Switching to Computer Science from a Non-Computer Science Background
Computer Science is among the most popular and competitive fields, with most students flocking to secure a degree in the domain. Besides the obvious factors, the following three reasons make study MS abroad in Computer Science a very competitive choice of course:
Many students not necessarily from the IT or CS or computer engineering academic backgrounds, but other related domains apply for MS in CS. Owing to this, CS is among the most competitive courses in the world, with most students targeting the same top schools for admissions.
Some universities are rigid about their eligibility for CS course and categorically mention students from non-CS backgrounds to apply to other courses. For example, SJSU, UPenn, NEU. However, many do not explicitly mention this criterion, like Columbia University, wherein their application forms have questions like have you studied operation systems, data structure, and other CS-related courses in your undergrad.
If you do secure admission to the MS in CS course despite being from a non-CS background, often universities outline mandatory pre-requisite courses. You are expected to take these irrespective of your knowledge of the domain as the specific course is not stated in your transcripts. For example, universities like ASU, UT Dallas, UIC, RIT, and others. The pre-requisite courses, therefore, increase your total cost of education and duration of the study.
To help you get more clarity on your options, let us consider a parallel analogy to the Indian scenario. Viewing your academic profile, you may secure admission for EE/ECE/CE fields in IIT Bombay. However, you get shortlisted for computer science to colleges like VJTI, SRM, PICT, etc. In such a situation, what would you choose? The brand or the course?
Let us weigh the pros and cons of your choices:
1. If you apply for Electronics and Communications Engineering (ECE):
a. You can get into a better university and then leverage the brand name to make a career shift to computer science. Similar to the Indian scenario, for most engineering colleges abroad, we have had students going to Georgia Tech, CMU, Rutgers University, and others for ECE and then taking up jobs in the computer science domain at top companies like Google, Morgan Stanley, Amazon, etc.
b. You can target those universities for ECE, which provide you with flexible options to choose courses from the computer science department and have many CS electives. For instance, CMU UCSD, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, NEU, UCSC, NCSU, NYU, BU, NW, Penn State University, STONY Brook, Buffalo University, University of Pittsburgh, and others. Many of these Universities also have AI/ML/DS tracks within the ECE domain.
2. If you apply for Computer Science:
a. You are surely getting your preferred computer science-focused curriculum. You are not burdened by the additional ECE-related courses, which you would not have a choice to opt out from had you taken ECE.
b. However, opting for CS limits your choices with regard to universities. You may not get into a university holding an equivalent repute as you might have if you had opted for ECE.
c. If you have a one-year plus work experience in the computer science field while applying, you can choose to apply to the Professional MS in CS courses which emphasize on work experience as a pre-requisite. You can leverage your experience to get into some top schools like UCI, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota, University of Colorado Boulder, etc.
Let us now consider the consequences of your choice based on the decision-making parameters: Brand Name vs. Salary vs. Jobs.
Unfortunately, in India, there is a stark contrast in the professional salary packages for students from IIT Bombay as opposed to students from Delhi University or Chennai University, etc. The same is, however, not true in the USA! With respect to jobs and salaries, students from CS backgrounds command more jobs and salaries than those from fields like ECE, MIS, etc., as companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and others pay their employees well. Thus, a Tier 2 university student with an MS in CS may end earning more than a student from a Tier 1 university with an MS in ECE.
To conclude, if your preference is towards the university brand name, then opting for an MS in ECE is the best course for you. However, if you are willing to compromise on the university brand name and give more weightage to curriculum, course, jobs, salary, then the MS in CS is a viable pathway. You can also consider middle-ground alternatives like MS in Data Science, MIS, Data Analytics, Software Engineering, etc., as equally lucrative prospects.
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