WPI CS Review

Hello, I am looking to attend WPI CS. I was wondering why it wasn’t so internationally renowned? Nobody else I know actually knows what WPI is and I am confused why, because it seems great. Is there CS good? Or is it hard to retain knowledge with their 7 week 3 course terms? Are the professors good, is the curriculum good? I can see the courses but I don’t know how well they are taught compared to other schools?

“Nobody else I know actually knows what WPI is and I am confused why, because it seems great. Is there CS good?”

Fair question!

If you interviewed people in the street of most any town, how many would know about the Lamborghini? Most people may have heard of Ford. Chevrolet, VW or Cadillac. What determines its quality? Is it the vote of friends and neighbors who may have never heard of the Lamborghini?

Relative to many Universities, WPI is a very small school with a little over 4000 undergraduates and 1900 graduate students. Both of these enrollment numbers have more than doubled since I was a student there, yet by American standards they are still a very small University. My graduating class was under 600 students and only about 7 PhDs were awarded. We did not have a large graduate school producing large numbers of PhDs.

In the US, WPI is an old engineering and science college, but never educated thousands of students nor headlined national football, basketball or ice hockey teams. They had fine small college succor teams for years, but that never made headlines in the US market.

By accident, an early alumnus from Japan founded one of the leading engineering colleges in Japan, but that is not a headliner!

When looking at small colleges and universities, I suggest you judge by the comparatively high GPA’s of their matriculating students (3.89 on a scale of 4) their employment and graduate school placement and their very high award recognition from the National Academy of Engineering (see the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education @ https://www.nae.edu/148200/2016-Bernard-M-Gordon-Prize-for-Innovation-in-Engineering-and-Technology-Education-Recipients).

Are you concerned that your WPI degree will not be accepted because an employer will not know about it or are you interested in the reaction of your friends?

Part two follows:

"is it hard to retain knowledge with their 7 week 3 course terms? "

WPI students take three courses per seven week term. Two terms are equal in workloads to a standard STEM University semester where some courses are four credit hours in length. Each WPI class is roughly equal to 3 semester hours. Both systems end up with workloads of about 18 semester hours per 1/2 year.

Decades ago. I was in both systems during the transition to the project studies format. The WPI system is designed to give greater flexibility in organizing studies around a program which is project directed in three different areas of concentration.

In the older system, I could “slack-off” in a course for a short period and play catch up toward the end of the term. This does not work for most students under the newer, seven week design . A students take fewer courses at a time, but they meet more times per week. There is little time available to catch up if one has let a course slide.


The changes afforded the scheduling flexibility to interface project activities with real project design and application. This more flexible scheduling enables a better integration of these two different activities. I is not all about classroom lecturers where known solutions to known problems are presented in lecture. Real problem solutions shift emphasis from memory to creative solutions where students learn to work in teams and research, often, new material as required for a working solution. Students must “learn how to learn” and work as a team.

This system also enhances the off campus and overseas project center activities so it is possible for a very wide variety of opportunities can be scheduled for all students.


Some concepts, particularly in math and physics (e.g., Heisenberg uncertainty principle), take time to “sink in” so a student can become comfortable with it. More time can be a student’ s friend, but application can also help here. A good deal of my early work involved statistics and modeling. Working with data to find solutions was actually the creative part of the process. It is one thing to know the notes, but another to play the keyboard.

WPI is not just a program which utilizes projects, but a university which understands that classrooms and projects are related but different activities and not just more of the same exercise.

Our professors have written books on this educational interface. See https://www.wpi.edu/project-based-learning/pbl-higher-education

I hope this has been helpful!

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International prestige is usually determined by the quality of the research done at the college. WPI is not a heavy research focused college. I think WPI’ niche is that it is teaching focused college with a regional reputation. If you like WPI and it is affordable to you, then you should go.

The following site ranks CS departments by their research quality. https://csrankings.org/#/index?all

WPI is ranked #74 in the US, tied with RPI and Tufts. Thats not bad for a small school like WPI.

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Here is a recent report on WPI CS faculty research. See https://www.wpi.edu/academics/departments/computer-science/sigbits.

The graduate schools are the primary source of published research The more PhD students a university has, the more published research is produced. Graduate students are the underrated minions who carry out the actual research while faculty direct.

All WPI undergraduates are required to pursue research projects in their major. At the BS level, solved problems are more mundane and not USUALLY published in refereed journals. PhD students are the published researching workforce in universities and produce, on average, a much higher level refereed journal activity than do BS students.

I don’t know the size of the CS graduate school at Tufts, but I do know that RPI’s is much larger. Interesting that they are tied with WPI in your cited rankings using this CS publication metric.

Thank you for this cite! I find curious that a small university like Cal Tech or Dartmouth should be so well known when their CS departments only rank 66 and 69 using this metric.

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Sorry for the late reply. Yes I am worried it won’t be accepted by an employer outside New England because I have asked many people in tech-related fields (professors at universities, people working in SV) and they all have never even heard about WPI. This is why my parents are kind of pushing me towards Virginia Tech a bit more. They say it is up to me though. Please advise.

Reach out to the WPI Career Development Center. They can provide you with a list of employers of WPI graduates in recent years. WPI holds a couple of career fairs each year and there is a very impressive array of employers that participate in order to recruit… when my daughter was a freshman, she had a mentor who was a an upperclassman who is now in a high level position at Google. (Or Apple. One of those Big Companies. LOL) Whatever your choice, you don’t want to end up with regrets, so… Do your research to be sure you are choosing the school that is the right fit for you.

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