In-state UC Riverside vs UW Madison for CS

Son has committed to UW Madison for Computer Science (actually they admit to College of Letters & Sciences and you declare CS after completion of certain courses). We were happy with the choice and the cost is manageable (but lower is better). After he committed to UW, he got off the waitlist at UC Riverside for CS late last week - and we have to commit by May 14 (which is the deposit deadline for UCR for all students - not just waitlisted).

Now we are trying to decide between the two and probably need any help / pointers. Below is my analysis.


  • In CS, for jobs where you do undergrad does not matter as much as what skills you develop and how well you do in the interviews.

Factors favoring UC Riverside:

  1. Cost:
    UC Riverside stated cost of attendance is around $36k. UW Madison is around $56k. So difference of around $20k per year or $80k for four years. While cost is not an overwhelming consideration, we can use this difference towards master’s degree (which he is very interested in).
  2. Ease & cost of travel:
    UC Riverside is around 6 hours drive away. UW Madison is around 8-10 hours away including the flight + drive to and from airports.
  3. Internship possibilities:
    It may be easier to search for Bay Area internships from UCR

Factors favoring UW Madison:

  1. Rankings and overall prestige:
    Wisconsin Madison is ranked #16 vs UCR’s #52 for undergrad CS as per US News. For the overall national rankings Madison is ranked #42 while UCR is ranked #88. I know rankings are not that important but they play an outsized influence on a teenager’s mind and there is a peer pressure regarding these.
  2. Dorm life experience & activities/learning communities:
    Not the most important factor for us as son is not a party type person but he is interested in taking part in activities, clubs and learning communities. It is possible that UCR does offer a lot of scope for this but we have not heard much about this about UCR.
  3. Out of state / Cultural experience:
    He is an Asian kid who has grown in the Bay Area bubble where there have been plenty of kids looking like him. An experience in a state like Wisconsin with a non-diverse (mostly white) population will likely be a good learning experience for him as opposed to UCR (significant Asian population). Also he is excited to be in a cold weather place with a lot of snow.

Please let me know your thoughts and advice. What would you choose given the above factors?

Bonus question: If he wants to do a Master’s degree at a good school like UC Berkeley, will his chances be affected by UCR vs UW?

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I’d usually say go with lower cost but I agree that your pros should be considered. He can work and pay for part or all of his own grad school tuition. Uw Madison sounds great for him.


Tough choice.

For CS, rigor does differ across colleges but you could (and should) do a lot of learning outside of class as well.

Why does he want to get a masters in CS? And why from Cal? Cal’s stand-along CS masters is extremely tiny (so thus seems very tough to enter). It also seems geared towards preparing you for a PhD. UCSD and USC have much more massive CS masters programs (and UCSD CS masters do very well in the jobs market). In any case, if he does well in undergrad, I don’t think he would be disadvantaged for masters admissions regardless of where he goes.

Anyway, this is a tough decision. Yes, $80K can be a big deal. Will he take a lot of AP tests? Both UCs and Wisconsin will give credit for 3’s. UW-Madison’s CS curriculum also doesn’t require a lot of courses (though obviously still have to satisfy gen ed’s, though many of those can be knocked off by AP’s too). Meaning he could potentially graduate from Wisconsin in 3 years and save money that way if he plans well. Check to see how difficult it would be to register for required classes at both UW-Madison and Riverside.

BTW, UW-Madison actually has several times more CS alums working at Google/MSFT/Amazon/FB than UCR so I doubt going to Madison would disadvantage him for internships in the Bay Area (OK, granted, UW-Madison also has many more CS alums than UCR, but Wisconsin’s CS reputation does travel).


Thanks for your feedback @2plustrio and @PurpleTitan. Tough choice indeed.

He wants to do a masters mostly because CS overall undergrad curriculum is fairly basic intro and one gains quite a good perspective by delving deeper into areas of interest. He is particularly wanting a good broad based CS education at undergrad level and possibly specialize in data science / AI at grad level. But plans & interests of course can change - so not as much that he will do MS but currently thinks he wants to do MS. And not necessarily from Cal, but a good school like UCSD or similar is also great.

Yes - he has taken several AP classes (Calc BC, couple of CS APs, Physics 1 & 2) as well as college level Math (Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations) from community college via high school concurrent enrollment. Good points.

Good points.

I’m a graduate of two Big 10 universities (Michigan and Minnesota), but I live in SoCal. Cost is usually a big driver for me, but there is no comparing UCR to UW Madison. UCR may be a fine school, it doesn’t offer the same opportunities that Madison does, in terms of socially and the resources of the university. If cost were a major factor, I would say stick it out and go to UCR, saving your money for grad school. But I’m such a fan of the overall experience at Madison, it’s an entirely different choice.

