UIUC (CS) vs Olin (E:C)

Hi all. I’m a rising college freshmen in the fall, and I’m deciding between UIUC CS at Grainger and Olin for most likely Engineering: Computing (their alternative to CS). Since I’m OOS, UIUC will cost me about $40k a year while at Olin my cost of attendance is almost negligible and may even be paid due to my low EFC and additional outside scholarships.

I know this isn’t a complete new thread because a similar thread from BrianB12 exists, and saw that a lot of people had a fierce debate between the two, but I wanted to know if the cost would change anything.

I’m pretty confident I’m going to study CS (since I’ve been coding since elementary school), but I don’t want to cut my options either. I want to study CS + Economics, which I’ve been accepted to at UIUC and am more tempted to go there due to the name brand and diverse offerings within CS and other disciplines as well compared to Olin. However, I also understand that where you go for CS doesn’t mean that much, it’s how you apply yourself at college, and Olin is still competitive going into industry while also offering a very unique experience compared to other universities (which I plan to go to directly after college.)

What should I do?

Based on Olin’s catalog, its computing offerings are quite limited. You may have to supplement with CS courses from cross registration schools, although you then have to find out how doable cross registration is, and whether the cross registration schools have space in their CS courses for Olin students.

So, basically, this is a choice between:

  1. Expensive school with good offerings in your major.
  2. Free school with poor offerings in your major (although better than no offerings in your major).

Do you have any other admission offers that are low cost? Since you mention “low EFC”, it looks like option #1 may be unaffordable; if it is, it is not really an option. There have been other similar threads, some of which eventually led the OP to reveal additional options that were more affordable while being better for the student’s intended major.

Have you been to Olin? It’s a very good school, but it is VERY small. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I can’t speak to the strength or placement of their CS equivalent grads, but you could call the school to learn more. Don’t commit without visiting. It’s smaller than most high schools.

I’m planning on visiting UIUC next weekend and Olin in mid-April since they’re hosting admits during that time and vising then. The alternatives I have (that I’m considering) which is John Hopkins, University of Michigan Ann-Arbor, and Georgia Tech.

John Hopkins costs about $6k a year, which is a great price for CS, but I visited after I got in and wasn’t super convinced the place was for me after I visited.

UMich costs me $36k a year. Though it’s a tad cheaper, and maybe location given its college town, I like the idea of attending UIUC given that a lot of my classmates are going here for CS while I’m the only one from my school attending UIUC CS. (Am I wrong to think like this?)

And I ruled out Georgia Tech because I got accepted alternatively, meaning I have to take a year at community college before enrolling at Georgia Tech, something I’d rather avoid given my other options.

Should I more seriously consider my other options?

These feelings are understandable, but letting them influence your decision as much as you are may indeed be the wrong choice. There are two aspects to this: 1) Concern that there will be too many people you know at your college, and 2) feeling somehow too “ordinary” if you do something that isn’t sufficiently unusual within your high school community. Well, #1 should NOT be a concern, as UMich is huge and you will never have to hang out with people from high school if you don’t want to. #2 could be restated as “familiarity breeds contempt” and as valid as it feels in context, it really makes no sense. There are probably more Illinois students wishing they could be more special by going to Michigan, than vice versa. The curriculum flexibility at Michigan is notably better. (You wouldn’t automatically have the option of the regular CS major at UIUC if you were admitted for the CS+Econ joint major, and other options like the 5-year BS/MS would be closed to you also.) I don’t see a good reason here, to pay more for UIUC when you can go to Michigan at the in-state price.

However… Hopkins would cost $120K total less than Michigan?? And Olin is almost free?! I’d be giving these options very, VERY serious consideration! Econ-wise, Olin is adjacent to Babson, which is a top school for business and entrepreneurship. Wellesley, where you can also cross-register, is top-notch for econ also. Computing-wise, Olin students are very successful at breaking into the CS field.

Certainly, Olin is a unique experience which is not for everyone. But if you want a more traditional university, you do have JHU also.

