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If you are looking for the best computer science choice there is one obvious choice: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT. But here at Credit Sesame we are not about obvious choices.

As one of the nation’s top universities, MIT can afford to be choosy. MIT has the 8th lowest student acceptance rate in the country, at 7.9%. So unfortunately, MIT may not be an option for you.

Fortunately, we did our research and put together a list of computer science programs in the Boston area that would be great alternatives. We looked at the quality of the program but also the value of it as determined by how much debt graduates took on compared to their starting salaries in the industry, also known as debt-to-income ratio. Some schools are obvious choices but others may surprise you and present a great value.

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1. Harvard

harvard

Snapshot:

Tuition: $45,278

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.8

Average debt of graduates: $28,647

Computer science professors: 33

What were you expecting as the number one school? Harvard is by all accounts an ancient university steeped in tradition. But this hasn’t stopped them from staying current on the latest trends in technology. The Center for Research on Computation and Society and also the Berkman Center for Internet and Society serve as a vanguard for computer science research.  Harvard may not be known for its computer science programs but the Harvard brand will ensure you are working side by side with some of the brightest young minds in the world.

The university is not cheap, and the salary-to-debt ratio is 2.8, which puts it on the higher end of our list (higher is better), and the quality of academics is enough to put Harvard at the top.

2. Tufts

tufts

Snapshot:

Tuition: $50,604

Debt-to-income ratio: 3.0

Average debt of graduates:: $24,266

Computer science professors: 20

Tufts is a private university located in Medford, just north of Boston. Take the Red Line to Davis Street Station. Tufts is best known for its pre-med programs but its computer science program is on the rise.

The interdisciplinary approach to computer science is unique to Tufts in the Boston  area, as it’s integrated with the engineering and arts/sciences departments and many computer science courses connect to biology, philosophy, business and even musical aspects.

We like Tufts because of its salary-to-debt ratio is 3.0, which is the highest on our list. While it’s the most expensive school we have listed, it also has one of the lowest levels of debt for graduates, combined with a high starting salary.

3. Wentworth Institute of Technology

wentworth2

Snapshot:

Tuition: $30,760

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.8

Average debt of graduates: $26,244

Computer science professors: 15

You may not have heard of WIT, even if you live in Boston, but with a 31 acre campus just south of Fenway Park it should not be missed, especially its Engineering and Technology. Academics at WIT practice what they call “EPIC Learning” (Externally collaborative, Project-based, Interdisciplinary Curricula for Learning). Basically it’s a very hands-on and applied approach to technology.

The undergraduate degrees are split into Computer Science, Computer Networking, and Computer Information Systems, each of which has two semesters of co-op work required. WIT tuition is on the lower end for private schools on our list and its high graduate salary gives it a favorable ratio of 2.8.

4. Northeastern University

northeastern

Snapshot:

Tuition: $45,530

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.4

Average debt of graduates:: $27,888

Computer science professors: 53

Located just blocks from WIT as well as across South Boston, Northeastern is a top research university (RU/H) with a focus on “experiential” learning. This means lots of co-op programs and service learning and work.  There is a saying that companies should “Hire MIT grads for solving problems and creative ideas, hire Northeastern grads to make things work” which reflects NU’s focus on applied coursework.

The tuition is on par with Harvard but its graduates end up with less debt, putting the ratio at 2.4.

5. UMass Boston

Flickr | https://www.flickr.com/photos/brilliantvideo/5951232943/in/photolist-a4TCdx-a4TFJi-a4Ty9p-a4TFfV-a4TEpR-a4WsrG-a4WvLh-a4Wom9-a4WvzQ-a4TBet-a4Wwbj-a4TAwX-a4Wq3U-a4TBWT-a4Wr7b-a4TBQk-a4TzBR-a4Wv9d-a4TFSR-a4Tyx4-a4TD2M-a4WwoS-a4TxWt-a4TA1n-a4WoCN-a4WuH5-a4Wsiy-a4WpRf-a4TF32-a4Tygi-74i6h3-87P2XP-6MTzEp-621Udq-a4Wuty-a4TDWv-a4TACp-a4TDwt-a4WvF7-a4TAPx-a4TyCT-a4TzvR-a4WqD1-a4WsxG-a4TzSi-a4Tz3k-a4Wx2C-a4WpEf-a4Wt7C-a4Wunf

Snapshot:

Tuition: $11,966

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.5

Average debt of graduates:: $26,078

Computer science professors: 18

Located on 177 acres south of Boston on Harbour Point (Columbia Point), UMass Boston is the  only public university in the city. It may not have a top-tier computer science program, but that hasn’t stop UMB from producing some top talent. It counts Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder as an alum.