I know the school extremely well having known lots of alums and I lived in Madison for a while. Wisconsin pulls in kids from everywhere. Your son will meet not only lots of kids from Wisconsin and Minnesota, but a ton from Chicago, from the East Coast, and even California, plus a lot of international students. 30-40 years ago, it was a less diverse school. While it does have a party reputation, there are plenty of kids there not into the party scene. It’s one of the few schools I know that EVERYONE that goes there loves the school.

UCR is heavily a commuter school, with lots of kids from the Inland Empire and of course, California. Few OOS students. College is more than books and he will grow a lot.

Regarding opportunities, he is in CS and should have no problem finding work from either place. But Wisconsin has a better reputation than UCR, even in California.

If this were a place like UCSB, Berkeley, or UCLA, the choice would be a lot tougher. With no disrespect to UCR, it isn’t Madison. If you can afford it, send him to Wisconsin.


Thanks for the feedback! Good points. Yes - cost savings is good to have but not the most important consideration.

Not sure how much credit UW will give for those CC and DE classes but it may make sense to sign up for a bunch of humanities/social science/language AP tests and try to get 3’s (and thus course credit).

He could also take CLEP tests to graduate earlier but they wouldn’t count for breadth or gen ed requirements.

Yes - that would have been good. But for some reason he decided he did not want to take the AP tests for couple of AP classes he was enrolled in (Government and Macroeconomics). Maybe we should check if he can take the tests separately.

Look closely at AP credit at any UC. Many times APs are only used for graduation units and can’t be applied to GEs. Here are UCR’s AP credits for the COE.

Yes, he should check that.

CLEP tests over the summer also an option (but cover no gen ed and breadth requirements, it seems). At OOS rates, saving a year is a pretty big amount of money.


I think you should bring @Dad2girls into this discussion.

I paid more for my son to leave Oregon and go to Cal Poly OOS (for ME). The program fit him better. He’s in a great job now. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have been fine at OSU. He would have. One of his HS friends who did go to OSU, is now at MIT for his MS.

That said, the cost difference wasn’t $80k. My son has been in the workforce for 2 years at a very high wage for MEs while his classmate is still paying tuition and not making money.

I come at this from a little different angle. Consider the 4+1 BS/MS program at UCR if terminal MS is his goal. It’s a very time and cost efficient way to get both degrees. My son passed on a MS at Stanford because it would have cost him $100k in tuition and over $100k in lost wages. He was funded for his MS at Cal Poly, it only took one extra year and it was thesis based. He’d be no better off than he is now money wise or job prospect wise with a Stanford degree. In fact, he’d be paying off debt instead of stuffing his retirement.

It’s a tough call as Madison would be a different college experience for sure and that’s worth something.

Congrats for having two great options and not being the one that is posting the “my kid didn’t get in anywhere” thread!

BTW, IF he chooses Madison and tries to get out early, he needs to trace through the whole curriculum NOW linking all of the prerequisites together to make sure it’s even possible. CS is a little easier than engineering because they don’t rely on building as deeply on physics, but still, it’s an important thing to know, rather than assuming it’s possible.


Thanks for your perspective.

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UW-Madison does lay out a few plans for the major:

You’d want to be able to see where you can compress.

My son way way ahead, starting in Calc III, Physics II, and DEing out of Chemistry and APing out of lots of GEs, but still took 5 years for a BS/MS. Now that was at a school that averages 5 for BS only and in ME, so YMMV in CS. The flowcharts aren’t gospel for how to do it, but the prerequisites are. Colored pencils help! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

It is also VERY important to know that (I don’t think) you can immediately declare CS at Wisconsin. I think the barrier for entry is pretty high and there’s a chance to get locked out. @ucbalumnus would know more.

The barrier to entry to CS at Wisconsin is not that high compared to some other schools. See BA/BS in Computer Sciences – Computer Sciences – UW–Madison .

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How did you get UCR OOS at $36k ? Was there a scholarship ? Their tuition alone is higher.

WIsconsin will be a more complete experience as people said. It likely will have better placement as a National university but you can only get one job and UCR will be fine.

Neither will give advantage over the other for grad school.

$80k is a lot to just pay. It could buy grad school, a car, a wedding and first down payment.

Not an easy choice. Good luck.

The OP is in-state for UCR.

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That’s stunningly easy considering the requirements for engineers!