Jump to content
kmctigue

Carnegie Mellon vs University of Michigan Full Ride for HCI

Recommended Posts

Short version: should I do into debt at my dream school, or accept a full-ride to my third choice?

I was thrilled when I got into my dream program, the MHCI program at CMU. I never thought I would get in, and I feel like I won the lottery. Then today I was offered $80,000 scholarship from University of Michigan. Suddenly everything feels very real. I think CMU is a much better fit-- I want to make things, not research. I love that it is a professional program, and I like that it is smaller, and very focused curriculum. The curriculum seems perfectly tailored to my interests. Not going to lie, I also like the prestige. What I am worried about is that the economy will crash and I will find myself in debt and in a no-longer-high-in-demand profession. Not having to pay tuition would really help me get my adult life started on the right track (I am only 22, and this is my first time leaving my home town). I'm probably looking at upwards of $20k debt at CMU (I have savings and leftover Florida Prepaid to get through the first 2ish semesters).

Then there is the University of Washington's HCDE program. I haven't even heard back from UW yet, but I visited last year and it was my second choice after CMU (really the first choice, since CMU was such a "reach".) If I get in, it will make this decision even harder. (UW curriculum is more my style than UM, and tuition is cheaper.)

Another factor is that my husband is also moving with me, and while he is very supportive, I hate the idea of dragging him to Ann Arbor because the job prospects for him are much slimmer than in a larger city (Seattle or Pittsburgh). I don't really want to live in AA either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's a tough one.

As an outsider to your position (and as a poor potential grad student), my (personal) thought is: take the money and run with it, but, as you detailed, there are a lot of factors at play. As somebody who struggled under the weight of student debt from my very expensive undergrad for many years (and only freshly free of it) the full-ride is impressive and I consider you lucky to have it. Not to mention, later, you can write that full-ride on your CV and that looks good, too (I've frequently been impressed by professor profiles online who have such accolades--no matter where they're to or from).

I don't know much about Ann Arbor but it's not far from Detroit or Chicago, really. There are plenty of possibilities.

And also, UW is amazing. I've been accepted to their Jackson School of International Studies program. Still waiting to hear back on others, but I can tell you that I LOVE Seattle.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi! Fellow CMU HMCI admit here. Also applied to UW HCDE and planning to move with my SO for school. We're probably in similar situations, although I have 3.5 years of working experience. Sorry for the long post, especially if these are things you've already thought about.

1) 2 vs 1 year and what you can do in that time

You mentioned that you want to make things, so do you mind if I ask you what your undergrad background is and how much working experience you have?

Even if you get a Masters degree, if you're trying to break into a field and don't have any professional experience, quite honestly 2 years of school will be barely enough to make you competitive. For example, if we're talking about design, other designers that have been doing their craft in a professional environment and/or went to design undergrad will have strong portfolios, and HR at companies also like seeing working experience. In other words, 1 year at CMU will give you a lot less time to bring yourself up to speed compared to people who are using it to enhance the career path they're already on. 2 years might be better for you since it gives you an opportunity to intern at a company during the summer, which can help enhance your resume/portfolio significantly. 

This point segues into...

2) Curriculum

Curriculum will not be the main reason you get a job after graduation, I think. Very few recruiters will necessarily care about the classes you take or what you learn. They'll be interested in what you did for projects and how you applied what you learn, especially if you have research publications or a design portfolio or a github. I've met very successful people who came out of not-so-highly-ranked CS/HCI departments that ended up getting fantastic jobs because, while they were at school, they focused on taking courses that allowed them to work on projects or publish research. Instead of overloading on courses, they spent time in labs, working over the summer, etc. that really ended up being more useful than just courses.

CMU's capstone project is a fantastic way to get applied experience, but just because you go to a research/thesis-oriented grad program does not mean you can't find tons of projects to work on. Even more importantly, (back to point 1) a 2 year program can provide more opportunities to seek extracurriculars that can really boost your resume. UW or UMich can equally provide just as many opportunities to do hands-on work making stuff, but it will definitely be less structured since both programs are not centered around hands-on experience in comparison to CMU's.

3) Prestige

It's true that CMU's program is well regarded, but I have a hunch most recruiters/HR teams will be familiar with both schools. CMU's will probably look slightly better, but going to UMich is not a death sentence in terms of how well regarded the program will be. It's not the same as Ivy vs State School for undergrad, so that's one less thing you have to worry about.