With a tuition under $12,000, which results in less debt for graduates, and a respectable salary for computer science graduates, we give UMass Boston a 2.5 salary-to-debt ratio.

6. UMass Amherst

"Life Science Laboratory UMass 5" by AlexiusHoratius - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Life_Science_Laboratory_UMass_5.JPG#/media/File:Life_Science_Laboratory_UMass_5.JPG

Snapshot:

Tuition: $14,356

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.3

Average debt of graduates:: $28,999

Computer science professors: 46

Yes, this school is 90 minutes outside of Boston, but we wanted to include it as another public alternative and because its computer science program is widely recognized.

It also helps that US News ranks its computer science program as #25 in the nation. Only Harvard (#18) and MIT (#1) rank higher in Massachusetts. As you might expect, the undergraduate computer science program is fairly selective with the admitted students, as they have an average 3.9 GPA and 1355 SAT score. UMass Amherst CS graduates are highly sought after, as Rich Rogers, Senior VP of Engineering at Hitachi, recently tweeted.

As a public university, the tuition is low, (although higher than UMass Boston), but this still yields an attractive salary to debt ratio of 2.3.

7. Worcester Polytechnical Institute

"WPI Alden Memorial". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WPI_Alden_Memorial.JPG#/media/File:WPI_Alden_Memorial.JPG

Snapshot:

Tuition: $45,590

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.1

Average debt of graduates: $33,192

Computer science professors: 41

Located about an hour west of Boston in Worcester (pronounced WOO-STAH incase you didn’t know), WPI is one of the oldest engineering and technology universities in the country. If you are looking to surround yourself with engineers, WPI is a great choice. Even their sports teams are called the “Engineers.”

It’s not all geeks though, as 70% of the student body is involved in sports and 30% in fraternities.

The WPI CS graduates have the highest starting salary of any other degree at WPI, and despite a higher-than-normal debt load, we give WPI a salary to debt ratio of 2.1.

8. Brandeis

brandeis

Snapshot:

Tuition: $49,598

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.2

Average debt of graduates: $28.647

Computer science professors: 14

Located 9 miles east of Boston in Waltham, Brandies is known for its liberal arts programs, particular economics, and was tied for #34 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2016 rankings.

Brandeis is often known for its socially awkward quidditch-loving students, which unsurprisingly maps to computer science fields rather well. The computer science department is small enough to provide an engaging learning experience with the professors, but large enough to provide some interesting facilities and labs like the Dynamical & Evolutionary Machine Organization lab.

The faculty includes big wigs like Mitch Cherniack, who is also the founder of the New England Database Society.

Did I mention the socially awkward part? Brandeis grads have higher-than-normal debt loads, but the accompanying higher salary gives them a salary to debt ratio of 2.2.

9. Bentley University

bentley

Snapshot:

Tuition: $44,085

Debt-to-income ratio: 2.2

Average debt of graduates: $26,078

Computer science professors: 16

Around the corner from Brandeis is Bentley University.  It’s also a smaller university but is known for its focus on business and accounting.  Bentley doesn’t have a general computer science program but its computer information systems program is one of the top 10 in the nation, according to USA Today. This dovetails with Bentley’s focus on business, as CIS usually is integrated with enterprise technology.

A high salary for grads and medium amount of debt gives Bentley a favorable salary-to-debt ratio of 2.2.

SchoolTuitionCS Grad SalaryGrad DebtDebt-to-Income Ratio
1. Harvard4527880290286472.8
2. Tufts5060473160242663.0
3. WIT3076074460262442.8
4. Northeastern4553067000278882.4
5. UMass Boston1196665260260782.5
6. UMass Amherst1435666300289992.3
7. WPI4559069868331922.1
8. Brandeis4959864260286472.2
9. Bentley4408564000260782.2

Methodology

In calculating the ranking for these Boston area schools, we sourced the average entry-level salary for computer science graduates and divided by the average level of debt for graduates.

The average debt of graduates was sourced from the Institute of College Access and Success and College Factual.

The computer science salary figures were sourced from PayScale, as well as from the individual colleges websites, and was derived by adding the average increase from graduate to computer science graduate salary.

The salary-to-debt ratio was derived by dividing the average computer science graduate salary by the average graduate debt amount.

The ranking considerations were derived from the salary-to-debt ratio and the ranking of the computer science programs was sourced from other publications.

Professors from these top ranked schools share their insight with Credit Sesame

Harvard professor Harry Lewis

HarryLewis- 300wideCredit Sesame was fortunate enough to speak with Harvard professor Harry Lewis about the computer science program at the No. 1 ranked school on our list.

What differentiates the computer science courses at Harvard from other schools in the area?

A number of us are making major changes to the way we teach, to increase the number of courses in which students are active participants in learning by problem solving. Software courses and more theoretical courses are using in-class team problem solving.

