I am new to this site. I did my undergrad in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

After taking three years off to work off a government scholarship, I have been accepted to CMU's 1-year professional MS in HCI program and also Georgia Tech's 2-year research-oriented MS in HCI program. I am new to the field and am doing a slight career change from IT.

Pros of CMU:

  • Excellent school, best in its field (ranked #1), name-recognition
  • 1-year so hence faster and cheaper (~$41K)
  • Professional degree hence practical skills and connections into tech companies
  • Been there before so easier transition into lifestyle, culture, and expectations.

Cons of CMU

  • A 1-year program feels a bit rushed, doesn't it?
  • Will I have the time or opportunity to do research?
  • Doing grad school at the same school you did your undergrad, is that a negative?

Pros of Georgia Tech:

  • Great school, often mentioned up there with CMU but not quite so high of a ranking.
  • 2-year program, more time to take classes, learn the material, explore interests, establish connections, do research, possibly apply to PhD program as well.
  • Different academic environment can be good for resume and life experience.

Cons of Georgia Tech:

  • Not #1 ranking, hence, doesn't have the same name-recognition
  • Slower and more expensive (~$68K over two years)

I am having a hard time deciding between the two. Because I am new to the field, I want to be able to learn the concepts and also get the experience and time to find what I enjoy, perhaps trying my hand at research as well. Would the two-year program give me more time to learn and apply concepts? I fear the one-year program is a bit too rushed or intensive. It feels like a "get in, here's what you need to know, bam bam bam, now you're back out on your own." However, CMU is a phenomenal school and it is hard to pass that up (because name-recognition is still quite important).

Can anybody give me some suggestions or advice? Thank you for your help.

  • Did either of them offer you a graduate assistantship? – Austin Henley Mar 3 '15 at 23:47
  • Also, I really don't think CMU's name recognition is going to get you anything that Georgia Tech's wouldn't (how do you even accurately compare two elite schools, anyway?). – Austin Henley Mar 3 '15 at 23:50
  • Sorry, but we can't make recommendations between specific programs. – aeismail Mar 4 '15 at 0:52
  • I think the more general question about the pros and cons of research based MS degrees with theses versus coursework MS degrees without research is appropriate. – Brian Borchers Mar 4 '15 at 3:04

One year course based MS degree programs are typically "terminal degrees" designed for students who want to work in industry and not pursue a PhD and an academic career. If you want to work in industry and are prepared to give up on any hope of an academic career, then you should seriously consider the one year MS program. If you want to keep open the possibility of doing a PhD later, you should go for the 2 year MS program with thesis.

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  • Thanks for your answer, Brian. Is it generally accepted that there would be little-to-no chance of possibly pursuing a PhD after having obtained a terminal masters? – noblerare Mar 4 '15 at 0:10
  • "Little to no chance" is too strong, but a student coming out of a one year coursework only terminal master's degree program would be at significant disadvantage in admission to a PhD program compared with a student coming out of a academically oriented master's degree program that included a thesis. – Brian Borchers Mar 4 '15 at 3:11
  • Okay, yet would a student coming out of an academically oriented master's degree program be able to jump into industry and do the work required in those jobs? – noblerare Mar 4 '15 at 3:33
  • That would obviously depend on what the student did during their master's degree program. If the student took appropriate coursework and did a very applied thesis, then the answer could be yes. If the student took coursework in theoretical CS and did a very theoretical MS thesis then they might have a harder time getting a job in industry. – Brian Borchers Mar 4 '15 at 5:11

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