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How can I spend a year preparing my MS-CS application to US schools with my unconventional background? Which schools should I target?


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Hi all - thanks in advance for any advice, it's all much appreciated :)

As the title says - I want to study a MS in CS in the USA with a focus on stats/ML/AI. Other programs that combine CS/stats/AI also work. I live in the UK and come from an Economics background - I hold both a BSc and MSc in Economics from top UK universities with good grades (3.9-4.0 GPA equivalent). I scored 340/340 on the GRE. My degrees included a number of statistics/linear algebra/calculus courses, but no CS courses. I finished my MSc in 2013, worked very briefly (7 months) in a policy role, and then became a professional gambler for the last 5 years. The professional gambling was almost all online and involved a lot of statistical analysis as well as coding my own simulators and web scrapers.

Although I taught myself to program as a teenager I have no formal CS courses/credits/experience. I just always loved computer and programming and think I should have done CS as an undergrad in the first place but had crap career advice in the developing country where I grew up.

I have the freedom of spending a year to prepare for MS applications and wanted advice on how to best spend that time. In particular I've encountered these potential issues:

  • CS Prerequisites: most courses require upper-level undergrad CS courses. I was thinking about taking courses for credit from US colleges/universities via distance learning. Eg Foothill Community College offers quite a few. It becomes tougher to find the upper-level UG courses available via distance learning for credit but if I can that'd be great. Do you guys think this would suffice for meeting the prerequisites, given that my academic background is good in general?
  • Personal projects / work experience: I'm not sure whether MS programs value actual work experience more/less than working on personal projects. Any thoughts?
  • Letters of recommendation: this is another problem. My formal/work-experience is 1) not CS related, and 2) more than 5 years old. Is this a major barrier? Any ideas on how to get around this? My best shot feels like asking whoever teaches the distance learning courses I take for a reference but I'm not sure if that'd work.

Finally - what kind of schools/programs do you guys think I have a shot at getting into?

Any advice on this - or anything else - would be much appreciated!

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