Penn State (CS) vs RIT (SE)

Hey everyone! I’m down to my last two colleges to decide between and I’ve been going back and forth for the last month on them. I’m hoping some insight from here will help me decide!

Major: Computer Science - I have no plans on switching as of now. RIT put me in my secondary major of Software Engineering, but the two are fairly similar and pretty much end up in the same place in terms of a career.

Career goals: I’m set on working as a software engineer, at least until I’m financially secure enough to try different things. Going into academic/research doesn’t interest very me much right now, and I don’t anticipate on needing a master’s but I’m not throwing out the possibilty.

Penn State University

Pros:

  • In-state. I get in-state tuition which is nice, and it’s relatively close-by, which may be a negligible factor for some but not so much for me. I have the option to come back home for a weekend if I really want to, which is nice to have.
  • Familiarity. I’ve grown up knowing what Penn State is and know countless people who’ve gone there. I’d guess probably 20-30 people from the graduating class of my school go to Penn State each year. I feel like I know what I’m getting myself into if I go there, which would be a big anxiety reliever.
  • Social life. The campus and university is so large and diverse that I know I’ll find people who I click with, which is coming from someone that’s not super sociable in the first place. At the very least, it’ll be basically statistically impossible to find nobody that I can make friends with.
  • Campus. It doesn’t seem like a place I’ll get bored of anytime soon - the feeling through the campus and college town is nice and lively to the point of being exciting but not overwhelming.
  • Alumni network. Yes yes, I’ve heard this from basically everyone I’ve talked to about Penn State. Lots of people graduate from there, and Penn Staters love to hire other Penn Staters. Wonderful.
  • Reputation. Penn State engineering is a pretty reputed program, and I’m sure the job prospects are good with a PSU CS degree. This goes along nicely with the alumni network point above to make a pretty nice career outlook.

Cons:

  • Frats and parties. I’m not much of a party person, and the party/frat scene there turns me off a bit. They sound appealing sometimes but I’d rather not have to deal with the huge ragers that come with a traditional “college experience.”
  • Professors. From what I’ve heard, a majority of the CS professors are either researchers that begrudgingly put up with teaching or just simply bad teachers. Being able to teach yourself is important and all but I’d really rather not have to deal with this obstacle if I don’t have to.
  • Curriculum. Going along with my last point, it seems like the Penn State CS curriculum is pretty heavily research and theory based. I prefer a more hands-on approach with a focus on actual programming and all, so if most of my courses past year two are all theory-based then I doubt if I’ll enjoy it very much.
  • Class sizes. Univeristy Park is big, and from what I’ve heard, it’s not uncommon for many classes to have upwards of hundreds of students. Doing a 2+2 at a branch campus would be a way to fix this but I don’t think that’s a route I want to go down.
  • Price. Shockingly, it’s more expensive than RIT even with in-state tuition. I think I’ll get more financial aid as I go through, but with tuition raises and the ingrained $3,000 raise after year 2, I doubt it’ll be cheaper than RIT in the end. Granted, the difference isn’t huge by any means, but it’s there.

Rochester Insitute of Technology:

Pros:

  • Co-ops. Much like Penn State’s alumni network, the #1 thing that comes up in every conversation involving an RIT application/decision is their co-op program. It sounds very appealing to me - a full year of co-op will theoretically help pay for tuition while also significantly boosting your resume and possibly securing you a job before you even graduate.
  • Software Engineering. Not sure if this is totally a pro since it was my secondary major, but RIT has one of the best software engineering programs in the country (as far as I can tell). It seems pretty hands-on as well which is right up my alley.
  • Price. Can’t believe I’m putting price as a pro for RIT, but they’ve been pretty generous with my financial aid so far. Factoring in tuition raises and all, and just calculating room and board costs, RIT is ~$7,000 cheaper over 4 years than Penn State, if not more. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s there, and likely to increase with the full year of co-ops.
  • Location. I always liked the idea of broadening my horizons and all by traveling out of state for college, and this seems like a perfect opportunity to do so without breaking the bank too much. The Henrietta area seems like nice place not too different from where I’m from as well, which I think would be nice to have by.
  • Social scene. I’m putting something like this in both pros and cons, but the smaller/more casual social scene at RIT seems like it’ll suit me better. I’ll also be able to focus more on academics as opposed to the many distractions present at University Park.
  • Class sizes. Like I mentioned above, Penn State can have classes with upwards of hundreds of students. At RIT, many people said they didn’t have any classes larger than 50, with the average being around 20ish. This is ideal for me, and I feel like I’ll enjoy classes much more with sizes like these.

