I have made some posts here and in more private circles about getting a Masters Degree in Computer Science, so I wanted to give an update. Here’s the tl;dr: I applied to 5 programs, I got turned down by 3, one is still outstanding, and I was accepted to 1. That was my top program, but I decided not to take it because of the high cost.
So, here’s the details for those who care. I applied for 5 masters programs:
- University of Texas, Computer Science, Fall 2022 ❌
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Computer Science, Fall 2022 ❌
- University of Pennsylvania, Computers and Information Technology, Fall 2022 ❌
- Georgia Institute of Technology, Computer Science, Spring 2023 ❓
- Carnegie Mellon University, Software Engineering, Fall 2022 ✅
I was pretty disappointed to be turned down by so many programs. None of the programs I applied to gave a reason for turning me down, but I have some ideas about what happened.
- My bachelor’s degree is not in Computer Science or a closely-related field. I’ve got a bachelor’s in Physics from one of the best universities on the planet, which I think shows I should be able to handle some academic rigour. But it’s not directly related to computer science, which admissions teams may have been looking for.
- I have insufficient academic track record on required courses. I’ve spent much of my career self-educating in computer science, building personal projects, and releasing professional-grade software. But I only have a handful of actual college credits in programming, which might be an issue.
- I didn’t submit a GRE score. I decided to apply to schools very soon before their application deadlines, and I didn’t think I had time to study for the GRE and come up with a good score. Since the GRE was optional, I skipped it. This may have been a mistake.
- I came in without a lot of humility. Honestly, I thought that a career in the computer industry, with some pretty significant achievements to my name, would make me a shoe-in for any program I applied to. I don’t feel like I acted arrogant or rude, but I didn’t feel like I had to do hard work to get in. That was a bad way to approach the situation.
So, 3 nos, 1 yes is pretty good, right? Well, that yes was kind of a difficult one. The MSE program at CMU is great; exactly what I need to take my career to the next level. It’s specifically about the science and craft of making software in teams in a larger context, and I think I’d really enjoy it.
The problem was the price tag. The Georgia Tech program is US$7k all in; the MSE at CMU is US$55K, maybe more. I wish I had enough disposable income that a difference of US$50K didn’t matter to me, but I’m not. I’ve got two teens headed to college, and spending $50K of savings on my own education when I am pretty sure I could do most of what I want to do with a much cheaper degree seems kind of irresponsible.
So, last week I turned down CMU. This was pretty hard. I took weeks to decide, argued both cases, and was sure I’d say yes about half the time. I’m used to spending money if I need to do it. But I’m glad I made the decision I did. I really appreciate the people who wrote recommendations for me for CMU. I didn’t waste your time lightly, I promise!
So, what happens next? I still want to get a masters degree. So, I’m going to apply for another round of programs in Spring and Fall 2023. Here’s what I’m going to do differently.
- Study for and take the GRE. I did amazing on the GRE the last time I took it, right out of college. I think with a couple of months of practice and study I could get a respectable score that would improve my chances of getting accepted.
- Take prerequisite classes and/or tests. UIUC has a 3-month course with a test at the end that might help my chances there. UT has a whole list of prereq courses. I think a better academic resume might lift my application to the top of the pile.
- Consider more Software Engineering programs. SE and CS have a complex relationship. Some of the CS programs have SE as a specialisation; other universities I didn’t apply to have SE masters. I think it might be more what I’m looking for and play more to my skills.
- Don’t apply to programs too expensive for me. I am going to try to keep the price tag down under $20K. I realize that is very cheap for a masters, and an immense privilege to get to spend on education. I want to be able to say an enthusiastic yes to an acceptance.
Once again, thanks to everyone who wrote recommendations for me. It meant the world. I really appreciate your kind words and time.
And thanks to all my friends and family for their encouragement. This story isn’t over yet.
One thought on “Masters Degree in Computer Science, Personal Update”