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For the admission in Masters Program, what is more important, ranking/reputation* of the University or the strength of the research group in the field (say, Machine Learning) you wish to apply ?

I have been told that the advisor and the research group is the most important criteria for PhD admission . So, I researched about research groups in various Universities. I found out that, sometimes a less prestigious university had a great research group in a particular field and a few times reputed university had a weak research group. So, I am confused whether the prestige of a university matter more than a strong research group in

  • Industry (Job after masters )
  • Research (Apply for a PhD after the masters

For example, UT Austin has a strong reputation in computer science. However, it seems to me that their machine learning groupis small. So, in situations like this what should a master's applicant do ? Go for UT Austin because of its reputation or decline the offer because of lack of strong research group in ML.

*The ranking/reputation here is the US news Grad Schools ranking in the field of computer science.

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    Outside a very small group of top-ranking universities, will anybody really care whether the university you went to was ranked 45th or 54th when you come to applying for jobs? The most important thing is to find a research programme that suits what you want to do. – Simon B Oct 14 '15 at 10:51
  • @Simon B What about admission in PhD program ? – user42568 Oct 14 '15 at 12:01
  • Much the same, really. It will be more about who you are and what you've done. And people will know what other reasearch groups are active in their field. – Simon B Oct 15 '15 at 13:53
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For a purely course-based Masters, in which you do not do research, the research strength of the university obviously won't matter very much.

For a Masters in which you do research and create a thesis, however, the strength of the research group is likely to significantly outweigh the reputation of the school. This is because the most valuable thing that you can have when applying either for a Ph.D. or an industrial job is a strong recommendation letter from a respected colleague.

If all I know about a student is that they got a Masters from MIT or Berkeley, well, a lot of students get such degrees, and some are excellent while others are worthless outside of the structured environment of the classroom. On the other hand, if the student comes from Mid-Ranked U with a strong personal recommendation from somebody whose work I know and respect, then they are likely a much better prospect than the unknown from a high-ranked university.

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First I would check what the requirements are for the Master's program. These seem to vary from program to program, but in general you will be required to take classes outside of your interest and lots of classes in general (in comparison to a PhD). Some programs have the option to write a thesis or have more opportunities for research, which is a good thing to consider if this plays into your interests and is beneficial if the school has strong research groups in your field of interest. I would probably weight the rank more heavily for the Master's than the PhD since it is so course oriented.

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