Our big introductory course, CS50, which enrolls about 800 undergraduates (most of them not prospective CS majors), uses the beautiful reading room in Harvard’s iconic Widener Library for students to meet at night with the course staff to work on their programming assignments and projects together.

And of course, we are doing something unprecedented this year — cooperating with our friends at Yale University to teach introductory CS on that campus.

What do you think is the most important thing for new computer science majors to be aware of?

If you are a computer science major at Harvard, you don’t need to worry about gaining enough useful skills. You will gain useful skills because you will do lots of programming projects. At Harvard, we will insist that you learn some deeper knowledge, analytical and design proficiency, mathematical foundations that will enable you to continue to be productive 5, 10, 20 years from now, when none of the specific programming systems and languages you are learning today are still in use.

You will take courses that will challenge you to be adaptive and creative and self-directed. Adaptability and creativity and independent thinking have no expiration date.

harvard2How do your courses prepare potential grads for the real world?

By having faculty who know what is going on in the real world and bring it into the classroom — not simply by teaching exactly what is happening in the industry today, but by teaching students the problems that the industry doesn’t know how to solve.

Many of our students have industrial internships or jobs over the summer, and that helps students understand the real world, but I see that less as immediate preparation for starting a postgraduate job, than as a way for them to understand something about the range of options that will be available to them.

Not all companies are the same. There are big ones and small ones, ones with free food and ones where people work all night, ones where engineering is done to high professional standards and ones where the spirit is more playful and entrepreneurial, ones where the product is technology and ones where state-of-the-art technology is needed to solve problems in another domain.

Our aim is to graduate students who understand that range of possible futures — as well as the opportunities in research and postgraduate education. Our students have the opportunity to acquire such wisdom, both though what we do on campus and what they do off campus.

CSbuilding-300-2UMass Director Kerry Shaw

What differentiates the computer science courses at UMass from other schools in the area?

UMass Amherst’s highly ranked College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) offers a premier computer science degree at a great value – attending the Commonwealth’s flagship university costs less than attending comparable institutions in Massachusetts and the surrounding areas.

CICS faculty are internationally-recognized in their fields and provide students with numerous opportunities for course-related research.

What do you think is the most important thing for new computer science majors to be aware of?

Courses are rigorous; however, CICS faculty and advisors are committed to mentoring students and helping them succeed. The College offers additional mentoring for students that are members of groups traditionally underrepresented in computer science, including women and minorities.

Outside of class, computer science majors are encouraged to take advantage of research and internship opportunities, and to participate in student groups and hands-on learning activities, such as hackathons and programming contests.

How do your courses prepare potential grads for the real world?

The curriculum provides students with a solid grounding in the principles of computer science, as well as skills and knowledge that are in tune with the needs of employers. Students are in high demand and are provided with frequent opportunities to meet and interact with industry representatives through information sessions, career fairs, and the University’s new online mentoring program.

Students are also exposed to research and teaching areas of special importance to academia, industry, and society, including topics such as artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity.

Tufts professor Ming Chow

What differentiates the computer science courses at Tufts from other schools in the area?

The quality of our instructors, the consistency of courses, and the network of support. Courses are taught by the same professor(s) each semester and students have an idea what to expect. Professors are open and available to the students. All of our courses utilize undergraduate teaching assistants.

Over the years, the undergraduate teaching assistants have a big impact on the students and our courses: they lead and set an example for other students to follow, and many are encouraged to be teaching assistants and to give back in the future.

What do you think is the most important thing for new computer science majors to be aware of?

There is the old saying: “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” Students are expected to work hard and take responsibility for their own learning especially after the second course in the major.

How do your courses prepare potential grads for the real world?

This is the selling point of the Tufts Computer Science Department: we have a rigorous curriculum of theory, system, and application courses. Therefore, students walking out of our curriculum have a good balance of theory and implementation skills.

The Tufts Computer Science Department has always been known as a playground where students are encourage to tinker and make mistakes.

We encourage students to experiment early. Collaboration among students is a key ingredient in almost all courses in the curriculum. Example: in the our “Machine Structure and Assembly Language Programming” (the third course in the curriculum), each assignment is done via pair programming.

It is no secret that our computer labs and collaboration rooms are constantly filled with students working on various matters. Our students are urged to take internships and research opportunities early and often, work on projects, and to start building a portfolio of accomplishments to “have something to show for.”

In the past five years, employers especially in the Boston area have started to notice the strength of the Tufts CS Department.  Many who have graduated from our curriculum come back to give guest lectures in courses and career mentoring, thus our students are also exposed to Tufts CS alumni.

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Published October 7, 2015 Updated: April 6, 2016
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