Hi everyone! I’m a current undergraduate upperclassman at Carnegie Mellon University in the School of Computer Science, majoring in … well, computer science (and robotics!).
Thank you to elloraa for starting this discussion because it is so incredibly important. I saw the original discussion about Why NOT to go to CMU and I’d like to share my perspective on this.
I will be speaking mostly from a computer science student standpoint.
Do not come to CMU if:
- You are not ready to work hard. Really hard. Computer science kids work harder than anyone else that I know. Late nights happen here. Long work days also happen here. No matter how talented you may think you are at something, nothing will happen without hard work. Things that are second nature to others might not come easy to you- and the only way to solve this is to spend time working and wrestling with the concept.
- You are not passionate about what you’re doing. I find that at other schools, there are too many people on the CS “hype train”. They are only trying to major in CS because it pays quite well, or it seems easier than other majors. Luckily, the curriculum in the School of Computer Science is so rigorous and tailored to CS that if you don’t actually love computer science, you will never make it through CMU. It is not enough to work hard without being in love with what you’re working on. Current CMU SCS students are a testament to that.
- You are not ready to think differently. The classes here are incredibly difficult and will test your problem-solving limits. You will get challenged, and you will get stuck. A lot. Brute force techniques don’t work here, and you have to keep an open mind, especially approaching problems. You need to learn that you may have to try quite a few different ways of poking a problem before getting a lead somewhere. You have to be open to stepping out of your comfort zone, however scary that may be - because CMU will push you there.
- You are averse to growing pains. You have to be ready to try and fail. And try again. And fail again. You will get frustrated. You will feel like giving in. However, this school builds your perseverance, and once you figure out that proof, that data structure, that homework, the concept really sticks. The classes here are designed to grow and stretch your brain in ways that you might not have thought were possible; in the end, it’s completely worth it when you find that you’re able to look at a problem beyond just the surface. You will gain a different level of understanding that was not apparent to you before. (and it’s pretty amazing to see how far you’ve come!)
- You have a massive ego. I find that one of the biggest shocks to first year students here is that you are not at the top of your class anymore. Students that, in high school, were able to coast and relax while getting all As can’t do so here. You are at a school with the smartest people in the nation. Other valedictorians. Other top students with incredible achievements. You will be challenged and you will fail. Do not expect all As (without a considerable amount of hard work, help, and a little luck!) Keep this ego in check (for your sake and everyone else’s sake) or CMU will keep this ego in check for you, and it’ll be an unpleasant time.
- You think you can do everything alone. Computer science is a naturally collaborative field, and CMU SCS recognizes that. There are many classes that you will take that are collaborative - no it’s not an option, you HAVE to work with people. You will struggle together, and that’s also where you make the strongest bonds with the people that will be in your life well beyond college.
- You aren’t a self-starter. You have to take initiative here. Being one of the best schools in the nation for CS, you will be bombarded with countless opportunities: from companies sponsoring research to countless top tech offers, everyone knows CMU’s name in the computer science industry and beyond. However, CMU won’t hold your hand; if you want something, you have to go get it.
What I love so much at CMU SCS is the equal gender ratio. Ladies, computer science is a field for you too! You will meet other incredibly smart and talented women here and they will become your rock even when you enter the industry, where the gender ratio becomes unbalanced again.
I also love that even in the first year, CMU CS won’t give you the general education classes a lot of other universities would do. You hit the ground running with major specific classes: from discrete math to data structures to linear algebra (did I mention that there’s a lot of math in CS?) It’s very apparent that you are thrown right into the crossroads of computer science and math (which if you aren’t excited about taking, you shouldn’t be here!).
Yes, there is a stress culture. However, it’s on you to determine how much of this will affect you, and how much you will contribute to it. Furthermore, this school will teach you time management like no other. I was able to sleep at midnight nearly every single day of the school year, without sacrificing quality in my coursework or time for other things (like robotics research! Or a sorority recruiting event!) simply because I changed how I spent my time. I’ve learned to reach out to the amazing faculty for help, and of course, my fellow students. I’ve learned that a few hours of very focused, productive time is more than enough to finish the seemingly endless problem sets (and even front load a bit on assignments). A regular sleep schedule will carry you far here.
As a result, we end up working hard and playing hard. There are opportunities for you to get out of your CS (or other majors) bubble and be social, and try out greek life, hackathons, buggy, entrepreneurship (ever heard of Duolingo? Yep, that’s straight out of CMU!), research, and other student organizations. Carnival is an absolute blast and the highlight of everyone’s school year! There are definitely parties if that’s more up your alley. Your social aspect of college is only as fun and fulfilling as you make it.
In terms of the social scene: the School of Computer Science is highly selective, and so the class size is small (around 200 people). You will get to know most, if not all of your classmates by the end of the first year, and you’ll regularly acknowledge each other as you walk by each other, say hi as you work out a problem on a whiteboard, or ask if they’re free for dinner later.
You also get incredibly close to your professors and advisors. Not to mention that we have 12 Turing award winners. The faculty is pretty incredible here and it’s very obvious that they’re just as passionate as you are about computer science.
So - do your research. CMU (especially SCS) is not for everyone, but if you’re a fit, you will thrive here. Bloom where you’re planted!
Feel free to DM me if you have any questions regarding Carnegie Mellon University, computer science, robotics, or anything really! I’d be more than happy to chat.