Cost vs Recognition (University of Michigan vs Northeastern University)

HI Everyone,

I am currently in a pickle in deciding which college to attend for MS in Energy Systems Engineering for grad school. To my understanding, University of Michigan is extremely well recognized and has an excellent engineering department. The only thing is that it is very expensive: $27k/semester and the program is typically three semesters so ~$81k total. On the other hand, Northeastern University is also a great school, but just not as recognized or “prestigious” as Michigan. However, Northeastern is significantly cheaper for me as I received financial aid of around $44k and the total program tuition is roughly $54k. This comes out to only ~$10k for tuition for the whole program. I am also considering the co-op so I may offset this even further (Michigan does not have a co-op program).

I wouldn’t mind living in Ann Arbor, but I would love living in Boston. Boston would also have a lot opportunities for internships and networking due to being in a large city. The only thing is, I’ve dreamed of attending a large prestigious and nationally recognized school like UMich. If the costs weren’t so drastically different, I would choose Michigan, but I would most likely take out student loans (about $41k) and I don’t know how I feel about paying off student loans until I’m 40.

My undergrad degree is electrical engineering and paired with an energy systems graduate degree, I don’t think it will be difficult to find a moderate paying job to pay off the loans. What does everyone think? Does prestige and recognition trump costs or vice versa? I know I may sound a bit hung up on the “prestige” aspect but I came from a tiny school no one has heard of so I’ve always wanted to get that name advantage.

Thank you!

Northeastern is in the process of building a strong(er) reputation in the tech and engineering space, so there is that.

There’s really no one answer to the question of prestige/reputation vs. costs. This is a question that is really dependent on the individual: your personal finances, your career goals, and the outcomes of the programs you are considering. First of all, is the field you are planning to enter one that is focused on prestige or reputation? Some fields (like business, law, or academia) really are, and there is a BIG difference in what options are available to you after attending a T10 school versus a T30 school. Others (like nursing or education) are not really that jazzed about prestige, and mostly care that you have the necessary certifications/licenses. I don’t know anything about energy systems engineering, so it’d be worth asking former professors and other people you trust in the field about this. Also, do these two programs have placement data for their graduates?

Secondly, what kind of debt do you have from undergrad? If you spent little or nothing to get your BS, then the finances may be less of a concern. But if you’ve already borrowed money, then you’ll be adding that on top of the $81K of debt that the Michigan program will put you in. I know people will say if you’re going to be making six figures it may matter less since you can pay it off - but as someone with a six-figure salary (probably more than a starting energy engineer) and less than half that debt, I can tell you that there are so many things I would rather be doing with the $$$ I pay in loan repayment every month. For 10 years. TEN. YEARS! So yes, theoretically you can pay it off; in practice, having a big loan bill will affect everything from what kind of housing you can afford to whether/what kind of car you buy/lease to what you do with your leisure time. If I were making the choice, I’d only take on the additional debt if I thought it would be vital to career choices and decisions down the line.

I’d say leave ‘dreams’ about the type of school you want to attend out of it; an MS program is only 1-2 years and trust me - it flies by. That will be a lot less important to you when you’re in the program and beyond. I went to an Ivy for graduate school, after attending a small college that many but not all have ‘heard of’. I’m about 6-7 years out of grad school and no one cares or even asks where I went to grad school anymore - everything is about my experience and where I’ve worked. (BUT I will say that name recognition might have/probably did help me land my first position - and Michigan does have a lot of name recognition within engineering.)

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Don’t know if you can talk with recruiters to get a feel. I am rah, rah Michigan and active on their thread but what does $80,000…actually buy you?. Look at the starting and 5 year payout for each school and you might find out its very similar. If applying for the exact same positions its not like your going to make that much more do to the schools name. Try to talk to alumni in your field from each school. That would probably give you more insight.

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$81k is far too much for a masters degree. That kind of debt borders on crippling. $54k is much better, but still pretty steep for a masters program…fine if you don’t have any other undergrad debt.

Still, you could have your cake and eat it too. A prudent thing to do is take a job somewhere, and get your M.S. part time. Most the time the company will pay for it, and since you’re working there, you would get in-state tuition.

Prestige is not really a thing with a masters degree. Just having one is prestige enough, because it’s usually the equivalent of at least 1 year of work experience.

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Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your responses. It gave me a better idea on which school to choose from as well other options!

My son is an engineering PhD student at Michigan. It’s a great school and he loves Ann Arbor. But PhD programs are fully funded and provide a good stipend. He would never have paid to get a masters degree from Michigan, any more than having me pay for him to get a bachelor’s degree there as an OOS student (even with a small scholarship).

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