If you’re going to have to take on debt for a public flagship, vs. graduating from Olin or JHU debt free, I would give that a lot of weight. Don’t underestimate how much of a difference it will make. A six figure price difference is not a minor thing… and your affordable schools are every bit as well-regarded as your less affordable options.

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You may want to compare CS offerings between JHU and Olin.

Have you talked to your parents and figured out your 4-year budget? Your goal should be to complete your undergrad with as little debt as possible. Given that you have some good choices, you don’t have to compromise a lot to achieve this goal.
Once you have figured out the budget, remove the schools outside the budget. They are not your real choices. I believe, UIUC and UMich will not be in your final list given your low EFC. Focus on the remaining ones. I don’t know much about Olin so can’t comment on it but JHU is a good school and gives you a lot of options not just in CS but also biomedical engineering, and other related fields should you decide to switch. At 6k a year, it is practically free. If I were in your shoes, I would strongly look into it.

Are you sure that you have your net cost correct? I am just wondering how you got your cost down from $60k at UIUC. Are you sure that you are not just counting tuition?

Thank you for the insight!

I’ve been thinking about my concerns of UIUC vs UMich in the back of my head the entire time, which I believe are true, but my gut feeling just tells me that I’d prefer UIUC because of the factors I mentioned (I don’t know how to describe it.) Also I’m not an in-state student for Michigan, I’m an OOS so the cost is that much. And my parents, at the end of the day, say that I should go to the college I want to go to and not let cost affect that decision.

But that said, ironically, my parents said they will support the costs of getting to the school and miscellaneous items, they said that I will be responsible for paying for my entire education, so Olin and JHU are more appealing. I mentioned this before, but I wasn’t quite fond of JHU when I visited their campus a few weeks ago and was super impressed about Olin through their Candidate’s Weekend, but I think I would have a better idea of the school when I visit. And considering that assuming my EFC is consistent through my four years, JHU would be a tad bit more expensive (about $24k total) than Olin (practically free). And also considering the fact that Olin has unlimited swipes within their food program, so I’m getting food for free when I go compared to JHU where I have to pay for swipes.

But I’m just worried about the CS program at Olin overall, and yes, I do think I can study Economics at places at Wellesley, just worried that I would make the “wrong” decision by not accepting a place that would serve me a better Economics study.

My financial aid package and merit scholarships come out to about $40k from about $55k. It just said so on the myIllini page.

I’m just thinking, if I’m doing CS and possibly within FinTech/Quantum, wouldn’t my student debt be paid off in a couple of years? Is it okay for me to just bite the bullet and accept a “better education” at a heftier price and enter a big company with big wages with hopes to pay off my debt in a couple of years? Am I wrong to think that?

You should ABSOLUTELY let cost impact your decision. You can only take a limited amount of loan money and the drag of the debt service will far more than offset any advantage of the more expensive schools.

I’d reach out to Dr. Downey to learn more and see if Olin is a fit. His page and a CS FAQ are linked below. It might not be as it isn’t a traditional CS/SE program. It’s really closer to mechatronics from the EE side with a significant emphasis on programming. It’s neither better or worse. It’s just different. You can get there from multiple angles. A friend of my son’s is a SE and his degree is in ME.


If you’re worried about employment with an Olin degree, I wouldn’t be. I just pulled them up on LinkedIn. Due to the nature of where CS fits, there are actually three categories under what they studied relevant to CS. If you look at each of them, and then where they work, it’s all the usual suspects, Google, Apple, Amazon, etc.


I.e. your choices are really JHU at $6k per year and Olin full ride. UIUC at $40k per year is unaffordable to you (you can only borrow $5.5k the first year and earn a few thousand more from part time work).

Compare CS offerings between the two. JHU appears to have a broader and deeper list of CS offerings than Olin does, although there appears to be some emphasis on computational biology and medicine (not too surprising, given that it is JHU).

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You do not want to put yourself in the position of being forced to chase the highest amount of money, because it may not necessarily be accessible to you. The best paying jobs require being the most elite and/or well connected of all of the aspirants; you cannot guarantee now that you will be among that elite. There is also some luck involved – if there is an economic or industry downturn when you graduate, there may be a lot fewer well paid jobs to compete for.


