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Colleges for Computer Science - VA Resident

ChrisTKDChrisTKD Registered User Posts: 1,000 Senior Member
edited March 2011 in Engineering Majors
DS is a Junior in HS and I’m trying to get him to focus on colleges to consider for his planned major in Computer Science. He’s definitely looking for a strong program in a science/engineering environment rather than a computer science program in a purely liberal arts college or in a business school. He’ll be a competitive candidate at many colleges but is not MIT or CalTech caliber. There’s no risk that he may eventually transfer out of Computer Science into a different degree program. He’s truly passionate about programming and has been learning on his own since 6th grade.

We aren’t going to qualify for need based aid but price is going to be a big factor as I have three kids with overlapping college careers. Fortunately as Virginia residents we have some good schools and the IS cost/yr in the mid 20s at Virginia Tech or UVA. The problem is that the only schools that I’m getting him to look at in more detail seem to be large state universities. Unless he can gain some merit aid elsewhere I’m having a hard time determining whether OOS schools or private schools will be worth the extra money.

We went to the Va Tech engineering open house last November and he liked the school well enough. But, he was not impressed with the level of difficulty for the senior projects of the Computer Science department. He felt, quite frankly, that the senior projects at the local magnet school were more impressive. To be fair the local magnet school is rated the #1 HS in the nation (and DS didn’t make the cut when he applied). I was also somewhat concerned that the Computer Science department at Va Tech has a very high student dropout rate (over 40%). I don’t know if the rate reflects poorly on the students or the faculty or both.

He’ll be visiting UVA’s program on March 19th and he’s already familiar with Maryland College Park from a summer engineering program.

It’s too early for him to decide on a particular specialty in computer science so general strength is better. Does anyone have any particular knowledge of Va Tech or UVA for computer science? We’ve looked through their on-line information but I’m interested in knowing more from a student’s or recruiter’s perspective. Any preferences between the two computer science programs? While I think he’ll get into at least one of those two schools I don’t want him to make only two applications.

Which other schools, if any, would be worth paying the considerably more money over four years if no merit aid (another $48,000 for an OOS state university and $110-120K for private).

Thanks for your ideas.
Post edited by ChrisTKD on

Replies to: Colleges for Computer Science - VA Resident

  • loopbackloopback Registered User Posts: 17 New Member
    Current CS major at a large state school here. You wrote quite a bit but I'll see what I can answer.

    > He’s truly passionate about programming and has been learning on his own since 6th grade.

    Same here. I have easily several years' equivalent experience over most of my classmates. Sounds like he has enough momentum going for him.

    > Fortunately as Virginia residents we have some good schools and the IS cost/yr in the mid 20s at Virginia Tech or UVA. The problem is that the only schools that I’m getting him to look at in more detail seem to be large state universities.

    If I were in your shoes, I'd just bank on a state school. I'd only go OOS/private if it were Stanford, MIT, etc. Why? If he's as good as he claims to be, then grad school will be a natural option, and it's the last degree that counts. Even if he doesn't go to grad school, a school such as VT will have plenty good career placement.

    A big state school will have a lot of second-tier students. That's a given. But a big school also provides an abundance of opportunities. I'm sure that a school like VT will offer more than enough to keep a motivated student entertained. It may sound funny, but being a big fish in a small pond can be good - there will be less intensive grinding for schoolwork and more time to do independent projects - faculty research projects, startups, etc.

    > But, he was not impressed with the level of difficulty for the senior projects of the Computer Science department. He felt, quite frankly, that the senior projects at the local magnet school were more impressive.

    The average at a big school will always look worse than a creme of the crop tech magnet. The good thing, though, is that CS can be a very individual-driven field. Students who are just trying to graduate are the ones making unimpressive senior projects. Why not be the one that hits it out of the park? Or the one that's simultaneously publishing a paper, being a TA, and working a startup? Or doing a double-degree in film-making? Or maybe he'll find that senior projects are harder than they appear.

    Besides, within a year, he'll know all the elite students (there will be plenty as good or better than him) and the rest of the mediocre people will be in the background.

    > I was also somewhat concerned that the Computer Science department at Va Tech has a very high student dropout rate (over 40%).

    Can't speak to VT, but I think this tends to happen 1) at any hard science program (engineering, pre-med, etc.) and 2) at big state schools. A lot of people go into CS with a twisted motivation or idea of what CS is, and after struggling to wrap their heads around writing simple functions, head for other degrees. Video-game making is not a valid reason to enter CS, unfortunately.

    The first year intro classes are a good test of whether it's right for you, even though they're usually not much fun. Skipping the first-year classes might be an option depending on the student and the department's flexibility.

    > It’s too early for him to decide on a particular specialty in computer science so general strength is better.

    No point in specializing now. Tell him that programming-language theory is a lot more important than it looks.

    > Which other schools, if any, would be worth paying the considerably more money over four years if no merit aid

    Stanford? MIT? I guess my point is, a big state school will offer more than enough in the way of opportunities and education for four years: tons of research and other projects, a lot of good students (even though the good:mediocre ratio might be lower), and more academic choices than a dim sum place.
  • ChrisTKDChrisTKD Registered User Posts: 1,000 Senior Member
    Thanks loopback for your comprehensive reply. I was thinking along those lines as well. There is something to be said for being the big fish in a smaller pond. He's the big cyber fish at his HS right now and expects to carry the water himself instead of just relying upon others for direction. Instead of being overwhelmed with work he has time to create on-line tutorials for the AP Comp Sci class. The HS strongly suggested he create his own directed self study project next year so he'll get a taste for whether those thesis projects are as easy as he thinks.
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