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MS in CS - USC or UMN-TC?

Menezes Sousa

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I am in a really big dilemma. I need to choose between University of Southern California and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities for a MS in CS program. I am also looking to specialize in ML/NLP/Computational Linguistics. I have done a lot of internet research but I haven't been able to find an answer that satisfies me.

This is what I know so far:


USC is ranked higher on nearly all ranking websites. It has a great location, especially for CS guys like myself. However, I've heard that the student quality is not that great in this top ranked university, which is difficult for me to imagine. Also, it is extremely expensive and TA/RA options are slim. However, there is one really impressive professor (whose name I will withold) who will definitely admit me into his research group from Semester 1. This professor is quite well known and is the main reason why I am so attracted to USC. However, he has said that at least the first semester will be unpaid research work. I am unsure from when I can/will get paid.


On the other hand, everyone I ask, tells me UMN is a better school. Thus, I don't understand why its rank is so much lower than USC. Yes, the location is not great and the weather is pathetic but the school is apparently very good. Also, another huge plus is the low fee structure. The student quality is also supposed to be better here, and it is apparently tougher to get into. TA/RA here seems possible and I think from second year onwards, I shall be able to pay for myself and be in a financially self-sufficient situation.


So, this is the dilemma - Should it be USC or UMN?

Please help me guys!



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Sounds like a tough call! I did my undergraduate in computer science and physics at the U of M, so, if you have specific questions about the U or the CS department, just let me know. I can even talk about some graduate courses, as all CS undergraduates are required to take two years of graduate courses at the U.


A couple of things to think about: One, the US News rankings are based primarily on peer assessment surveys, so the reputations of programs within the programs' community tend to play an important role in these rankings. Depending on who you're asking, these rankings may give a fairer indication of the perceived quality of the CS programs relative to one another.


Second, I wonder what the person talking about student "quality" is basing his or her opinions on. When you talk about "quality," do you mean the impressiveness of the students' research/abilities/things of that nature? Has the person that you're getting this opinion from worked extensively at both schools as a graduate student? Maybe just visited both programs? If so, I will say that, when I visited various graduate programs for interviews, I was definitely impressed more by students in some programs than in others, but I think it's important to keep in mind that these judgments are based on first impressions, which can be very wrong, and that they are very subjective.


I wonder also if by student "quality" your source is instead referring to the general environment of the two schools/the general attitudes held by people at the two institutions. There are a lot of stereotypes about Californians, especially Southern Californians and Angelenos. There are also a lot of stereotypes about Midwesterners. Some of them are more true than others, but I think the applicability of the stereotypes will be significantly diminished within the university communities and especially within the CS department communities. I think these stereotypes can be considered when you are thinking about whether you will like the environment you live in, but I don't necessarily think they should be heavily considered when making judgments about the programs themselves.


Third, you mention that the Twin Cities is not that great of a location. While I don't think it's as much of a tech hub as LA, I will mention that all of the major tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.) do recruiting events at the U. So, while it might be easier to get a job at a mid-sized or start-up tech company out in LA, having the opportunity to get a job at a major tech company should be no problem at the U. More generally, the Twin Cities is a large metropolitan area, so I don't think there is much you'd be able to find in LA that you couldn't also find in the Twin Cities.


Fourth, something I don't see you mention is cost of living. Living in Minneapolis is considerably cheaper than living in LA. If you want to check it out for yourself, I recommend this tool: <http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/>. So, if you can't get paid at USC, or if you have to pay your own way for a little while, you will have to worry about the higher tuition as well as the higher cost of living. Even if you think you can get paid, you should consider what kind of standard of living you can afford at USC versus the U of M.


Fifth, I will say that more famous or well-known professors tend to have more funding available to them. If you definitely know you will work with the professor you mention at USC if you go there, then maybe funding will not be as challenging as you expect. (Then again, it could be just as challenging as you expect. It's hard to know!)


Finally, I will say that I have loved being an undergraduate at the U and in the CS department. I think it's a great university and department with great people, and I don't think you would go wrong choosing to go there.


Hope this helps! Like I said, let me know if you have any specific questions about the U. Good luck with your decision!

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For NLP? Go to USC. PM me if you want to talk about it more; that's my field*, and I might have a bit more info based on the prof you're talking about.


Let's just say there are some labs that don't have problems with funding. :P



*Well, was... Now it's my backup depending how much i like speech processing!

Edited by PhDerp
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Go to UMN.


a Bruin.


OMG orange, you're everywhere! Lol

EDIT: Someday in Los Angeles, we will meet at a bar, and we will each realize who the other one is... And the duel will be epic. ;D

Edited by PhDerp
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