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I’m planning to major in Computer Science. My top choice is Northwestern, but I also love Boston, and MIT would be fantastic for Computer Science education. However, I heard MIT is not the best for undergrad, mainly due to stress and student life. Should I do Northwestern for undergrad and MIT for my masters?

I am about to be a senior in high school. I plan to work in the aerospace field writing autonomous navigation software. My GPA is 4.4, ACT is 35, and I have many extracurricular, including being a NASA HAS scholar.
computer-science college science college-admissions northwestern nu northwestern-university mit boston chicago undergrad masters

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Noah’s Answer

As others have pointed out, both are extremely quality institutions. When it comes to comparing the two, in my opinion, one of the highest priorities to consider is price. Although it the case that the type of jobs you qualify for after studying CS, especially if you plan on further study at a graduate level, pay well, student debt is a large opportunity cost. If you submit an application to both Northwestern and MIT, and also compare the costs, scholarships and federal aid included, then this can a great way to guide your decision.

Another great dimension of comparison, at least in my opinion, is daily life experience. In other words, how quality will your standard of living be at each institution? You're going to be there presumably for 3-4 years depending on your graduation path, so your daily life, happiness, and mental health matter. You mentioned with MIT how the experience for an undergrad differs from that of a graduate student. Perhaps your stress level may be higher at MIT than Northwestern, and this may contribute to not having as pleasant of a daily experience. To verify this, it may be possible to contact existing students or people you know, and although this evidence is anecdotal, it may still be helpful to paint of picture of what your life might be like. Ask them questions about what the dining hall is like, living in the dorms, apartments, clubs, etc. This may seem like unimportant things to consider, but again, you'll potentially be on campus for 6-8 semesters, so in my opinion it definitely does matter.

It's difficult to make these types of decisions (between schools), but I think the best source of information are people that are current or former students. This is because they often give the most helpful and honest opinions, and also, more importantly, if this former or current student happens to know you as well, they can make an assessment about whether you would be a great fit or not for that school.

Either way, as others have pointed out, you can't go wrong with either school in terms of academic experience and career opportunities after graduation.
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Ramesh’s Answer

Your grades are excellent and you will have the pick of strong computer science programs. I would suggest a couple of things.
a) Narrowing down to two schools seems far too narrow. Build a list of 10 or so schools and choose amongst those
b) Utilize resources for Computer Science ranking to filter by Schools with strong AI, Robotics which is your current area of interest. Couple of resources for ranking info - http://csrankings.org/#/index?ai&vision&robotics&us , https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-science-schools/artificial-intelligence-rankings.
While these rankings are for graduate programs, the rankings are representative for Undergraduates.
c) Given your interest perhaps you can intersect schools with strong CS and strong Aerospace programs - Stanford comes to mind
d) Note that absolute ranking doesn't matter. Top 5, Top 16-20, Top 21-40 will be pretty similar.
e) Your home state of Texas has a great CS program at UT Austin in the Top 10 of AI programs. Consider the cost/value tradeoff.
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Ashley’s Answer

If I'm being completely honest, I would go with Northwestern. As others have said, both will prepare you for the industry. While MIT would look a little better on a resume, it won't look much better. Northwestern will probably be easier to succeed in and give you more time to keep up those extracurriculars in college. If you are planning on getting a masters before you go into a profession, then Northwestern will give you a better shot of coming out of your bachellors with a higher gpa. However, from your high school qualifications it seems like you're willing to go the extra mile to pursue your goals, and it is probably easier to get into MIT grad school from the undergrad program. If it were me, I would go for the slightly easier option, but if you're confident that you can keep your grades up at MIT, that may be the school for you.
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Dexter’s Answer

Hi Ryan,

I think I'm in the minority because if you can afford it, I'd steer you towards MIT. This is in-spite of the fact that, as a hiring manager, I really don't care what college you graduated from, but I sure know a lot of others who do.

First, the name recognition is a huge one. I've known horrible and amazing managers who only hired from elite schools.

Two, you have a higher chance of forming relationships with people that may innovate your career. This may sound weird, but to me, going to a university is a gamble. You basically are committing 4 years of your life for a whole lot of money. In those four years, you'll grow and mature and meet a ton of people—fellow students, faculty members, etc. In the interactions with those people (and with your own growth), you'll start seeing opportunities for yourself to re-think, re-shape, and re-invent yourself. And basically, at a more "elite" university, you'll just run into a higher percentage of people who may help you get on a rocket ship of a career. This is because those fellow students will be a little better connected, a little better financed, and (because of the first two) a little more ambitious. Similarly, the faculty members will be better connected, better financed, and more ambitious. This all means that there's a slightly better chance that you'll find opportunities that you can jump on, though it's up to you to find those opportunities and say "yes" when they come along.

Given the first point, basically, MIT for undergrad and MIT for masters sounds better than the other available combinations. Given my second point, more years at MIT will also give you a slightly higher chance at a winning lottery ticket in life.

As for student life and stress levels, I don't have a clue as I've never gone to MIT or Northwestern. I do hope someone answers this question with a personal experience of one of those colleges! Otherwise, I recommend you scour mailing lists, subreddits, and/or LinkedIn to get a good sense from both universities, and hopefully you'll be able to make a sound decision.

Wishing you the best!

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Dexter
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