You wouldn’t be wrong to feel that way about the standard debt amount of guaranteed loans that you can take without a cosigner. I’m still not sure that UIUC would be better for you than Olin, even at cost parity, and very much unsure that it would be worth that level of debt ($27K total). But I do think you’re taking this larger proposed debt amount too lightly. The amount you’ll ultimately pay back is much larger than the amount borrowed. It will have a significant affect on your life. Your parents will have to cosign, and they’ll be responsible for repayment no matter what happens. Six figures of debt is too much, especially when you have more than one top-notch affordable option.

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This is only partially correct. Where you go matters. You should have a friend who is further along in a CS program review the course content of the core courses in CS – Algos and Data structures, Compilers, AI etc – and let you know whether the courses offered are the same. Look at the required course projects and exams at each place to see at what depth courses are covered. Look at chapters and sections of required textbooks that are covered in the published syllabus. There are often large differences. Check whether they teach you both the how and the why, or whether they teach you just the how. Look at placements out of each department for internships and jobs. Look at grad school entry etc.

At least for a CS degree, if you are confident in your ability to work hard, and your preparation coming into the program, a modest amount of debt is ok. Each of your summer internships (at least sophomore and junior year) can net you 20k after expenses, for example.

DON’T go to UIUC. Taking out $120k in debt won’t end well, I promise. Also, if there’s low EFC, that means low income and it would be unlikely they would be able to co-sign that much in private loans anyway.

I’m a programmer by profession. You don’t need prestige. You only need a competent degree in CS or IT. Those degrees are ridiculously employable and there are virtually unlimited specialties and subspecialties you could do. Your career credentials will be based entirely on your work experience. In fact, after about 3 years experience, employers don’t even ask where you went to school.

The best thing you can do for yourself is avoid debt. College graduates start out making only a modest salary. Big bucks come several years later after you’ve had lots of experience. And quite often, people trade-off big bucks for job security and a stable retirement.


Sorry I misunderstood about in-state. Your statement about lots of people from your HS going there, combined with the lower price, tempted me to jump to that conclusion… but I guess their need-based aid for OOS is what makes it a bit cheaper than UIUC.

Regardless, neither UIUC nor UMich is truly affordable for you, if you are funding it all with loans. It makes no sense. You have both an elite non-traditional option, and an elite more-traditional option. We can split hairs about whether there are things about UIUC or UMich that might be better for you than Olin or Hopkins, but they’re not six-figures-of-debt better. There’s no way that could be the case.

To @ucbalumnus point that the depth of CS course offerings is great at the flagships… yes, that is true. But OP was admitted to the interdisciplinary CS+X path at UIUC, so they’re not maximizing depth even if they go there. And if they feel like they need more technical depth after completing an undergrad degree at Olin, they could get a MS for considerably less than 120K.

The recent Olin grad that I know took the CS path, had multiple internship offers with top companies on both coasts, and had a choice between big companies and small startups upon graduation. Companies know the value of Olin grads, and they are so few of them relative to the large schools that they are in demand. And if you enjoy project-based learning, the education itself is an amazing experience. Babson is a unique and innovative school as well - a terrific place to learn about business/econ and entrepreneurship. And Wellesley is phenomenal too. It sounds as if you like Olin much more than JHU. I honestly don’t think you have to worry about missing out by going to Olin, as long as you feel comfortable with their core educational model. It’s a rare opportunity at an unbeatable price. Grab it and enjoy!!


Top 6 Olin Employers for grads who list CS as what they studied: Microsoft, Meta, Google, Stripe, Skydio, Amazon. That’s probably evidence enough that you’ll be fine at Olin. I agree 100% with @coolguy40. Don’t go into debt. It just isn’t necessary.

Olin also does not offer much in the way of economics (the X in CS+X at UIUC that the OP is in), so economics courses (as well as additional CS courses beyond Olin’s limited offerings) need to be taken through cross registration.

The OP should investigate cross registration and whether it is difficult to do. Note that the academic calendars are not identical. The investigation should include whether the desired courses (economics and CS) are generally available to cross registration students, or if they tend to get filled up by students at the host school before cross registration students are allowed to register.

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