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Northwestern v. Brown for undergrad CS

SS126SS126 Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
edited May 2016 in Northwestern University
I am a Northwestern freshman that recently was accepted as a transfer student to Brown for Spring 2017. I applied because of the computer science facilities (based on my online research) and culture being better at Brown. Northwestern does not really have a strong hacker culture and is a big consulting school. If there are any Northwestern or Brown CS grads I was wondering if they could speak to the benefits of the respective programs. Please be specific as possible. Benefits of the schools for CS don't have to be related only to the CS departments. For example, one might make the argument that Brown's open curriculum allows students to free up time in their schedule by choosing less time-consuming classes, which creates chances to work on CS side projects. I should also say that my girlfriend of almost 2 years is at Northwestern with me currently as well as other friends I've made here. At Brown one of my very close guy friends is a CS major and in my grade and I also know another friend from middle school who is slightly older that studies there. Thanks in advance for your advice!
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Replies to: Northwestern v. Brown for undergrad CS

  • Boothie007Boothie007 Registered User Posts: 131 Junior Member
    I don't know much about Brown's program, but Northwestern has been trying to improve its CS offerings. Not sure what has been done to date, but they've recently received some donations for CS-related activities:

    http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/10/chookaszian-gift.html
  • wildcat394957wildcat394957 Registered User Posts: 86 Junior Member
    I attended Northwestern and studied at McCormick with a minor in CS. It is definitely true that there is not much of a hacker culture at Northwestern however Brown does not strike me as having much of one either. I wouldn't worry about this too much as at both schools you will find talented and dedicated students.

    Northwestern has a stronger (at least larger and having more resources) engineering school and probably stronger CS program than Brown does. Admittedly, CS is a bit weaker than many of the other engineering departments at NU. I would guess that there are more firms who recruit for CS jobs at Northwestern given the relative size of the programs.

    How much you can take advantage of the open curriculum at Brown depends on how stringent the requirements are for your major. I know that engineering majors have less flexibility in terms of course selection than arts and sciences majors at Brown. Likewise at Northwestern course selection will depend on if you study CS through McCormick or Weinberg. Both universities are great in liberal arts and sciences and will offer excellent courses outside of CS.
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science Posts: 3,596 Forum Champion
    Brown CS is pretty well regarded in my experience, where I haven't heard too much on Northwestern. Based on the fact that Northwestern is trying to improve its offerings, that implies there was a lack in the first place to me. All other things even, I would go Brown, but they're comparable in the end.

    To be sure, check the upper division offerings at both schools - if there's a significant difference towards one, that usually is a good indicator. Also make sure the courses are offered regularly.
  • Boothie007Boothie007 Registered User Posts: 131 Junior Member
    edited May 2016
    Well, at least NU is offering courses to prevent hackers :)

    http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/2016/05/students-learn-to-combat-hackers.html
    http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/2016/05/hospital-data-analysis-wins-msia-hackathon.html

    From the link of the article I posted in the above post: "The Chookaszian Family Program in Computer Science, which will formally launch next fall, will help Northwestern students take advantage of new opportunities presented by technological innovation."

    Maybe do some research on this and see if it has any applicability to your interests.
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science Posts: 3,596 Forum Champion
    edited May 2016
    lol. Actually, it looks like damage control, not prevention :P

    Prevention would be something like network security :D

    On a semi-serious note, Brown offers 9 security related courses to Northwestern's 3 based on my first glance.
  • osuprofosuprof Registered User Posts: 422 Member
    If you look at graduate computer science rankings, Brown is ranked significantly higher than northwestern.

    Most pragmatically, I will look at it like this for OP. If he wants to get a good job, Northwestern is rated high enough. If he wants to start new ventures with classmates, Northwestern isn't rated high for tech enterpreneurs (sp?). Though I am sure a school like UIUC is rated higher than Brown.
  • Boothie007Boothie007 Registered User Posts: 131 Junior Member
    osuprof, I'd still argue that NU provides sufficient resources for folks who are interested in entrepreneurship. Some examples below. The more I research, I'm convinced SS126 can look harder into finding opportunities at NU.

    https://nuisepic.com/
    http://www.wildhacks.org/
    http://nuvc.nuisepic.com/
    http://designforamerica.com/
    http://www.farley.northwestern.edu/
    http://thegarage.northwestern.edu/
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science Posts: 3,596 Forum Champion
    @Boothie007

    Having the ability and having the better ability is an important distinction. Most colleges haven enough resources (and I would argue that who the student is ends up being much more important) - but all other things equal, the difference or advantage of one school does matter, despite the other school still having enough resources.

