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Stanford MSCS vs. Princeton

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My top choice from the beginning was Stanford, and I am incredibly happy that I have been given this choice of schools. The choice has come down to Stanford vs Princeton. Stanford is not offering any funding (I don't believe they are offering anybody funding for a MSCS), but Princeton (MSE program, master of science in engineering) is offering a full tuition waiver (38K/year) and a 25K/year Teaching Assistantship.

On the basis of finances, it's a pretty clear picture.

Stanford has better weather and a higher ranking in US News (#1 in graduate CS compared to #6 Princeton). How much does this difference in ranking actually mean to my prospects of getting an awesome job somewhere, or in terms of credibility?

Is the Stanford MSCS admission criteria more lax because they are not offering funding? Some people say a Stanford MSCS is more of a "if you can pay you can go" deal.

Any input is helpful... what would you do?

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The word on the street is that the Stanford MSCS program is their cash cow. It's a great school no doubt, but I don't think you'll suffer if you attended Princeton instead. What are your future plans in terms of where you want to work?

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How much does this difference in ranking actually mean to my prospects of getting an awesome job somewhere, or in terms of credibility?

In the word of my advisor: When you got into top 10 universities, it would make very little difference which one you choose. This is even more true if you do research because ultimately your advisor will be the one that has the most influence on your future job.

If you're still unsure about it, do a quick check on the alumni page of the labs in the two universities. I bet both have similar placement record.

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Joro - My future plans are in the entertainment industry (games/movies). I want to start my own business at some point.

explorer-c - That sounds reasonable... so you don't think there's too much discrepancy in "brand" between the two?

Thanks guys!

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If your goal is games/movies, I would have to say that the movie industry is already tough to break in as it is. I know for a fact that a certain company received over 35,000 applications and only hired 55 from those for that year. I think the game industry is a lot easier than this, but just thought I'd throw out some hard facts for you. Another company received over 46,000 applications and only hired about 100. :lol:

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All I have is 3.5 years of college, so take my advice with a spoonful of salt, but I say

Princeton hands down.

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Joro - The more likely path I'll go down is making my own video games / movies rather than join a corporation (although movies would probably be more of a hobby), I've already helped work on some bigger game titles at game companies and worked on some personal games as well. You might ask why I'd want a masters at all if I want to be in the video game industry.. and I'm not really sure at this point.

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With your past qualifications, why are you so worried about getting a job based on what grad school you attend? Job descriptions for video game companies want people who have previous work experience on AAA title games and you seem to have all this. You have me a bit confused.

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I believe the #1 vs #6 argument is not a relevant one.

First, you can make scores of relevant rankings based on slightly different criteria, and the orders will be all different. Just check the several international universities rankings, for example... (granted, Harvard is *always* the very first).

Second, even though one program is widely regarded as better than another one, it does not mean it gets only the very best and all the very best students. Obviously an academic record doesn't say much about your actual skills. Obviously again, all Nobel Prize Winners (and broadly speaking excellent scholars) do not come all from the number 1 departments.

Which leads me to third: what really matters is what you actually do with your top-quality degree. Fortunately, one name on your resume does not determines the rest of your life. It is much more complicated, and much more interesting, too. The greatest careers are not often the conventional ones.

But this is just my opinion. And to be honest, I'm not from the US, so I don't know much about the "employer question", whether or not it makes a different to come from what one specific ranking considered one specific year as the "best" program (I don't really know what "best" means) compared to the number 6. I hardly think so, though.

Good luck!

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Disclaimer: As a Stanford CS PhD student, I'm going to be a bit biased. Plus I don't pay, so I can't fully appreciate your situation.

You may want to keep in mind a few points:

First, Stanford is about connections. Students here have unbelievable opportunities for internships and jobs in the area. The department actually has a handful of full time staff that maintain industry connections (the "Computer Forum"). They set up fancy job fairs and constantly spam us (BS, MS and PhD) with interviews, internship possibilities, etc. Not to mention, many Profs are either formally involved with companies here, or have strong connections. Having come from a state school well outside of Silicon Valley that offered near-zero job hunting help, this seems pretty amazing to me. Princeton may well have good connections too, but they're not exactly close to where the action is. In short, if your dream is to work for a company out here, Stanford could be a really nice in.

Second, in the Bay Area you could probably make $15k+ during the summer and another $7-8k per quarter if you get TA or RAships. It seems like a fair number of MS students do TAships and PhDs generally don't do any more than they have to, so you may be able to bank on that. In all, if you work summers and TA one quarter out of the year, you could offset the cost significantly.

As far as reputation goes, Princeton is way up there, so I wouldn't make a decision based on name alone, especially for a masters. If you have money to burn, or want to live in the Bay Area and make use of the industry ties here, then it might be worth the price. If that's not the case, then it's probably hard to argue for the $50-100k differential.

You'll have fantastic educational opportunities whatever school you choose, so don't sweat it too much.

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A friend of mine who had his MS in CS from Stanford especially highlighted two things. One is the excellent networking opportunities at Stanford; second is the difficulty in getting access to the professors there. Compared to the time when he was an undergrad at CMU, the professors at Stanford are relatively difficult to get in touch with. I imagine Princeton with its smaller department would be more like CMU. Add to the fact that you have to pay to go to Stanford, that seems like a no brainer for me.

Edited by explorer-c

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