Studying Computer Science - UIC or IIT?

The following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a junior in high school, looking for advice on studying Computer Science at a Chicago university. I thought it would be useful for other students to see, especially as the deadline for choosing colleges is May 1st. Obligatory disclaimer: I do not speak on behalf of any of these schools. My opinions only.


I see that you’re attending IIT. I’m currently deciding whether to go to UIC, IIT, or DePaul for undergraduate for Computer Science. Right now, my current plan is to go UIC. IIT is a little bit more expensive. What would you recommend?

I’ve got friends that go to all three schools, although only know people at IIT and UIC in Comp Sci, so can’t speak for DePaul. The benefit to IIT is that it’s more focused on CS and engineering than other schools, smaller class sizes, and we’ve got a big emphasis on innovation - e.g. through these IPRO projects (ipro.iit.edu/about). Downside is that it’s more expensive as you mentioned, and it might not have as many activities as you may like (given the smaller size). I’m not actually in the CS program but rather in ITM (Information Technology and Management), which is similar to CS but with more management courses.

Another interesting thing about IIT is that the undergrad population is about 1/3 international, so it’s pretty diverse and you can meet people from all around the world.

What I might suggest doing is taking a look at the courses one takes as a CS student, across all schools - see if you like one group of courses more than the rest. At IIT you can use pop.weclarify.com/v1.5/ to search for courses, and we also have a big PDF with more detailed info on the CS program.

Those are just some of my thoughts for how to go about choosing. In the end, I picked IIT because it ended up being the least expensive out of all my options, and although I have some gripes about it, overall it isn’t a bad school.

So I’ve pretty much ruled out DePaul (and a lot of other schools), and now I’m just kind of debating whether to go to UIC or IIT. I really don’t want to go into a lot more debt to go to IIT though, so that’s why I’m leaning more towards UIC. Would you say that UIC has a decent Computer Science program from what you’ve heard?

At UIC, you’re going to get less individual attention and the CS program might not be as great as some other schools, but I know they have a more active ACM chapter as well as some other organizations. From an employer’s perspective, I might consider IIT a little higher just because CS is more of a focus.

UIC has a decent program though, don’t get me wrong - their Linux User Group is actually putting on an open source conference (flourishconf.com/2016/about), goes to show how involved they are in the community. You also have the opportunity to go to more CS events at UIUC, where a lot of the action is happening.

As for jobs after college, what kind of network with big companies do either college have? Do they both have good connections and high job placement rates that you’re aware of?

I know people at IIT that’ve gone to work for Microsoft, Shure, Motorola, various startups, and UIC also has Microsoft plus some other places. A trick I use sometimes is to go on LinkedIn and search for “software engineer” or “software developer” and filter to just UIC/IIT, then see what companies are most popular. That’ll give you somewhat of an idea about where real people go after they graduate.

That’s a great idea! One last question, as a junior in high school, what would you do to prepare for college courses in Computer Science?

I think one of the best things you can do is to do lots of projects on your own in your free time, to help get a solid foundation in programming and feeling more confident about it - that’s what I did in high school. Coming into college, even though I might not have known the name of a CS concept, I already had a pretty good understanding of how to use a programming language to implement the given concept. There’s also lots of sites out there that will help teach you the basics. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can check out CS50, the intro CS course at Harvard, and try to do some of their material (cs50.harvard.edu). I know there’s quite a number of high school students doing it, and it’s one of the most popular open CS courses in the country, so if you do need help there’s a community of people.

Thanks for that. I can make websites with HTML/CSS and PHP. I also know Visual Basic and then I’m starting right now to learn C++. As for college applications, is there anything that could make me standout or anything I could do to put on my application that would look good that you could think of?

Great, you’re ahead of most people already - I think personal projects are great to have on an application, it shows you’re curious and want to learn outside of the classroom. I was a webmaster for my high school’s student government senior year, and rebuilt the really old website they had. There was some other projects I did - basically finding a problem in the school, and then finding a way to solve it with tech. That might be something to think about. Either way, side projects look great for both college apps and internship apps.

 
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