like a better option all the way around.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6565 replies10 threads Senior Member
    I concur, that in spite of my championing Pittsburgh, the language you chose to describe Rice does make it sound like it's a better "fit." This is 4 years of your life, not 4 years out of it -- make it count!
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  • saarinensaarinen 24 replies0 threads Junior Member
  • RelicAndTypeRelicAndType 200 replies0 threads Junior Member
    edited April 5
    Just as an observation on the answers you're getting and are likely to get here, CC senior members tend to be down on following prestige, big on merit scholarships and "fit". So the answers will tend to favor Rice. If you asked in a different forum, you might get a different answer.

    But just to throw in a stray argument for CMU, think about recruiting. It's not something I did in college, and I've suffered for it ever since. The recruiting opportunities available at CMU, since it is perceived rightly or wrongly as the #1 school in the country, are going to be an order of magnitude greater in both quantity and quality than at Rice. I mean, Rice jobs will still be very good, but think if you'll be satisfied working at an energy conglomerate or big bank in Houston, maybe the Austin office of a big tech company vs. if you'll always wonder if you could have made it at the main office of a FAANG or a unicorn startup.

    You'll do well either way.
    edited April 5
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  • retiredfarmerretiredfarmer 1205 replies3 threads Senior Member
    If the unexpected happens and you decide the CS major is not as interesting as first thought (grind can do that). What would you want to study and how flexible are these two universities when making changes?
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  • jym626jym626 57360 replies3009 threads Senior Member
    Congrats on both options- but take Rice!
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  • EPallazzoEPallazzo 33 replies13 threads Junior Member
    Congrats on scoring two sweet deals. Definitely no wrong choice here.

    I think undergrad at Rice would be nice. You could have another look at CMU for grad school if necessary.
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  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science 4220 replies34 threads Forum Champion
    edited April 5
    think if you'll be satisfied working at an energy conglomerate or big bank in Houston, maybe the Austin office of a big tech company vs. if you'll always wonder if you could have made it at the main office of a FAANG or a unicorn startup.

    This makes it sound like Rice is a regional school and not one known for CS and regularly recruited by FAANG both inside and outside of Silicon Valley

    Looking at employment outcomes here for CS majors in 2018 alone, some notable tech companies:

    Two Sigma


    Mind you, that's in a class of only 72 students.
    edited April 5
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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 6623 replies143 threads Senior Member
    I’m sure there are great things about Houston.

    However cmu in squirrel hill right on Schenley Park and Pitt Oakland area plus the upmc vibe make it a sea of students. It’s an incredible place to go to college. The people are lovely and it’s a pretty compact city to navigate. Beautiful falls and shorter springs. The collegiate atmosphere is all around you in Oakland and squirrel hill is a beautiful city neighborhood for off campus is nice too.

    I don’t live in Pittsburgh but spent a lot of time there. It’s a very inviting place people wise.
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