Cons:

  • Distance. It’s a bit under 5 hours away as opposed to the 2.5 hours to Penn State, which isn’t huge but I won’t be able to come back very often.
  • Culture. I think most of this is purely stereotypical, but it seems like a pretty big “nerd” school. It won’t have the huge party scene that Penn State has, but I get the feeling it’ll be too far to the other side of the social spectrum. Ideally, I would prefer a social scene right in the middle of stereotypical Penn State and stereotypical RIT. I’ll realistically be able to find this at either place if I’m being honest with myself, but it’s still a worry.
  • Unfamiliarity. Unlike Penn State, I didn’t know of RIT until a year or two ago, and even after all my research into it feel like I have no idea if I’ll love it or hate it. I feel like it’s a much bigger risk to go to RIT than Penn State, which isn’t always a bad thing I suppose.
  • Campus. The campus is okay I guess. I think I’ll grow to like it if I go there, but there’s always the possibility that I’ll grow to hate it. It’s a lot of brick and not a lot of green in a fairly disconnected area if you don’t have a car.
  • Degree length. This isn’t so much of a con as it is an inconvenience. SE degrees are a total of 5 years with the 2 semesters of co-op, but I feel like the co-op would provide a nice change of perspective rather than just feeling like an extra year of schooling.
  • Gender ratio. I’ve heard this is getting better, but with something like a 2:1 male to female ratio, in addition to the lgbtq+ population at RIT, I expect it to be very hard to find a relationship here - especially when compared to Penn State. I really don’t want this to be a big factor in my decision, but it’s something I’m thinking about.

Right now, I think I’m leaning moreso towards RIT. It sounds better to me on paper, the total cost after factoring in tuition increases and all is less than Penn State, and many of the cons are likely just attributed to stereotypes and misconceptions I’ve picked up. But there’s always that lingering risk factor in the back of my mind that makes me anxious - it feels like much more of a toss-up as to whether I’ll truly love it or not. On the other hand, Penn State feels more comfortable to attend (if that makes sense), but I’d rather not base my decision on how good it “feels” to make my decision. Either way, I’ll most likely be happy no matter where I go, but I’m feeling a lot of pressure from this decision. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know what you think, thank you!

I would have picked Penn State based on rank, but it sounds like your gut is telling you RIT. So go with that and don’t look back. Maybe go to some U Rochester events to meet different people and experience a different social scene.

Still I’ll note that only 20% of students at Penn State are greek, so it is not something you need to worry about. Just don’t pledge and don’t attend the parties if you don’t want to, you won’t be alone.

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Congrats on two great options - this is a really well-thought-out analysis!

I don’t think 5 hours from home is that extreme. Between the slightly lower cost and your expected co-op earnings, you could probably afford to have a car. That would make occasional visits home pretty accessible, in addition to improving your social/recreational prospects while there, as you note.

It sounds as if you’d really like the academic program at RIT, and co-ops can be terrific both for helping you find the areas you want to focus in, and for connecting you with employment opportunities after you graduate.

OTOH, there are co-op options at Penn State if you want them, and your point about gender balance is well taken. Reputationally, Penn State may have a bigger name in general, but RIT is extremely well-regarded for all things CS/Software Engineering so probably a wash.

Another way to think about going out on the RIT limb is that big flagships like Penn State are set up to take lots of junior transfers. On the off chance that you got to RIT and realized that you’d rather be in College Park, you’d have a pretty good chance of transferring back to PSU, and a large cohort of entering transfers starting at the same time. So, maybe you don’t need to think of it as a bridge completely burned if you choose RIT. (Same is true to an extent in the other direction, but maybe harder to merge into the co-op preparation, and you’d be paying your dues in PSU’s large lower-division classes without staying for the payoff.)

