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Is it worth spending close to $90K for an MS in CS from Stanford University for an International Student?


Desi_Mama

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To explain my situation: I am an fresh out of school Indian student from one of the top NITs. (top 15 school in India)

I have a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering, but my heart lies in data analysis, and overlapping areas like AI and signal processing. As for future plans, I see myself doing research intensive work. I did a summer internship at a top Canadian University on image processing, and really liked the experience (even got recos and an offer from there). Keeping these in mind, I think Stanford gives me an excellent launching pad, and getting the offer is a big achievement (at least from my perspective).

My only concern is the steep cost. Considering it is $90K, I have to take out a loan for minimum $40K. Though I feel that it is quite possible to get TA/RA for one or two quarters, I expect the total cost to be upwind of $60K. In the event I decide to join industry after MS, how long would it take to repay $60K? What is an average salary I can expect after MS in CS from Stanford? If I decide to do a PhD after my MS (hopefully at Stanford or another top5 university), the interest rate would pile on. Would a good research position (and perks that come with it like job satisfaction etc.) after PhD offset this high initial cost? My alternate option is a reasonably good job in India, which I am happy with (though the pay is just above average), but not very excited. I can save up some money, though not much and attend next year; or can work for 2-3 years and see if I want to directly go for a PhD. The drawback with this is that, if I decide to go for an MS or PhD later on, I am basically wasting 2-3 years, at a mid-level job.

I enjoy research and am quite confident of my ability, since I was accepted for PhD at Purdue and USC with RA. The reason I chose Stanford was, well its Stanford, and I think an MS from Stanford would open more doors for me. In my case, I was not sure about a 5 year commitment, primarily because I am switching majors and my interests are not well defined. If I get some chance to do research at Stanford (RA or independent study with prof/postdoc) and really like it, I plan on getting a PhD. Otherwise I would be joining industry either in USA or India.

 

If you know about chances of TA/RA positions at Stanford, kindly share your inputs. If I can get assistantship for even 2 out of the 5 quarters, I would be set to attend (ofcourse, more the better). My father recently made a ton of money by selling some old stocks, and has agreed to fund me. This should quite likely cover 3 quarters, so it becomes a sort of zero sum game if I can get funding for 2 quarters.

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Are you going for MS or PhD at Stanford? Have you tried talking to them about funding? Can they give you any? Try negotiating with them, if you can. See this for reference: http://prelaw-guru.com/blog/how-to-negotiate-scholarships/

 

Also, I'd suggest you take on a loan instead of using your father's savings. As an engineer you better chance of getting a job and your STEM period is longer

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Are you going for MS or PhD at Stanford? Have you tried talking to them about funding? Can they give you any? Try negotiating with them, if you can. See this for reference: http://prelaw-guru.com/blog/how-to-negotiate-scholarships/

 

Also, I'd suggest you take on a loan instead of using your father's savings. As an engineer you better chance of getting a job and your STEM period is longer

 

Thanks for the reply. I have not been given anything in writing, but when I contacted a professor at Stanford, he seemed very enthusiastic since our research interests are a great match, and I had a project which can be considered extension of his papers. He said he is open to taking me, but does not have funded positions at the moment, but *might* get more funding by Fall.

 

I have lost negotiating power now since I have already accepted the offer from Stanford. Given the options, it was always a choice between joining Stanford now vs joining Stanford a year later. My only concern is, I don't want to start a PhD with debt. If I decide to join Industry after MS, I think the debt will be easily paid off in 1-2 years. PhD is a totally different ball game :(

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If your eventual goal is to do a PhD, it is best if you directly apply for a PhD.

 

If I may ask, based on your knowledge and experience at Stanford, what is the probability to transfer to the PhD program after the MS program? If I have to re-apply, does the MS degree from Stanford help?

 

In my case, I think I have a much better chance than the norm, since the professor I spoke to seemed very enthusiastic. To paraphrase his words when we talked, "I would be happy to take you, but I don't have enough positions on funded projects at the moment. It is possible that more funds may arrive between now and Fall, but I do not have a good estimate of the probability at this stage. But I would be happy to discuss research possibilities with you when you arrive, so that you can start research right away." The sense I got was that he is definitely interested in taking me as his student, and I would love to work with him too. My B.S. thesis was primarily an extension of his work, and I even managed to get a paper through to a top conference.

 

What worries me is this scenario: I don't get enough financial support (no RA/TA support for even 1 or 2 quarters) which puts me with about $50K in debt, and also not get into the Stanford PhD program, and I have to move to a not-so-prestigious university for PhD. I am not able to estimate the likelihood of such a scenario, and hence my anxiety.

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From what I know, there is no "transfer" to PhD. You will have to apply to PhD like any other student, and having an MS (at Stanford or in general) is not particularly a direct advantage (though indirectly, it can potentially help get you strong LoR). Be sure to mention your work with the Prof in your SOP, and try to get an LoR from her/him. That may help in the admissions. Note that admission decisions in Stanford CS lie solely with the admissions committee (which is a small subset of the profs + few grad students, keeps changing year to year), and individual profs do not recruit students directly. Once admitted, you are open/encouraged to freshly explore matches with Profs (through the rotation program) before finalizing on your advisor.

 

I would also recommend talking to more profs in the area of your interest looking for potential RA opportunities for now.

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Thanks for the heads up. Just to expand on it a bit further, based on your experience, what is the likelihood of an MS student getting RA/TA support at Stanford? I am not greedy, expecting support for the entire program (though I would absolutely love that!), but what is the likelihood for say 2 or 3 quarters of funding? Have you personally seen MS students funded for a good portion of the program? Thanks a ton for your inputs.

Edited by Desi_Mama
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2-3 quarters of support isn't going to keep you from graduating with a huge amount of debt from Stanford. I would say that you don't go. If your goal is ultimately to do a PhD in CS, then just apply to PhD programs this fall and go with a funded option. The MS doesn't seem to make you much more competitive from what I've seen on this site, though you should also check the specific "Computer Science" subforum for more on that.

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@Desi_Mama: I do know of MS students getting RA/TA opportunities with profs. But you will need to be very proactive and cast your net wide. You can also get a sense of how common MS students get funded by looking up the "Students" section in the faculty web pages (typically they specify if a student is a PhD or MS student). I do know MS students who had RA offers before joining (they reached out to profs this time of year). Since your prof is unsure of the funding situation till fall, it is best you start exploring with other profs as well.

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