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I'm graduating from my Bachelor programme in Computer Science and Engineering at EPFL (Switzerland) next year, in July. Although I can continue at EPFL for my Master's degree (or an even higher ranked institution), I reckon I have the right profile to have a good shot at getting into an excellent Master's programme in the United States.

Although there's a lot of hype surrounding graduate studies in the US, especially for MIT/Harvard/Stanford/etc., there are a lot of sacrifices to be made (notwithstanding the complicated admission procedures).

The reason I am very motivated to get a Master's degree in the US is that I want to follow the best programme I can possibly follow and it seems these programmes (top 5) are all in the US. To be clear, I know that it is hard to get a job in the US and I have no ambition of staying there after my degree (except for a PhD if the opportunity arises).

I'll provide below what I've found so far: the pros for staying in Europe (which I'm quite familiar with) and the cons for picking the US (the ones I know of); these may be wrong, and I'm very interested in hearing about other perspectives.

Staying in Europe:

  • Excellent Master's programmes (top 20), but not the best worldwide
  • Quasi-free education (about 2000 euros tops per year in most countries except the UK)
  • Almost no immigration procedures (I'm an EU national)
  • Easy to get a good-paying and interesting student job (teaching assistant, engineer at a startup, freelance coder, etc)

Studying in the US:

  • Extremely expensive programmes (from what I gather upwards of $50k a year)
  • Harsh immigration procedures (even for students or qualified personnel)
  • Hard to get a student job, and they are menial and poorly remunerated

TL;DR: Is the massive cost of a US Master's programme in CS worth switching from one of the best programmes in the EU to an even better one in the US?

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    Usually graduate school is about finding best advisor or supervisor that can mentor your graduate work. Look for a person not for fame. – SSimon Oct 30 '19 at 18:39
  • Thanks for your answer! – David Cian Oct 30 '19 at 19:54
  • Much more important are the goals of masters programs in the US vs Europe. – Dawn Oct 30 '19 at 21:19
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Why so much emphasis on "best worldwide"? Any ranking system involves averages over many things and all sorts of contributions. The only important factor in the "quality" of a program is the quality of your program. Namely the strength of your advisor and the conditions that the program provides for you to be a success. Maybe the best professor to guide you is actually in Switzerland, which has plenty of top universities. They are spread pretty thickly through Europe as well.

You could wind up at a top rated university somewhere (US or not) and have a terrible experience. Just read some of the horror stories on this site, for example.

I also suspect that most of the effort spent in those "top" US (and other) universities is on doctoral education and the rankings are probably also biased toward that.

Use a better criteria than published ratings if you really want to be both successful and happy.


Note. I'm a retired US Professor of CS.

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  • Thanks a lot for your answer! Sound advice, I figured the advisor was an important factor but I still thought the international rankings (biased as they are) played a much larger role. – David Cian Oct 30 '19 at 18:15
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    Larger role in what? Advisor quality is everything. One thing though, I was under the impression that CS masters programmes aren't a big thing in the US and that top quality students go straight to PhD. At my partner's US CS department, the masters programme is just a money maker to suck in foreign students who aren't really expected to go on in research. Instead PhD programmes are long and include coursework and that's the top student track. – GrotesqueSI Oct 30 '19 at 20:45
  • @GrotesqueSI, the exception is folks bound for industry, not academia. There is local demand for that. – Buffy Oct 30 '19 at 20:48
  • @Buffy true! I suppose I was thinking about the poster mentioning PhD study. They may be used to the UK/Europe pathway of getting a master's then PhD while not realising that isn't the nomal pathway wo PhD in the US. He might end up with a very different master's experience in the US compared to Switzerland, and not in a way he'd like. – GrotesqueSI Oct 30 '19 at 20:54
  • @GrotesqueSI That's a life saver! I had no idea, thanks so much for mentioning it! Indeed, I am used to the standard (in Europe) Bachelor->Master->PhD. I do want to go into academia, so thank you for pointing it out! – David Cian Oct 31 '19 at 0:54

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