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Good Morning!

I'm a French student graduating this year in Computer Sciences from Paris Dauphine University and I'm applying to master's degrees at the University of Virginia. I was wondering what was the difference between:

Reading the handbooks, I understood that the second one was more focused on hardware than the first one. Yet, I have no idea of what the last one was about or where would it lead me.

I'm asking because I'm not sure whether to apply for the second link or for the first one and the second one or for all of them.

Thanks in advance for your enlightenment.

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  • Just as a FYI, it's normally called the University of Virginia.
    – Ric
    Mar 13, 2016 at 18:57

4 Answers 4

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I've some experience with the University of Virginia so I can help shed some light on this.

Computer Science is programming. AI, compilers, memory management, security, operating systems, etc. If it's part of software, it falls under CS.

Computer Engineering is a mix of CS and more traditional Electrical Engineering. It deals with computer hardware as well as the software that interfaces with it (i.e. firmware). CE at UVA is that Venn Diagram overlap between CS and EE. It covers everything from chip design to Operating Systems.

Systems Engineering is sort of a higher level overview of engineering principals. I'm the least familiar with this one. It deals with things like product life cycles, risk management, and the work process. Looking at the list of Systems concentrations might give you a better feel for it. UVA has one of the few Systems Engineering undergrad programs. Most people who do Systems major in a more normal engineering program in undergrad before pursuing a Masters in Systems.

To get a better idea of the programs, you should check out the grad level classes you would be taking in each. For this, you want to use the unofficial class listing site called Lou's List. All three departments are part of the Engineering Department. Gradate classes will be those numbered 5000 or higher. Look at listing for both this coming semester and previous semesters.

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Computer Science is mainly theoretical with a heavy "cutting edge" theory and research focus. This is where you would study things like memory management, compiler design, programming language design, artificial intelligence, etc.

Computer Engineering is mainly hardware focused and is usually a subset of electronic engineering. This is where you learn to design processors and build hardware devices.

Systems and Information Engineering is like Computer Science, but is more "practically" focused - it is more about application to real-world problems, with a focus on information systems. This is where Security often falls, as well as other fields like human-computer interaction, information systems, and other applications that are closer to the user.

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  • The UVA Systems program has very little (if anything) to do with security. That falls under CS.
    – Ric
    Mar 13, 2016 at 19:28
  • @Ric, I guess it varies based on the university. At my university, security was under "Computer and Information Systems".
    – querist
    Mar 13, 2016 at 19:45
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I remember when I was trying to choose between Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Systems and Information Engineering for my master's degree. At first, I found it quite challenging to understand the differences and make an informed decision. I realized that Computer Science delved into the theoretical aspects of computing, while Computer Engineering combined hardware and software integration. Systems and Information Engineering, on the other hand, focused on system analysis and data management.

To clarify my confusion, I reached out to professionals in each field and researched various career paths. Through these conversations and my exploration, I discovered that Computer Science was more suited to my passion for programming and algorithm development. Computer Engineering intrigued me with its emphasis on both hardware and software, making it ideal for individuals interested in designing computer systems. Systems and Information Engineering fascinated me with its integration of computer science into optimizing complex systems and managing data.

By understanding the nuances of each discipline, I was able to make an informed decision based on my interests and career aspirations. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend exploring the core subjects and career prospects of each field to determine which aligns best with your goals. What specific areas of computer science or engineering are you most interested in?

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You'd have to check out the classes offered, and their research. Most of the time the name is just a historic artifact. It might be called "Computer Science" because if was born in the misty past in a science faculty from e.g. a Mathematics department, or "Computer Engineering" because it started under Electrical Engineering, or "Systems Science" because it is linked to Management, or it might come from an interdisciplinary line between some of the above.

Whatever the name says, the vagaries of people hired and their interests, the funding they could secure, and perhaps e.g. state funding for specific research can have shaped the work very much.

Instead of looking at the name of the program, look for people working in the area(s) that interest you. Check out their latest research, perhaps even contact them for research ideas and guidance.

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