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.

  • Just as a FYI, it's normally called the University of Virginia. – Ric Mar 13 '16 at 18:57

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.


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.

  • The UVA Systems program has very little (if anything) to do with security. That falls under CS. – Ric Mar 13 '16 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 '16 at 19:45

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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