UMD (full-ride B/K) vs. CMU [$18k] vs. Cornell [$18k] for CS & Astronomy [$30k/year from family]

Hey everyone! Like the title says, I’m planning to major in CS and do either a minor/second major in astronomy. I live in Frederick County, MD.

I was accepted into UMD Honors College with a full-ride (Banneker/Key) scholarship, and CMU and Cornell are both ~$18,000/year after aid. They all seem like pretty great options, so I’m not sure what to pick.

Very important factor: I’m being provided by my extended family with a $30,000/year education fund (which I’m very grateful for), so a big consideration is whether I should (1) go to UMD for free and save the money for grad school or (2) go to CMU/Cornell and get a better undergrad education, but then have less money for grad school.

I should also say that I’m not a huge fan of cities compared to more rural areas, although I feel like I’d be fine with living in one for college (the campus ranking for me is Cornell > CMU > UMD).

I also play the trumpet, so I’m looking for a good non-music-major concert band (and possibly marching band, but not so sure about that). I would also prefer a more laid-back/cooperative atmosphere; do any of you have experiences with the atmospheres at each school?

Between CMU and Cornell academically, I kind of feel like it’s a toss-up. CMU seems to have a better CS program, whereas Cornell has a better astronomy program. I also feel like Pittsburgh might be better for jobs/internships than Ithaca, but College Park may have them both beat (being so close to DC).

Let me know if you have any thoughts! Please ask me for clarification if you need more info. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

You should take CMU. The 18k difference is trivial for a CS major. Your internships can be anywhere in the country for CMU and Cornell. CMU will have more opportunities than UMD, and arguably, on the margin, more opportunities than even Cornell. The class size is smaller in CMU, which is a positive.


Thanks for the reply! That’s a good point about the remote internships. What do you think about the differences between the astronomy programs?

The internships are not remote. They are often local in California, New York etc. But you will interview for these positions either via zoom, or in person. The location is not an impediment for the interview process.

I don’t know anything anything about the astronomy part. I suspect Cornell would have good astronomy resources, but not sure.

USNews claims Cornell is 17th for Astronomy.

I doubt you would be able to do two full majors in demanding fields. You may need to make one of them a minor. Simply from a load point of view.


I don’t have a ton to add, but I am a CMU alum and you definitely have everything you need on the self-contained campus. As you saw, although it’s in the city, you don’t have to be in the city. It will never be a rural campus, but it’s not overwhelmingly urban.

Good luck! Great choices!


Either CMU or Cornell, depending on your interest in astronomy. Internships are found via campus recruiting, remote recruiting, indeed and LinkedIn - so no need to be local to a place.

If just CS, then CMU is as strong as you can get.

Btw Maryland is very good but these are elite schools.



One other thought: UMD offers a big school experience with sports and other pageantry. You won’t that college experience at CMU or even Cornell. Would you like that?


Honestly, I’m not really looking for that anyway. Never been a big sports fan or anything like that, and a smaller school is my preference.

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Neither CMU nor Cornell are known for that. Have you visited either?

If that isn’t a concern, I’d say CMU.


Take a look at the course offerings at each school in CS, physics, and astronomy to see if there are any of interest at one school but not another.

Also, take a look at the overall degree requirements in CS, astronomy / astrophysics, and general education to see if you can fit all of the courses you want to take into four years of normal course loads.


I guess I meant to focus more on the “cooperative” part than the laid-back part. I’ve visited both, but I’ve never really interacted with current students or anything. I’ve heard conflicting information about how cooperative/cutthroat each school is.

Your majors are not pre-med dense, so you don’t have that level of competition.

Assuming that you are direct admit to CS at UMD and CMU, you won’t have to compete for entry to the major (but if you are not in CMU’s SCS division, getting into it and the CS major needs a 3.6 college GPA in CS courses to apply for competitive admission). Cornell does have secondary admission to CS after starting undeclared, but the college GPA threshold is 2.5. If you enroll at UMD not in the CS major, the college GPA threshold is 2.7 to get into the CS major.


I’m direct admit to CS for all three schools. I just meant the general atmosphere of the school after being admitted, not the competitiveness for getting into the majors.

My experience with Carnegie Mellon was that it was collaborative, but there is nothing laid back about it.


UMD should be more relaxed and the weather will be better. You could do marching band or ensemble, or gamer symphony orchestra.

UMD prof wrote report calling for telescopes to study earth planets.

They say NASA internships are possible even during school year


Congratulations! Three great choices. The full ride B/K at UMD is extremely competitive, so well done!

I’d suggest digging deeper into the campus culture at CMU and Cornell. CMU’s student body tends to be very intense, and not everyone is ok with that. If that doesn’t bother you, go to CMU. Else Cornell. You’ll get a great education at either so the choice isn’t going to come down to academics or opportunities.


UMD has a great marching band…we know several alums who absolutely loved being part of that.

Any of your three schools will be excellent academically for your interests.

Have you visited these schools to see about location preference? CMU is definitely the most “urban” of the three. Cornell is the least but is in a very charming college town. I would place UMD someplace in the middle. The campus is large, but I think very pretty.


I don’t know much about UMD’s program (other than having been on its campus and know a few of its alums), but I understand it’s a good program. If saving $18k/yr is important to you and your family (keeping in mind a PhD in either CS or Astronomy is funded and a master’s degree alone isn’t that beneficial), it’s certainly a great choice.

I did look into the other two schools in depth a few years ago when my S was getting ready to apply to college. We did multi-day visits at both of them, including speaking to departments (my S was also interested in CS). Since you mentioned you’re interested in Astronomy as a second major or minor, I assume you’re accepted to Cornell A&S, not Cornell Engineering (we actually visited both). Cornell A&S has certain breadth requirements that CMU SCS doesn’t have, which is more narrowly but deeply focused on CS. This may or may not be a factor depending on your priorities. However, there’s one, potentially significant, negative about the Cornell program compared to CMU SCS. Certain CS courses, including some higher level courses (particularly in certain areas), have waitlists, prioritized based on student’s seniority. Students in either A&S or Engineering can declare to be CS major (if they meet some minimal requirements), This means there’re potentially lots of students in the major. CMU SCS, on the other hand, has far fewer students and they have priority to all CS classes.

I’m not sure how important Astronomy is important to you as a minor (I agree with @neela1 that it isn’t generally a good idea to major in both). Cornell does have a stronger physics and astronomy department.


By the way, certainly classes at Cornell are taught reversed – you watch the lecture first, online, and you go and discuss. Some people like this and some people don’t.

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Thanks, that’s a lot of great info! I didn’t know about the waitlist thing. Do you know if it’s even possible to minor in astronomy at CMU? I think the only option there might be a second major in physics on the astrophysics track, and considering everyone’s thoughts on doing a double major, that might not be a great idea.