4) Job prospects

What kind of job do you want out of college? Honestly, even if the economy gets worse UX jobs will still be around. It's a strong trend in the tech industry, with big name companies and small startups all recruiting for UX positions. Now, with an economic downturn certain jobs might be less valuable (e.g. pure UX researchers, which only the bigger companies hire anyway). If you can build a flexible enough toolkit that includes research + design + programming, I think your prospects of finding a job won't really be a big problem. Plus, if you've ever taken a look at the listings for "UX Designers" on LinkedIn or Indeed, you'll realize that companies want very different skills and the requirements can range from a pure graphic designer to a system architect. In the end, I don't really think you need to worry about unemployment after graduation.

5) Cost vs Earnings

I know a lot of people on these forums don't recommend going into a lot of debt. One think you can do is go check out how much you'll be earning from the jobs you're aiming for, and see how long it might take you to pay for tuition at CMU if you were to get an average salary in that field.

Let me know if you would like to talk more over PM or something if you have any questions.

Edited by siitrasn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry to double post. In #4 on job prospects, when I meant "don't really think you need to worry about unemployment" I was referring to the idea of another recession causing the UX/HCI job market to shrink. Finding a position that suits you is a different matter :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, siitrasn said:

Hi! Fellow CMU HMCI admit here. Also applied to UW HCDE and planning to move with my SO for school. We're probably in similar situations, although I have 3.5 years of working experience. Sorry for the long post, especially if these are things you've already thought about.

Hi! Thank you very much for your detailed and honest response. This is extremely helpful, and exactly the sort of questions I should be thinking about.

I estimated my work experience at 2 years on my CMU app, but its really sort of hard to estimate. I worked 30ish hours a week throughout all of my undergrad (at nonprofits and then at my current company as an intern) as a graphic designer and in communications. I've now been working as a front-end developer and UI designer for one year on an Agile team. 

1. I think of my portfolio as pretty developed, but perhaps I've been overly optimistic. I will PM the link to you if you don't mind. But the timeframe is absolutely something to think about. I plan on working at my current company remotely and attending CMU part-time, so I would actually be doing a minimum of two years either way, unless I change my mind. I've been thinking of it as an advantage that CMU is a shorter program, because it means I'll be making a salary again sooner. However the portfolio development is certainly a factor.

2. In regards to curriculum, I meant that I think I will enjoy my education significantly more at CMU. I hadn't put a lot of thought into how recruiters would regard the curriculum. Again, I'm potentially being overly optimistic-- I should be thinking more long-term.

4. I want to continue working as a developer. Ideally I would end up with a job title like "UX Developer" or "UI Developer" and be involved in all stages of product development, from prototyping to implementation. I particularly like working with Angular. However, I also like working with users and the planning process of crating a new system, so I suppose I am somewhat interested in research.

5. This is a great idea. I really need to calculate ROI on all three programs, factoring for the time I spend in school not working, tuition, living expenses, etc.

Thanks again for your time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, kmctigue said:

Hi! Thank you very much for your detailed and honest response. This is extremely helpful, and exactly the sort of questions I should be thinking about.

I estimated my work experience at 2 years on my CMU app, but its really sort of hard to estimate. I worked 30ish hours a week throughout all of my undergrad (at nonprofits and then at my current company as an intern) as a graphic designer and in communications. I've now been working as a front-end developer and UI designer for one year on an Agile team. 

1. I think of my portfolio as pretty developed, but perhaps I've been overly optimistic. I will PM the link to you if you don't mind. But the timeframe is absolutely something to think about. I plan on working at my current company remotely and attending CMU part-time, so I would actually be doing a minimum of two years either way, unless I change my mind. I've been thinking of it as an advantage that CMU is a shorter program, because it means I'll be making a salary again sooner. However the portfolio development is certainly a factor.

2. In regards to curriculum, I meant that I think I will enjoy my education significantly more at CMU. I hadn't put a lot of thought into how recruiters would regard the curriculum. Again, I'm potentially being overly optimistic-- I should be thinking more long-term.

4. I want to continue working as a developer. Ideally I would end up with a job title like "UX Developer" or "UI Developer" and be involved in all stages of product development, from prototyping to implementation. I particularly like working with Angular. However, I also like working with users and the planning process of crating a new system, so I suppose I am somewhat interested in research.

5. This is a great idea. I really need to calculate ROI on all three programs, factoring for the time I spend in school not working, tuition, living expenses, etc.

Thanks again for your time.

Reached out to you via PM! Good luck :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.