Fundamentally there’s no wrong choice here, just a matter of the best fit for you. It seems like you’re considering all angles, and like you’re very self-aware about what works best for you, so I’m confident you’ll make a sound decision. Good luck and congrats!

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Note that once you’re in college, you’re likely not going home except during breaks anyway.

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RIT sounds like the better fit for you overall, and on top of everything it’s a bit cheaper than Penn state. :+1:

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Just make sure to read this:

https://advising.engr.psu.edu/advising/entrance-to-major/index.aspx

i.e. there are still NON-Trivial requirements to be able to declare CS at Penn State.

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RIT’s web site says very little about changing to CS or how difficult that will be. You may want to find out more by asking directly. The SE major seems to be somewhat less desirable based on curricular comparison.

https://www.rit.edu/study/computer-science-bs#curriculum
https://www.rit.edu/study/software-engineering-bs#curriculum

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Why less desirable?

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Most who do software development/QA in industry learn the SE methods on the job. It is desirable to have a course or two introducing and giving an overview of SE methods (and that can help in projects in later CS courses), but having numerous additional courses on SE methods is of diminishing returns beyond that, while displacing courses on CS topics that someone in software development/QA is likely to encounter in a career (operating systems, networks, databases, security, AI/ML, etc.).

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I’ve noticed that there is considerable variability across schools in terms of what they require from a software engineering major.

In Canada, the software engineering major is typically seen as more prestigious than CS because typically the SE major is the CS major + a bunch of software project courses. In Cal Poly SLO, SE is more restricted than CS and SE majors have high earnings but they take as many or more software + CS classes than CS majors at the top CS schools and work on a lot of programming projects. Elsewhere, yes, SE seems closer to an IT major or somewhere between a CS and IT major.

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The RIT SE major is still more technically focused than most IT majors, but it appears to be overspecialized in one particular topical subarea. A theoretical analogy would be if a CS department offered a major where every or almost every upper level course was a course on some aspect of databases (or pick a subarea of your choice). You might consider it to be too narrowly focused for an undergraduate major for someone intending to go to work in the computing industry.

Even computer game design majors, often criticized for having too narrow a focus, tend to touch on more CS subareas than the RIT SE major does.

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Though RIT SE majors don’t seem to do badly: Salary and Career Info | Career Services and Co-op | RIT

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Although the plain old computer science major does better in that listing than other related majors at the bachelor’s level (computational mathematics, computer engineering, computer engineering technology, computing and information technologies, computing security, game design and development, software engineering).

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There’s some interesting points here, thank you so much to everyone for the feedback! I’m most likely going to be going to RIT but it’s good to take in as many different perspectives as possible.

This is a good point. Granted, the transfer process seems like it’d be pretty messy, as RIT gets you directly involved with major-specific classes earlier on, leaving me with gen-ed classes I’d likely have to make up somehow before I declare my major and SE credits which likely wouldn’t transfer into CS if I do transfer. I haven’t looked into this process at all though, so I’ll keep an open mind with it.

I’m definitely wary of this. The “soft skills” focused curriculum did put me off at first, but I haven’t seen too many complaints about this, and job prospects/salaries seem relatively on-par with CS majors, often fluctuating year by year. RIT SE has been touted as one of the best in the country as well, but it may just be a baseless claim. I’ll look into this some more.

I’ll also see what it’s like potentially switching to CS (unless I have a change of heart before May 1st), but the process likely isn’t easy. CS is a capped program at RIT and my best chance would likely be to score high marks my first year and try to switch into it my second.

Have you asked RIT about Computing Exploration? You might want to try this for the first year and then pick a major.
The computing exploration option provides students with the opportunity to explore seven of the college’s undergraduate computing majors—

then you declare after fall or spring semester of freshman year

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@ahetrick12, what did you end up choosing? Curious, since my son is looking at RIT CS/SE/CompSec.

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