    I'm guessing that if the OP is at Northwestern now, he knows what's there.

    CS communities are oddly close, and you really can only know the culture from the inside. For example, Northwestern uses a teaching approach developed by a small team that started in UT. They currently run the Northeastern CS department and have since expanded that philosophy. Brown actually adopted this philosophy before Northwestern, and many researchers from there actually end up linked to Northeastern. All of these departments actually have some close ties. A professor I had at Northeastern actually just switched to Northwestern with the help of one of those original founding members from that team at UT because he preferred the liberal arts philosophy in general of Northwestern.

    Phew. Deep breath.

    The point being: The CS introductory philosophy of all three schools are pretty similar and even come from the same place. However, the cultures are incredibly different, and so are the program qualities. From my knowledge, Brown has a much better CS community, and the OP's description aligns well with that.

    All this said, no one has mentioned the social factors much - I think that should be one of the bigger things in play. OP, what is your gut saying there?

  • MotherOfDragonsMotherOfDragons Registered User Posts: 3,958 Senior Member
    Can someone explain the "hacker culture" and why is it important when looking at CS for undergrad?
  • osuprofosuprof Registered User Posts: 422 Member
    ``hacker culture'' to me largely implies student groups creating new software on their own (not required by classes).
    This gives one an edge when it comes to job search, but I think tech companies are looking hard and a Northwestern student with good grades and internship experience(s) can easily land a job with a top tech company.

    However, such hacker culture also leads to student groups launching their own products. This is largely limited to top CS schools -- MIT., Stanford, CMU, Berkeley, possibly UIUC, Cornell etc. There is even a ranking of how graduates from different school do launching their companies and getting venture capital funding. Brown might be better than Northwestern in this regard but isn't a very top school for it either.

    CS at Northwestern isn't very highly ranked for research and it is not very large. But, knowing something about CS classes, it is a quality program and I don't think it will limit anyone. But, yes, if your classmates are more interested in finding a finance/consulting job after graduation, you won't have as much of an ability to work on new software with them.
  • SS126SS126 Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
    @PengsPhils I visited Brown today and my friend showed me around while he's fine I just got the sense that people at Brown are a little weird. For example, he told me about the naked donut run which is when naked students give people in the library who are studying for finals donuts to relieve stress. Also, I interacted with a good number of his friends (some of which I knew a little from before) and they struck me as strange. Even the people I walked past. Something just didn't seem quite right. I know that Brown is an ultra-liberal school (even more than Northwestern) so maybe that's part of it, but I personally am not that person. How should I weigh this in my decision making process? I don't think (on first impression at least) that I vibe too well with the kinds of people there.
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Forum Champion Northeastern, Forum Champion Math/Computer Science Posts: 3,596 Forum Champion
    Based on your description, you just don't seem like the type to fit in at Brown. Frankly, I think that's probably the most important thing in this thread. You can debate the quality difference of the CS programs and the value there over and over, but in the end your happiness is much more important considering the amount of quality difference.

    Fit's important - I think you'll be just fine staying put.
  • Daddio3Daddio3 Registered User Posts: 625 Member
    I think if you want to pursue your own project outside the classroom, Northwestern has opportunities. For example, the Farley Center. Students get a stipend from the University to work on their startup over the summer.

    In the summers of 2014 and 2015, the Farley Center ran an Accelerator for early-stage companies run by students who wanted to work on their ventures all summer. Students spent the summer prototyping, working closely with faculty mentors and attending workshops on topics ranging from pitching to crowdfunding to intellectual property.
  • kimfuge88kimfuge88 Registered User Posts: 176 Junior Member
    More news on CS expansion at NU. They are hiring 20 new faculty members in this area:

    http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2016/06/web/major-expansion-in-computer-science.html
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